Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

My Wish For My Daughter

She has come a long way, literally and figuratively. A blessing from China, when the option of becoming a father was not possible any other way, my daughter is taking her next steps, into her direction of life, that is by her own will. And it is a strong will that she has.

The term “matching” was used during the adoption process. The Chinese Center of Adoption Affairs takes the information of the parents from their biography, and “matches” that to a child. A family is created through the process of international adoption.

Being a cancer survivor and unable to have biological children, China gave me the opportunity I did not have in the United States, becoming a father.

The oldest of my two daughters, she is a role model for her younger sister, who is just a year behind graduation. Together, they have made a great team who liked to help, laugh, and love. Each has their own personalities, their own interests, and their own ways to get to this day.

For my older daughter, there is a natural progression to her, a gift if you will. She is easily frustrated with practice as she is a quick study, even with something she has never been taught as was pointed out by her karate sensei handling and using a weapon, a staff, which she had never been shown before, for reasons of her age group not qualified for weapons. She was flawless.

Or dance class, just wanting to dance, not wanting to wait for it to be her turn. One demonstration was all it took for her to learn a routine.

Out of nowhere, almost ten years ago, she picked up a pencil, and started drawing faces. This was not elementary school drawings of circles inside of circles and a curved line for a smile. These were completely recognizable faces in the style of “manga.” Again, this is just something she picked up, and to say she developed is an understatement. I am not allowed to show any of these samples, which are quite good, but it is her artwork. And she is her own worst critic. So she says “no.”

Toward the end of her middle school years, she was given an opportunity to attend a technical school which would advance and challenge her imagination and eventually give her the direction she would choose in life. Again, I am prevented by her from sharing these drawings (she is critical of herself, I say she has established herself as a “diva”), but I have no doubt, as she completes the next level of her education, and establishes herself in the world of “advertising design,” she will establish herself as one of the best, unable to hide a gift that she was clearly born with.

Maddie, you were the first to call me “Daddy.” You taught me how to care for someone and be responsible for someone, not old enough or able to do so on her own. You made me care about my decisions that I made in life, as they would not only affect me, but you, and your sister as well. You taught me to pay attention to others needs, sometimes without the availability of words. You challenged me to make decisions that would seem to go against the rules, but we would make memories out of them to last forever.

You brought a tear to my eye as you reached my height. After being a not-so-gentlemanly teenager myself, I became hyper aware once I heard a boy’s name mentioned from you. And then, getting to meet one of them. Talk about feeling out of sorts in how I was supposed to act. I had no intention of embarrassing you, as you clearly liked the boy, but by the same token, I had no idea how I was supposed to act either, a new experience for me.

Your confidence really has no limit. It is too bad you still have not recognized that. But you have every reason to be confident in what you have done, and what you will do. I will always be proud of you. I will always stand behind you and your efforts. And I will always, definitely be there for you as you begin this thing called “life.”

Congratulations on your graduation! I am so proud of you.

My Daughter’s Graduation – A Milestone I Almost Did Not Get To See

I am not being hyperbolic. To be clear, in April of 2008, I was dying. I was unaware that I had a heart condition, caused by radiation and chemoptherapies for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma back in 1988. Unbeknownst to medicine, if I were to live long enough after my treatments, it was likely my body would develop late side effects, some minor, and some major. My cardiologist called me “the luckiest guy on the planet,” for surviving a condition commonly fatal when medical intervention was not available quickly enough when that massive fatal heart attack, some refer to as a “widow maker” would strike, not if, but when.

My life would be rocked with another near fatal episode, taken out of my home in an ambulance at 3am. I was diagnosed with pneumonia, and I was septic. My body was reacting horribly to the infection from the pneumonia, caused by another one of those late effects from my treatments, and now, my body was fighting itself in an out-of-control and toxic path. Time was of the essence.

I would face several other surgeries and conditions, though not as imminent, but they were to the point that intervention was necessary, or, things could end up badly. In other words, the risk of corrective surgery was less than the event itself (a stroke or heart attack).

No one knows more than me, all too well, what it has meant to me, not just to be the father to two beautiful and intelligent young women, but to be able to watch them grow. It has been fourteen years since that first major heart surgery. I have literally thousands of memories over the years, that I got to have. I remember each and every one of them, when, and where they took place.

The life of a long term cancer survivor has not been easy for me, and to call it unpredictable is an understatement. There was no guarantee that I would live past five years, let alone 32 years. Yet, here I am.

I will never forget the words of the doctor who accepted me as his patient, even though I had never been seen in his network before. “I cannot stop the things that are happening to you. I cannot reverse the things that are happening to you. But we can slow them down. I want you to be able to watch your daughters grow, graduate, get married, and even give you grandchildren.” My daughters were five and three at the time. I just found out that I had escaped a near death experience with my heart, and this doctor was telling me, he was going to be there to help me live long enough to see all these things come true.

Well, here I am at yet another of those milestones my doctor mentioned to me, graduation. We did it. It has certainly not been easy. But in just days, I will see my oldest daughter graduate high school, and the next year, my youngest daughter get her diploma as well. I know how close it came to me not seeing this day. Again, not hyperbole.

But as the memories show, it has been a great ride, and I am hoping my doctor continues to be correct, and there will be many more photos.

A Letter To My Father

As an adult child of divorce, I have done all that I can, in my current divorce, also involving children, to prevent any and all issues that I experienced as a child that were negative. Issues from back then, still carry with me to this day. And as I prepare to celebrate the graduation of my oldest daughter, one of those memories has come to the front of my mind, and refreshed the emotions of that time.

My father and I made up years after my graduation. But we rarely talked about the past, the “why”, “when”, and “who” of those memories. I cannot talk to my father anymore, as he passed away years ago. I wish this was one of the things we could have talked about.


I need to talk to you. We should have had this conversation long ago. But you are gone now. And I am at a period in my life, though I know is too late, where I wish we had done something different.

Your granddaughter is graduating from high school next week. And I know that you will be looking down from the heavens, watching over her, as proudly as I will be.

But as special as this moment is, especially for her, it has brought up a time in our lives, between you and I, that if we had the chance to go back, I believe we would have done differently or at least should have. Because to be quite honest, this time period, nearly forty years ago, a decision was made by both of us, that lasted your lifetime, and continues on with mine. And as hurtful as it was to me, I have used that pain, to make sure your granddaughter not only does not experience this same hurt, but have to live with it for years to come like I have.

This of course is all for naught, a memory that is clearly as fresh in my mind and heart today as it was back then. And though we made amends years later, the question of “why” still haunts me, now unresolvable. All I can do is make sure my daughter never feels this pain that I live with.

I get it Dad, divorce is hard. Nobody gets married with the plans of getting divorced eventually. But the divorce was between you and mom, not you and I. And having gone through divorce myself, I know it is not always the need or want to have discussions with an ex, but you did not divorce me, nor have I divorced myself from my children, and discussions needed to be had. There was no separation from father of child. So why were you not there?

After all the years of disappointments in my childhood by you, not being there, I gave you one last chance, a chance I did not feel you were entitled to, but I wanted to see, if one final moment, might have been enough to see if I meant anything to you, my graduation. You were given the ultimatum, and one ticket for the graduation. “Show up, or I never want to see you again. I will never allow you to disappoint me again.”

You never came. No card. No telephone call. You lives ten minutes away from me for Christ’s sake. NOTHING! And that is what I took away from that. I meant nothing. I would never allow myself to feel that way again. Yet here I am, all these years later, still feeling that wound as if it was yesterday.

As angry as I was back then, I have actually been able to do something good from that anger. The decision that you made, would be my driving factor, to never hurt either of my daughters the same way.

My divorce has been hard on them. But the one thing I would never let them feel is that I ever gave up on them. Though I am afraid, I really underestimated how this would affect me in my future.

But there I was, watching your granddaughter, experiencing the first graduation of her two ceremonies in high school. As she entered the auditorium, I could see her looking around. I was seated four seats in from the aisle she was walking down. With total disregard of concern of embarrassing her, I yelled out her name. She did not hear it. I yelled it again. This time, her head swiveled, left to right, and then I know she saw me. A huge smile lit up on her face, and she gave me a wave similar to the wave of a Miss America contestant. That is what I wanted and needed to experience. That is what you took from me.

Dad, though I have broken this cycle, it does not take away the pain from years ago. And though we made our amends, and really, ended up closer than we possibly could have imagined, it turns out, that hurt is still in my heart.

I was looking for you Dad in that gymnasium. I knew Mom was there, because she brought me. But as I looked for you, I could not see you, anywhere. You lived ten minutes from me. I live states away from my daughter. This day was everything to me. Her day is everything to me. And as your granddaughter experiences her high school graduation this week, just as last week, I will be there for her. Because I know how important this is to her, and just as important to me.

I just wish we could have done things differently.


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