My 13 year old daughter, thanks to her Jewish friends, is frequently engaged in the local bat mitvah circuit. She has the patience to get through the ceremonies (being Catholic, learning Hebrew hasn’t been a priority) and enjoys the parties afterward. She attended one yesterday. She said one of her favorite parts was the speeches given by the parents about their daughter. She wants me to give a speech about her after her confirmation. Her request made me think, and this is a draft…
Nine years ago, I was in a very dark place. The only thing keeping me going was the light at the end of the tunnel. At the time, I didn’t know if the light was real or a mirage.
My cancer had relapsed twice in two years. I knew my situation was desperate, but how desperate, no one could really tell me. One specialist at a world famous cancer center told me I was terminally ill and further attempts at a cure would be a waste of what little time I had left.
I was 37 at the time, married and my daughter was four at the time. Like many of those involved in slow motion disasters, I tried to bargain with God, come up with good reasons why He should see fit not to have me die at an age I thought was far too young.
I argued my daughter needed a father. If I died, she’d be without a parent, which would be a bad thing. I thought my wife would be better off without me. What’s the point of being married to guy who’s constantly sick, unable to work, just draining her of energy? But my daughter, I thought, even if I were severely disabled but alive, I still could contribute something to her life.
I think all us fathers of daughters, at some point, fill some time with fantasies of graduations, a joyous wedding and grandchildren to spoil. At the time, I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see Kaitlin get through second grade. Kaitlin’s school was close enough to walk to. I imagined walking her to school, but as time went on I’d be unable to do that. Maybe I’d only be able to walk her to the end of the driveway, then only to the front door, then I’d get only as far as her bed, then I’d be unable to get out of my own bed, then I’d be unable to wake up. As I got sicker, I’d slowly withdraw from Kaitlin’s, and everyone else’s, life. I’d be too sick to do anything and die a death I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
If there’s anything worse than dying, it’s dying with regrets, with work left undone. What’s better life long work than being a parent? If I died when Kaitlin was, let’s say, six, what’s the chance she’d really remember me later on in life? If cancer were to take my life, not only would I not be there to help her surmount life’s obstacles, and enjoy the many triumphs that lie ahead of her, I’d just be a faded memory. Perhaps those memories wouldn’t be of me being a, loving, active parent, but a sick man whose life was being drained away by an uncontrollable parasite known as cancer.
In our living room, you’ll find some really nice black and white portraits of my family. We did them back in January 2003, so at least Kaitlin would have some good pictures of me. Somewhere in my closet is a video camera we bought to take videos of me and Kaitlin while I was still healthy enough to be engaged in her life, so she’d be able to hear my voice. We did these things to give her proof in future years, despite the absence of memories of me, that I really was her father.
So I bargained with God. I asked for more time, so I could be a parent to my only child. That’s all I asked for. That was truly the most important thing to me at the time. As it turns out, it looks like God was listening and showed me some mercy. I’ve lived to see days I doubted I’d ever see. I’ve been a parent (such as I am) to Kaitlin. I marvel at what a wonderful kid she is, and how she’s grown to be the caring person that she is. I also marvel at how fast time has passed. Though the clock may seem frozen at work, when I’m with Kaitlin, the clock is a speeding blur.
My brother died of cancer a little over five years ago, leaving behind three sons. I’m sure he tried the same bargain with God that I did. For whatever reason, the miracles ran out for Bart. Maybe God was distracted by some earthquake, malaria outbreak or request by Tim Tebow for some help on a particularly complex end run.
So, despite the odds against me, here I am, with a wonderful wife and daughter, alive and healthy enough to write this. Kaitlin is a loving, caring kid with the world in front of her. I hope the effort God and/or the medical system made for me was worth it. I know all the efforts I made to get through cancer was worth it every time I see Kaitlin.