Life presents you with many roads, but two things remain constant: you’re born, and when it’s your time, you die. Struck by cancer, my father had traveled his last road. I knew someday he would get really sick from smoking, and no matter how hard I tried to convince him, he didn’t listen. He would rather smoke than live a longer, healthy life with me. That’s the way I saw it.
Wheezing, my dad looked at me. “Alexandria,” he started to say. With a faint smile, he pulled my ear closer to his lips. He was having a difficult time getting his words out. “Don’t. Date. Guys. Who. Smoke.” He tried to laugh, but ended up coughing instead.
“Okay, Dad,” I said softly with a light laugh. I wanted to get mad at him for joking at a time like this, but the irony of his words lightened the mood.
Mom looked like she was going to lose it. Unable to wipe her tears fast enough, she turned away. “I’ll be right back,” she said quickly, heading out of the hospital room to give us space, most likely into the arms of her current husband.
Trying hard not to break down as I wiped my tears, I didn’t see my dad. I saw a man who suffered because of his chosen path. And I saw a man who was going to give his daughter some last words of wisdom.
Suddenly, the urgency of this situation hit me fast and hard. I’d kept myself so closed off from talking about my dad’s cancer that seeing reality in front of me was like hearing the news for the first time. I had a difficult time dealing with the situation. So much so, that I couldn’t even talk about it with my best friend. The word cancer was a death sentence, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Before I knew it, tears started to stream down my cheeks. My gut told me today was his last day. I just knew. I was lucky though. Most people don’t get to say good-bye.
“Alex, I’m sorry. I wish I had stopped for you,” he said as he struggled with his breath.
I wanted to yell at him, remind him that I had tried to tell him many times that I felt like he chose smoking over me. It didn’t mean he was a bad dad. In fact, he was a wonderful one. I wasn’t sure about being a good husband since my parents had divorced long ago, but as a dad, he was involved in every part of my life. He was an active dad who knew everything that was going on with me, and even knew my friends by name.
Most of my friends didn’t feel close to their fathers, but my dad and I bonded through music. We would spend hours singing karaoke together. He said I had a beautiful voice and wanted me to try out for American Idol, but I was too shy. Despite all the good points, what good was it when he wouldn’t be around?
Placing his hand on my cheeks, he started to whisper. “Sunshine…my only sunshine….” He paused. It was a song he sang to me growing up. I can clearly remember the first time he sang it to me. I was five years old.
“Sunshine, why are you crying,” my dad asked, placing me on his lap.
Instead of answering, I showed him my cut finger that was slightly bleeding.
“What happened to this little finger?” he said in the sweetest, caring tone.
“I fell.” I pursed my lips as tears welled in my eyes.
“Let’s go clean that up. I’ll make it feel better. But before we do that, can you smile for me?”
I shook my head with a pouting face, still holding up my index finger. It was my way of reminding him what I needed.
I heard a light chuckle, but when I looked at him, he hid his humorous expression. “Do you know why I call you sunshine?”
“No.” I arched my brows in curiosity.
“When you smile, you light up the whoooole room.” He extended his arms out, and then dropped them to embrace me. “You’re like the sun, glowing, warming up my heart.”
My eyes grew wide in wonderment. “I glow like the sun?” My tone went up a notch in excitement.
“Yes, you do,” he nodded, holding my other hand. “I can’t see it, but I can sure feel it. It makes me happy. When I have a bad day, all I have to do is look at your smile.” Then he started to sing the song. I watched his lips part as I gazed in amazement.
When the song was over, I had forgotten about my cut. I had forgotten about the pain. I was the sun that gave him warmth on his cold days and it was the coolest thing. From then on, he would sing to me when I was feeling sad.
The song will always remind me of him. Suddenly, that song meant more to me than it had before, knowing it could possibly be the last time I heard him sing it.
After he closed his eyes, as if to clear his mind, he opened them and continued. “I’m sorry I won’t be there to see you graduate from high school and college, and I won’t be there to walk you down the aisle.” Tears poured down the corners of his eyes. “I’m sorry I won’t know the guy who will one day think of you as his sunshine.” He paused. “No matter where I am, I’ll always watch over you.” My dad stroked my cheeks.
I couldn’t take it anymore. As uncontrolled tears poured down my face, his words engulfed me in a darkness I had never felt before. “Okay,” I nodded, looking anywhere but his eyes as I gasped for air. I wanted to tell him so much. I wanted to apologize for being mad when he became sick, blaming him for his choices when I should have accepted it and tried to spend quality time with him instead. But I thought I’d have more time with him. I didn’t realize that the thing I feared the most would happen this fast.
“Shhh….” he whispered, wiping my tears before they fell. “This isn’t goodbye. I’ll see you one day, but not too soon, okay? You’re only eighteen. You have a long life ahead of you.”