Daddy’s girl

by Karen Phillips

I get a random text from my dad about a year ago that reads: “Baby, my doctor’s appointment is on Tuesday, I’ll let you know how it went afterwards.”

I text him back asking what’s wrong.

“Oops, I didn’t mean to send that to you. I have testicular cancer. I’m starting chemo and radiation on Tuesday. It’s 96 percent curable. It’s the kind Lance Armstrong had. Everything should be fine. I’ll keep you updated.”

That’s how I find out my dad has cancer.

It’s my 16th birthday and he hasn’t called me yet. All day I answer calls, talking to every other important person in my life, hoping that the next one will be from him. He’ll call. I’m sure of it. Before I go to bed, I check to make sure the ringer on my phone is turned up, just in case. He calls me the next day.

“I’ve been really busy and I forgot your birthday, but I put an extra hundred dollars in the mail for you. Hope you had a great day. Talk to you soon.”

Thanks, Dad. I love you too.

I’m 19. This is the longest my dad and I have ever gone without speaking to each other. After about eight months of no answers and no return calls, I decide to call my aunt and uncle to find out what’s going on. They assure me he’s still around and his cell number hasn’t changed, although he did cancel his home line.

I try his cell again. Nothing. Three more months go by. As frustration overrules reason, some of the images my mom has painted of my dad over the years start to creep in: He’s immature, irresponsible, selfish and conniving. But I don’t stop trying to reach him. He’s my dad and I just want to talk to him.

I decide to try something new. I dial *67 to block my caller ID so his cell phone reads Unavailable.

He picks up. I don’t know what to feel. Should I hate him for avoiding his daughter, or should I be happy that I finally get to speak to him.

“Hi Dad….” “Oh, hi honey!”

I’m on my way back from Spain after a semester abroad. I fly into JFK Airport in New York City. My dad and I make arrangements for him to pick me up. I give him my flight number and arrival time and he tells me he’ll be there when I land.

When my roommate and I arrive, her parents are waiting at the gate with a big “Welcome Back Liz and Karen” sign. It’s exciting to be back in the US after six months on foreign soil. I eagerly scan the crowd for my dad, but he’s nowhere to be found. I’m jealous. I call him after we get our luggage. I’m sure he’s just running late.

“I’m sorry, something happened and my ride never showed up. I’m on my way.” He’s still at his house. He lives over an hour away.

“Okay, I’ll be waiting.” Liz and her parents patiently wait with me. I can’t believe someone else’s parents have to wait around for a 21-year-old girl’s daddy to show up.

An hour passes. My dad is irresponsible and I’m embarrassed. I call him again and he doesn’t answer.

In desperation, I call my mom to ask her what to do. She takes the opportunity to explain, once again, how this type of behavior is typical of my dad, and how he can’t be trusted. I hate hearing it. It doesn’t help matters any, but I think it makes her feel better. I’m crying by now, so she stops her lecture.

My mom suggests I call my cousin James who lives in Queens. He’s at dinner, but he says he’ll come get me as soon as he’s done. Liz and her parents leave and James will be there within the hour.

My cell phone rings. “Hi Dad! How are you?” “I won’t be able to make it to your graduation, honey.”

Silence. “Okay….” My head fills up with an unwelcome sense of expectance.

“If I come, I’ll have to waste money on flights and hotels, but since I’m not coming, all that money can go toward your graduation present!” He’s good at turning a situation around to make it look like this decision was made in my best interest. Money isn’t what I need most from him, though. I just want my dad to be there for me.

“I’d rather see you. Of course I need the money, but you being here would be enough of a present.”

A short pause. “I don’t want to be anywhere near your mother,” he says. The truth comes out. He and my mother got divorced 20 years ago. Grow up.

My husband’s parents generously offer to pay for half of our wedding, and my side of the family agrees to pay for the other half. My father commits to $3,000, and asks if he can give it to us in installments until the wedding. He initially transfers $500 into my bank account, and we never see the rest. The day of our wedding, instead of giving us the balance, he gives us a $500 check. It bounces.

My dad texts me last month to tell me he is having surgery. They found cancer cells in the lymph nodes in his abdomen.

I go to New York City over Labor Day weekend for my nephew’s bris. I am there for 36 hours, specifically for my sister-in-law’s planned festivities. As bad as I feel about being so pressed for time, I don’t feel bad enough to make it out to Queens to see my father, who is still recovering.

My dad and I barely speak anymore. Even though my mom constantly tried to convince me of his shortcomings, I came to know who he is. It was in spite of her. It’s not a parent’s job to tell a child the other parent is the bad guy. Moms and dads are responsible for being supportive and being around – for understanding what a child needs and for having her back. My mom and I have a great relationship now, and my dad and I have a cordial one. I call my mom a couple times a week to talk about my day and I visit her for holidays and vacations; when I’m thinking about my dad, I just shoot him a text.