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[October 11th] -- Fathers believe that their children will be part of their lives. Always. Oh, sure, they'll grow older and get married, but they'll never be too big to sit on our laps and give us "Daddy hugs." I believed that too, right up until October 11th, 2003, three years ago today.

Two of my six children were born with profound physical and mental handicaps (I'm the dad -- I don't have to be politically correct). Katie is 17 today -- she is still in diapers and cannot talk, though she can make her most basic needs known through her own special sign language. Her sister Kendi's handicaps were far more pronounced. She was unable to walk and lived her life in and around her wheel chair. She too was in a diaper. Though she was almost 21, she had the mental ability of a 10 month old. She really couldn't do much of anything that an adult could do. Except smile. Oh, what a beautiful and vivacious smile she had. I woke her each morning, changed her diaper, attached her leg braces, fed her breakfast, and got her off to school. The process reversed itself in the evening. Although she could not say it, her eyes told me that she loved me very much, and she appreciated her father's extra efforts on her behalf.

Kendi was a healthy child. Oh, she got sick now and then, but no more than any other of my children. She had heart surgery when she was a baby, but other than that, she was strong. She began to lose some weight in the spring of 2003, and in spite of our best efforts, we could not reverse the weight loss. Her doctor prescribed a feeding tube to help increase her nourishment. A home-health nurse came to our home and placed the tube in my daughter, who at this point had begun to grow weak. She was in the hospital four hours later. ashen gray and unable to breath. The nurse placed the tube not in her stomach but her lung. The Ensure liquid saturated her lung and caused pheunomonia to set in almost immediately.

In the three weeks that followed, my beloved daughter suffered greatly. We almost lost her to a pulmonary embelism the first week. Both her lungs collapsed in the second week. Her heart became weak and the doctors performed emergency surgery to repair it in the third week. It kept her alive only a few days more. Kendi died October 11th, 2003.

Death occurs in all of our lives, but it was her special circumstances that continues to haunt me today. She was dependent on me. It is the job of a father to protect his children, but when that child is unable to protect herself, when you are forced to make life and death decisions for her, that level of protection becomes much higher. Every decision in her life, from choosing what shoes to wear to keeping her alive using heroic measures fell on my shoulders. When a father has carte blance control over his daughter's life, he needs to keep her safe and healthy. I didn't. I couldn't save her. I failed her.

I miss her so.

Fathers, hug your children. Tell them you love them. Forgive their sins. Appreciate their talents. Acknowledge their uniqueness. Help them with their homework. Teach them about life. Use your mind and not the back of your hand to guide them. Hug them when you're happy with them. Hug them even harder when you're not. The clock's hands work forward, always forward, with a vengeance. That works well when it's 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and you're counting down the minutes to quitting time. But the clock becomes callous when it comes to retrieving the past. All the pleading and praying in the world won't give you back the moments that have already been spent. If they contain good memories, if you were a good father, you can find solace and softness hiding among those fractures of time. But if the relationship with your children was unfinished, all the searching in the world won't find those wonderful memories because they never occured.

I pray that you never suffer the loss that I did, and that you're children are as proud of you as you are of them. Perhaps you'll be more prepared -- emotionally, physically, financially -- than I was for one of these "It'll never happen to me" scenarios. But it does happen. And It hurts. Badly. All I have left today are pictures and memories. I can't hug my daughter, I can't wipe away a tear or hold her hand because something has scared her. I am not able to teach her, preach to her, even beseech her. I can't yell at her for coming home late, or praise her for turning her back on friends who aren't really friends.

You can.

You can still make a difference in your child's life. Go give them a hug and tell them you love them. Now. Before it's too late. I hope you'll never find out how painful it is to bury a child. It's not natural. It's not right. The purpose of this story is not for you to feel sorry for me. Rather, it's so you never have to feel sorry for yourself.

Come on. Call and tell them you love them. It's what father's do.

Baseball returns tomorrow.

Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story with us,your readership. I will heed your advice, and I'll give my daughter an extra hug -- I'll tell her it's from you.
My codolences to your family. Three years or thirty years -- it's hard to loose a child.
I cannot imagine the suffering you have gone through....
I'm really, really sorry. My daughter got an extra hug tonight.
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