A Father's Love

October 20, 2015

When a father first looks into the eyes of his daughter, something weird and wonderful happens. Suddenly his heart, that the world has attempted to turn to stone, melts. Nothing is more important than the health and happiness of his baby girl. For my Father and I this moment came later than most. My Dad refused to pick me up for the first six months of my life. Under the threat of divorce from my Mother, he finally did. Family lore says he was never the same.
My earliest memories are that of an enormous man, with flaming red hair, a graying beard, and dirty hands. Daddy was a mechanic and I spent all the time I could with him in the garage. Whether it was simply handing him tools, or watching him weld, I delighted at the idea of helping him. More often than not, I was probably a pest, but he never sent me away. Each night, he would come home with a plastic Safeway bag and I would throw my arms around his legs and squeeze. He would do his best not to fall on his face, obviously overwhelmed by the strength of his six year old, pull a frosty chocolate milk from the bag for me and head into the kitchen to kiss my mother. Once my milk was finished and my mother was satisfied with the amount of bundling up I had done, all by myself, of course, I was very independent, we would head to our garage. Daddy would put a bolt in the clamp bolted to his bench and I would climb up on my stool and begin hacking away. We did this because he did not want to deal with a small child running around, getting into all manner of harmful chemicals, and expensive tools that he couldn’t afford to replace. By the time dinner was ready, I would have finished a bucket of bolts and he would have finished part of the massive blue truck he spent most of his time rebuilding. We would head inside and eat, ending the night on the floor together watching TV.
What we didn’t know was that soon life would be much different. My grandparents fell ill, and my mother began living with them. We lived with Mom and saw Daddy on the weekends. What we didn’t notice in our time with him was the way he winced when he swallowed. Soon we moved into a house with room for all of us. Grandma passed and was buried. My mother still talks about how well I handled it. Then Grandpa. We tell people it was a broken heart that delivered him from this life into the next. Finally Dad told Mom that he needed to see a doctor. We got the results days later. Stage 3 esophogial cancer. The doctor told Dad he could choose to fight it, or he could let his cells quietly overtake him. He looked into the eyes of my mother, the love of his life, the woman who brought his children into the world, the woman who was still reeling from the loss of his parents. “I’m gonna fight It.” he told her.
Our lives became a whirlwind of doctors, tests, pills, chemo, and radiation. My brother and I spent a lot of time with our aunt Kathy. My head still burns from all the pigtails pulled by my cousins. Eventually, Dad could no longer eat and a feeding tube had to be put in. He had to spend days at a time in doctor’s offices, letting poison drip gradually into his body. His hair fell out, he lost weight, but none of that matters to a little girl. I was still totally and completely enchanted by the man who had let me stand on his boots and dance at my cousins wedding, who had taught me which wrench fit which bolt before I learned my ABC’s, who showed how to clean a fish, who brought me chocolate milk every night. Nothing, not cancer, not death, could make him not my Daddy. After months of uncertainty, they set a surgery date. The doctors said that the surgery would take three hours, and that in it, they would finally remove the cancer from his body, and that things looked positive. My brother and I were once again sent to our Aunt Kathy’s house once more. We waited. Forty five minutes later, the phone rang and we were being ushered back to the hospital. They were sending Daddy home. I didn’t understand the implications then.
A hospital bed was set up in our living room so Mom could take care of him. I spent many afternoons curled up beside him, doing my best to avoid hurting him. One night, I awoke to the feeling of my bed shifting. My mother was weeping. “Baby girl, Daddy’s gone.” Tears burst forth onto my cheeks and I followed Mom into the living room where she had begun making phone calls. My aunts arrived after, all at once. I was herded from Daddy’s side onto the porch, once again exiled with Aunt Kathy. She, along with my brother and I sat in lawn chairs, staring at the stars. “When you miss your Dad,” Aunt Kathy began, smashing the silence. “Look up, and whisper his name. The first star that blinks is him, waving.” “Daddy.” I whispered through my tears, looking into the sky, begging for an answer. A star glimmered in response and I felt hope rise in my chest. I knew we were going to be okay.
Cancer can kill cells, it can metastasize, and it can overtake organs, and blood and bones. But it can’t destroy families. It can’t make the smell of oil feel less like home, it can’t take memories, it cannot kill love and most of all, and it cannot take hope. I will always love my father. The days after his death were the hardest of my life, but every time I went fishing afterward, or stepped into our garage, or got a good grade, I knew he was proud of me, and that he loved me. Nothing, will ever, take that away.
Katie Kendrick