By Patrick Hempfing
I’ve been writing a monthly column for more than five years. My readers know I try to instill some humor and a touch of inspiration in my stories about being a stay-at-home dad. However, although I close each column with a reminder to “cherish the moments,” not all of life’s moments feel “cherishable.” Life is hard sometimes.
Tragedies and problems fill the newspapers. Many times I’d like to shelter my 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, from the headlines and photographs of a world that seems in continual turmoil. So as I sat down to write this Thanksgiving column, I pondered what words I could type to make readers laugh, offer a little inspiration, and help them pause in their hectic, challenging days to capture the joy. A friend’s obituary and Jessie’s birthday cake provided the answer.
Let’s face it. Every family has challenges ― health issues, financial problems, job pressures, relationship turmoils, and parental stresses. Part of what made the year challenging for me was our family’s move. Unfortunately, our 300-mile move south from Georgia to central Florida motivated my hairline to recede north. Searching the internet, I read, “The Employee Relocation Council notes moving is topped only by divorce and death for life’s stressful events.” Numerous hairs on my head believed this statement. Many of those that didn’t leap off my head prior to crossing the state border turned gray in protest.
As I packed the contents of my desk in preparation for the move, I came across the clipped-out obituary of a wonderful lady, Teri, who passed away in 2013. She courageously fought a long battle with breast cancer. Teri’s touching obituary read, “Her favorite saying during her times of trial was ‘find your joy.’”
Find your joy! How wonderful that Teri chose to say this during the times of trial and not just the happiest times.
I’ve been blessed with many joys, none bigger than the birth of my precious daughter and having the privilege to watch her grow into a beautiful young lady. Jessie has provided me with more joys in her 12 years than I could ever have imagined, and I never know when she’ll provide the next one.
Last night, we had a dual celebration for Jessie and her grandfather, who have the same birthday. Each year, we buy a single birthday cake, and after we sing “Happy Birthday,” Jessie and her grandfather blow out the candles together. Granddaddy’s been a good sport through the years as he always lets Jessie choose the design and flavor of the cake. He once had a princess cake. This year’s cake featured turquoise roses, pink writing, and sprinkles.
Jessie placed 12 candles in their cake. She and her grandfather stood at the end of the kitchen table as we lit the candles and sang. Granddaddy bent over in preparation to blow out the candles, but before he knew what happened, Jessie blew out all 12 candles with one powerful gust. Granddaddy didn’t even have a chance to inhale.
The room erupted with laughter. Though part of me felt like I should apologize, I couldn’t stop laughing. I asked, “Should we relight the candles to give Granddaddy a chance to make a wish?” Jessie quickly responded, “I really want my wish to come true.” Being a loving grandfather, he agreed to forfeit his candle blowing for her. It was a joyous moment.
That night, as I tucked her into bed, Jessie asked if she could tell me what she wished and I wouldn’t tell anyone else. She didn’t want to ruin the wish by telling people, but she wanted me to know. When she blew out the candles, she had made a wish for a solution to a problem that had been worrying me.
In a few weeks, families will gather for Thanksgiving to remember their blessings. Jessie, with her kind heart, will be at the top of my long list. Yes, we all have challenges, but joys are also abundant. We find them in the sunrise or sunset on a beautiful fall day, a child’s giggle, a spouse’s embrace, or a pet’s enthusiastic welcome-home greeting. We can also make wishes ―with or without candles ― and have hope for the future. Life is good!
I just hope on Thanksgiving Day Jessie and her grandfather don’t reach for Grandmommy’s sweet potato casserole, the one with melted marshmallows on top, at the same time.
Until next month, remember to cherish the moments. Happy Thanksgiving!
Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting, and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad, and writer. Follow Patrick at www.facebook.com/patricklhempfing and on Twitter @PatrickHempfing. His first book, “MoMENts: A Dad Holds On,” is available on Amazon.com.