I sat at my desk with tears running down my cheeks. Although my spirit has been battle hardened, there are a handful of things that can still bring me to tears today. I was reading an email from Karen Schwartzkopf, the editor of Richmond Family Magazine. She had chosen which except from my book, Napkin Notes, to use in the June edition for the DadZone column.
I wrote this book a year ago. I haven’t looked back. I don’t page through the chapters. I have other projects and ideas to think about.
I certainly don’t want to relive many of the gut wrenching emotions I had during the writing of our story.
And here I was with this incredibly poignant chapter pushed right into in my face again.
It was the perfect choice for a Father’s Day DadZone.
Six Words I Say to Emma
I was introduced to Rachel Macy Stafford, also known as Hands Free Mama, through a blog post called “Six Words You Should Say Today.” I immediately developed a deep appreciation for her parenting style.
She’d read an article about how when college athletes are asked what kind of encouragement and advice they most appreciated from their parents, they simply liked the phrase “I like to watch you play.” Rachel started to use this phrase with her kids and realized how it immediately lifted the pressure off her kids. She wasn’t providing criticism or even feedback. It just focused on the joy watching them play their sport, or instrument, brought her.
The blog post touched me deeply. I also started using her phrase “I love to watch you play” whenever I could. Emma plays softball. Sitting at her games, in the bleachers, as I watch her work together with her teammates brings me more joy than I ever could have imagined possible. Even more these days.
As I continued to battle cancer, being at her games took on a deep significance for me. It was not just to watch her, for the joy it brought me to observe her. It was also a tangible way to show her support. To show her how I will always, always be there for her. For as long as I am on this earth.
One night Emma was headed to a sleepover with one of her softball teams. They didn’t always get to see one another that much when it was off-season and they wanted to keep their ties. I was excited for her. Her team is made up of incredibly talented girls who are also the best sports in the league. Everyone is lifted higher during their games, even the spectators.
We were warned that the house had a few animals, and Emma can have allergic reactions from time to time. We thought we’d give it chance.
But when Emma started having some trouble early in the evening, we collectively decided that it would be a better idea for Emma to come home. I left our house at ten p.m. to go fetch her. I was tired. It had been a long day, and I am usually asleep by ten p.m. on a normal day. Rest is important, but not as important as my daughter. I drove the twenty-five minutes, in the dark, without a single thought of my fatigue. I was happy to make this trip.
Emma hopped into my truck as I asked if she was okay. She replied, “I’d never make it the whole night. Thank you for coming to get me.”
I looked her in the eye and simply said, “I will always come get you.”
She kind of nodded her head, and I repeated it. “I will always come get you.” She thought that I believed she hadn’t heard me, and she acknowledged my statement. I knew she’d heard me, but I needed her to listen to me.
“I will always come get you.”
I held her hand for a moment and let her internalize what I meant. She slowly nodded as she understood. She smiled. I then began to list some of the reasons why I might need to come get her: a flat tire, a bad date, homesickness, or even a friend who had too much to drink and shouldn’t get behind the wheel.
“I will always come get you. I am your dad, and I will be there. Call me, no questions asked, at least until you’re home safely. I will never say no.”
I didn’t realize until later that this phrase also had six words in it. And it was just as meaningful as “I love to watch you play.”
When I told Emma those words, I was just thinking of her. I was just thinking of how much I loved her and how much I would always be there for her - if I had anything to do with it.
I’ve now realized how much that statement equates to how God likely feels about us.
Glen Allen Dad Garth Callaghan has been writing Napkin Notes for his daughter, Emma, since she was a small child. Diagnosed with cancer four times, Garth has been given as eight percent change to see Emma graduate from high school.
Six Words I Say to Emma is an excerpt from Garth’s book. (HarperOne, 2014)
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