It was mid October, 2009. My daughter and I had spent the day plane hopping through three airports, literally sprinting through one as I tried to drag 2 suitcases and a backpack while holding tightly to the hand of my 6 year old. On our final evening flight to Birmingham, Juniper fell asleep in the middle seat and stretched her little, sneakered feet out on an older Indian woman beside us. I reached over to move her, but the woman held up her hand, gave me serene smile, and whispered, "I have children too. Don't worry." She sat back and rested with Juniper's feet resting on her. That meant a lot from a stranger on that night. I stared out the window into the night sky, wondering what it would be like when our plane touched down.
My brother was waiting there when we landed. He grabbed all of the luggage and drove us to the hotel where me met my mother, sister, and niece - all six of us crowded into a little hotel room. I felt a sense of familiarity, a comfort found only when surrounded by the family that built me - my sister, brother, mother, and my father. Three of them were with me that night in the hotel room. We talked and laughed as the two cousins jumped back and forth between the beds like wild banshees.
After an hour or so of laughing and chatting amidst the two wild banshees, my mother asked if I was ready. I nodded. My sister looked at me, her eyes speaking more than words ever could, her gaze giving me comfort and strength. "I'll stay in the room with the girls," she said to me. I nodded.
We left the hotel room, mother, brother and me, and walked through the hotel skywalk into the UAB hospital, my big brother's hand on my shoulder. The elevator ride to the intensive care unit seemed to go on forever. My mom and brother chatted and laughed casually. I know they did that for me. I stayed silent, my hands shaking and my heart pounding more and more as we neared the floor of the intensive care unit. Big brother's hand never left my shoulder, his touch speaking more than words ever could. My brother Josh, nine years older than me, is the second most influential man in my life. On that night, he never let go of his little sister as we went to see the most influential man in my life.
A month earlier on September 12, 2009, my father was driving home from his late shift at the Honda Plant in Lincoln, Alabama, when a young man ran a stop sign at 50 miles per hour crashing into my dad. They called it a "T-Bone" crash. The young man was not hurt. My father was seriously injured. An ambulance came and took him to the nearest hospital, then airlifted him to UAB Medical Center.
I was 2000 miles away in Arizona.
Over the phone from 2000 miles away, I learned that my dad was involved in a serious car wreck and was in critical condition with traumatic brain injury. Over the phone from 2000 miles away, I continuously called to question and sometimes yell at medical staff for updates and information. Over the phone from 2000 miles away, I was told that my dad had a heart attack while in a coma in intensive care, and then a second heart attack. Over the phone, 2000 miles away from my family, I learned that the strongest, most important man in my life was severely injured and unconscious.
I was a world away, scared, sad, confused and detached from the situation, but I thought the phone calls and continuous updates had prepared me. I thought I was strong and ready when I flew home to see him.
When we finally stepped into that hospital room and I saw my dad lying there with tubes and machines hooked to him, my dam broke. The tears poured down my face. My brother grabbed me and held me tight while I sobbed.
My dad has been the most influential man in my life. He has worked and supported our family his entire life. My dad didn't finish high school, but he's one of the smartest men I've ever known. I attribute much of my academic success to him. My father taught my brother, sister and me how to play every sport that we took an interest in. Some years, he would coach mine or my sister's softball team. We always came in first place those years, no exaggeration. My father was a tae kwon doe instructor and has a black belt with all the stripes. My father taught me how to shoot a gun, bait a hook, and hunt. My father is quiet, patient, gentle and strong. He is one of the nicest men you'll ever meet, but he is also a man to fear if anything or anyone threatens his family.
My dad has always been my hero and the most important man in my life, but over the past 10 years, he has done something that means even more to me than what he did for me as a father. He has been the prominent male, role-model to my daughter.
As I've raised a little blonde-headed girl on my own, he has always been there to teach her the same things that he taught his little blonde-headed girl. My father is also the most important man in my daughter's life.
Today, almost 4 years after the car accident, my dad is nearing a full recovery. As I was writing this, he walked outside and asked if I needed anything from the store. I said no, but before he got to the car I called out, "be careful Dad." He looked back at me, smiled and nodded.
On this father's day, nothing I could give my dad could ever compare to what he's given me through the years. On this Father's Day, I am the one with the greatest gift - the gift of my father. My Daddy is still here. Juniper's Grandpa is still here.
Thank you Dad. Thank you Grandpa. Happy Father's Day.