An Open Letter to My Father

Jul 8, 2011

In January of 2005, I stood in the main terminal of Reagan National Airport and said goodbye to my family.  I had done it.  I was officially a resident of the District of Columbia.  A big city girl.  Small town left behind, lifelong dream achieved.

As my Father hugged me for the last time, he whispered, “Now remember, you are expressly forbidden to die.”

This was my Father’s unique way of saying, “I love you. Please don’t get run over by a taxi, shot in a drive by or stabbed by a mugger on the Metro.” 

For 22 years, I lived in a protective bubble that my Father guarded with a furious militancy and a Benelli shotgun.  Curfews were obeyed.  Speed limits were respected.  Boyfriends and friends were vetted like Supreme Court nominees.  Privacy was an illusion.  And punishments for violating any of the rules—of which there were hundreds—were doled out with stunning rapidity. 

No harm would come to my Father’s family on his watch.

Now, I was living in the Big City, which according to network television shows and CNN was an urban battlefield populated by crack addicts and lecherous politicians.  Busses ran stop lights.  The Capitol was a terrorist target.  Homeless men slept on street corners.  I was living in a chaotic, dangerous environment and I wasn’t even permitted to own a gun for my own defense…this was my Father’s worst nightmare.

Sixteen days later, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer.  We were living a different nightmare. 

For half-a-decade, my Father underwent dozens of treatments and therapies to beat back the cancer.  He was lucky; he had the ‘good kind.’  We’d dodged the bullet.  Until February, when we stepped on a landmine.

The newest tumor wasn’t ‘the good kind,’ which had never seemed that good until now, when compared to the bad, small cell kind that can actually kill you.  Chemotherapy treatments began.  Hair fell out in chunks.  Tempers shortened.  Naps lengthened.  And in 19 days, a surgeon in Seattle will remove two of my Father’s major organs and every nerve, vein and piece of tissue attached to them.  And then, maybe, just maybe, if we’re lucky, and God is feeling generous with Jonah that day, we’ll have killed it. 

My Father’s bogeymen were always tangible.  The 3:00AM burglar.  The disgruntled client.  The drug-addicted ex-boyfriend.  That’s why we were always armed to the teeth.

Now, the only foe we really care about is impervious to pistols, rifles, and shotguns.  Even our cannon is powerless.  A new foe launched a sneak attack through the ventilation system, while we were busy guarding the doors and windows.  And we’re totally terrified, which is new for us.

My family is nicknamed the Fearsome Foursome, and we’re not looking to downgrade to a trio.  Like a team of Delta Operators, we’re better than average separately and unstoppable when working as a unit.  But while I’m worried, I’m not apoplectic.  Because, remember, my Father is expressly forbidden to die. 

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  1. bonnie says:

    just wanted to say… sending good vibes your way. stay strong xo

  2. bonnie says:

    just wanted to say… sending good vibes your way. stay strong xo

  3. KC says:

    This is a beautiful letter Belle. Prayers and good luck for your father and your family!

  4. p says:

    Oh Belle. You made me cry at work. Isn't that supposed to be forbidden also?
    Your family will continue to be in my thoughts – is it strange that I think about you and your dad all the time, even know I don't know you at all or even know your real name? Please know that you'll continue to have support here – you have given your blog community so much, please let us know what we can give to you.

  5. Bekki says:

    Beautiful post Belle. I've followed for a long time and haven't commented, but I felt compelled to come out of my silence on this one. My Dad was killed in a car accident in October, so I can relate a bit to your post. I'll be praying for your family.

  6. Cara says:

    Lovely post. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  7. k says:

    Praying for you and your family, Belle.

  8. crd says:

    Thinking of you and your family! Your post also made me cry at work…

  9. Montana says:

    Stay Strong Fearsome Foursome!!

  10. amy b.s. says:

    you'll be in my thoughts and so will your family. i'm completely familiar with the indestructable father becoming human and hope the outcome of this is as good as ours has been.

  11. L says:

    All the best to your father and your family. Sheer determination and stubbornness do in fact make a difference!

  12. Sally says:

    Belle, as a former member of a fearsome foursome that did get downgraded to a trio, I wish you and your family the very best. Cherish every moment and continue to fight!

  13. MM says:

    Thoughts and prayers with your family. Stay strong!

  14. Meg says:

    My thoughts and prayers for your family.

  15. Jessica says:

    Best of luck with your father, Belle. you are truly luck to have a father as wonderful as yours sounds, i wish you and your family all the strength and love you can over the internet…

  16. R says:

    Belle, you're a beautiful writer. Wishing your father and your family all the best.

  17. prosecutordc says:

    Thanks for sharing this with your blog followers. Wish your Dad all the best and your family too!

  18. Heather B says:

    Cancer's a bitch. My thoughts and prayers are with you and yours. Also fingers crossed and anything else that might bring you all the luck I didn't get.

  19. Truc says:

    My very best thoughts for your father and the rest of your family, and my very worst thoughts towards the C-word.

  20. A Reader says:

    Thoughts are with you and yours.

  21. MominHeels says:

    This is why you are you — you write so beautifully we as readers have the honor of feeling every pinprick of emotion. Use that strength in the days ahead and you and your family will beat this!

  22. KLo says:

    Thoughts & prayers. You will all make it, promise.

  23. Mia says:

    🙁 I'm so sorry. Thoughts and prayers to you, your dad and your family.

  24. Jennelle says:

    I don't even know you, but I am sending out a virtual hug to you, and wishing the very best for you and your dad.

  25. Belle's babysitter says:

    Dearest Belle, You were spot on about your dad's obsessive way of protecting you. Which is why to this day, I have no idea why he thought it was a good idea to leave you in my care on so many occasions. Your blog today was beautiful and heartwrenching, all in the same breath. I hope you know how much we Finnegan's love you and your family. I have faith that your father will beat this, too! In the end, Cancer will fear him as much as the rest of us do!

  26. Charleigh says:

    Dear Belle,

    They say that no parent should ever have to bury their child, but who says it is any easier for a child to lose their parent? I hope he will beat it, but in the meantime, just keep writing. To yourself, to others, keep notes of the funny things he has said, the heart-warming moments you have shared with him. You will want it for later and it's a great way to relieve the present.

    On a side note, this post is excellent writing. Different from your normal writing style, and reminded me of my favorite author Pat Conroy. I know you are crazy busy all the time, but he is an amazing, entertaining, author. His descriptions of confronting hard times are much like yours. “Lords of Discipline” “Beach Music” and “Prince of Tides” are my favorites by him.

  27. Dr. Jean Grey says:

    Praying for you guys tonight.

  28. Gloria says:

    Belle – when you write your passion – you shine. I am hoping that one day you will be able to post without the constraints of the House Ethics Committee and really show your stuff. Yes Charleigh, the style is honest with a southern slant as those of one of my favorite authors, Conroy. prayers upon all.

  29. Cousin Jeff says:

    Belle comes from fearsome stock and she serves a God whose name is Terror in the face of illness.

  30. Swilla83 says:

    I wish your father all the luck in the world. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery and many more years of worrying about his little girl.

  31. R says:

    To feel powerless is the absolute worst. I'm deeply sorry to hear that your dear father is ill and I'll be thinking of you & your loved ones during this time.

  32. LPU says:

    Cancer is a bitch. But us Western folk are tough as nails, Belle. He can push through this. Keep up the good fight and don't lose hope; faith can move mountains! He's lucky to have an incredible family to support him through it all.

    My thoughts & prayers are with each of you as he continues this battle.

  33. Belle says:

    Nessa-It is you who was in danger. I do believe my brother and I nearly beat you to a pulp a few times when you tried to break up our brawls. Sibling rivalry, ain't it grand?

  34. Amy says:

    Thoughts and prayers to your father, Belle. If it hadnt been for my own fearless mom, who had her own struggle with cancer, I don't think I would know what being an eleganty dressed lady looked like. I hope your father recovers smoothly so he can continue to be such a strong influence on your life.

  35. bonnie says:

    just wanted to say… sending good vibes your way. stay strong xo

  36. MidwestChic says:

    This post is beautiful, Belle. My prayers are with you and your family. Keep the faith.

  37. Tripp says:

    Your Dad & Mom love you and are very proud of you. Your brother loves you but let's not get to hopeful about the proud. The four of you are truly loved by me. I pray for each of you many times a day and will continue for the rest of my life. You go woman!

  38. cginnyc says:

    You dad is lucky to have you as a daughter and it's clear that you are lucky to have such an awesome, fearless family. Sending you good vibes… this too shall pass

  39. RO says:

    My thoughts are with your family.

  40. Kate says:

    Stay strong Belle. I almost lost my father less than a week after they dropped me off for my freshman year of college. He had an infection that attacked his heart. The surgeon told us if they had waited even 30 more minutes to operate that he never would have made it. But 6 years later he is still here and stronger than ever.

  41. Elizabeth says:

    Dear Belle,

    I have read your blog for some time…even though I follow it from NYC and not DC. I am so sorry for what you are going through- and i know your pain. My strong six recently turned into a five because of awful awful cancer. If there's one thing I've learned from all of this, it is that those you love and those who love you will always always be there for you. Your father sounds like a strong and incredible man, and my prayers are with you and your family as you all come together to fight this scourge.

    Be well.
    Elizabeth

  42. Dani says:

    I am terribly sorry, Belle. My dad also was diagnosed with bladder cancer about 5 years ago. He elected to have organs removed as well. I am SO thankful to have him here with me today, although there have been a lot of changes. Your dad will be ok. If you need to reach out to someone who has been through this process, please do… my email is above. Best wishes!

  43. CL Who says:

    When you think of how small you started out you have certainly grown into a wonderful strong person, which obviously runs in your family. These last few months have been very hard yet I sense the strong will to survive in your father every day I see him. It's not always pretty, but it's always there. The cross you bear may seem heavy but knowing you as I do, you will all pick up more than your share of the weight and carry it through. Your letter is amazing, passionate and heartfelt. You guys are in my family's thoughts and prayers. And we WILL do dinner in Disney World, some day.

  44. Kim says:

    Beautiful, you are an exceptional writer. I will send prayers.

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