Fatherhood can be the greatest of joys and hardest of sorrows. And sometimes, it can be both at the same time.
Dr. James Wolf, 58, is dying of pancreatic cancer. Doctors have given him just months to live.
His daughter, 25-year-old Rachel, isn’t married. She isn’t engaged. In all likelihood, Dr. Wolf won’t be around to shake his new son-in-law’s hand or officially give her away at the altar.
And yet, the two shared a wedding dance last month—a last gift from daughter to father, from father to daughter.
It was Rachel’s idea. On July 11th, she invited her dad to her Auburn, Calif., home and handed him a special invitation to a local park. “My greatest sadness of you not being here is that you won’t get to walk me down the aisle, or have a special father-daughter dance,” she tells Dr. Wolf. “So I’m inviting you to my ‘wedding.’”
And so a wedding, of sorts, was held two weeks later. Friends and local businesses donated Rachel’s dress and the décor. Her father, weakened from a recent round of chemotherapy, wore a tux. And together they danced to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Cinderella:”
Oh I will dance with Cinderella
I don’t want to miss even one song
‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she’ll be gone
Rachel plans on playing the video when she does get married—so her father can be with her, no matter what. And for his part, Dr. Wolf says he will be there at the wedding. In a way, he will never be apart.
“Thank you so much for coming, Daddy,” she says during the dance.
“I wouldn’t have missed it,” her father answers. “I wouldn’t have missed it.”
I’ve been helping Jim Daly work on his upcoming book on fatherhood. And in the process, I’ve been coming across some depressing statistics about some fathers today. In 2010, more than 27 percent of children grow up without fathers. Of the children who grow up in single-mother households, 35 percent never see their dads.
These men don’t know what they’re missing. They can’t know. They’ve never tried to be a father. They’ve never helped someone ride their first bike or do their math homework. They’ve never waited up late for them to come home. They’ve never sat through a concert recital or watched them play softball. For them, the pain and joy of parenthood is an unfathomable mystery.
These men can’t be called fathers. Not really. A dad shows up. A dad is there, in times both sweet and sour. A dad is someone who won’t even let sickness and death get in the way of expressing his love for his children. A dad is someone who will turn to his son or daughter in both times of joy and sorrow, of celebration and tears, and say these words:
“I wouldn’t have missed it. I wouldn’t have missed it.”