On her 16th birthday, Ms Bailey Sellers, the youngest of four siblings, noticed something wrong with her father. It was the Christmas of 2012 and he slept through for most of his favourite day of the year.
Bailey's father was later diagnosed to have stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He was 55 years old at that time.
After that devastating news, Bailey dropped out of high school, and took care of her father full time. When the load became too heavy, her mother too stayed home to take care of him.
However, a year later, Michael Sellers passed away when Bailey was only 16 (turning 17 that year). But that was not the end of their father-daughter's bond.
A few months after her father's passing, on Bailey's 17th birthday, she received a special gift. It's from her father. It's his posthumous love gift for her, that is, it came in a bouquet of flower and a note that reads:-
"Happy birthday. You'll receive these until you're 21. Love, Dad."
Apparently, Michael had before his demise set up an arrangement with a flower delivery service to send his daughter a bouquet and a note every birthday until she is 21.
Sharing about these loving annual deliveries, Bailey said: "Everyone knows I hate my birthday. I don't want to celebrate it. It's just a reminder he's not there anymore. And at the same time, I can't wait because I get those flowers."
The truth is that Bailey didn't want her 21st birthday to come because, as promised, that will be her father's last love gift to her.
But when it came last Friday, which was two days before her 21st birthday, she "brought the flowers inside and couldn't make it through a sentence of the note before she lost it."
It reports that "while the previous years' flowers usually had short greetings, this time a handwritten note with butterfly stickers was attached. Her mother read the rest of the letter, with the whole family crying."
Here is what Bailey's father wrote:-
"This is my last love letter to you until we meet again. I do not want you to shed another tear for me my baby girl for I am in a better place. You are and will always be the most precious jewel I was given. It is your 21st birthday and I want you to always respect your momma and stay true to yourself. Be happy and live life to the fullest. I will still be with you through every milestone, just look around and there I will be. I love you Boo Boo and Happy Birthday!!! Daddy."
Lesson? Erm...full disclosure?
I actually cried this morning when I read that letter. Being a father of three, with two young daughters, I shed silent tears.
They said grown, adult men don't cry. I somehow believe that.
You see, if you protect your heart from the hurts of love, wrap it up airtight from the wounds of devotion, and lock it away somewhere where the pain of fatherly sacrifice cannot touch it, you have no reason to shed any tears. Your heart is well insulated.
But alas. a father's heart is not that fortunate to be so protected, wrapped up and locked away.
Every morning, the privilege of being a father is that you get to see the sleeping, peaceful faces of your children.
You get to be there for all their milestones in life. You get to share their disappointments, growth, tears and joys, and they yours.
At the end of the day, you get to watch them sleep with that same reassuring peace they started with in the morning under your care, nurture and love.
The relationship between a father and his child cuts deep into the father's heart. In fact, they are so connected by a spiritual bond that one's pain is felt a thousand times by another. For fathers, you dread the day you walk her down the aisle and give her away.
So, I know viscerally and intimately where Michael is coming from and how his heart must have ached so much penning those words to Bailey, and also every greeting card he wrote to her until his baby's 21st birthday.
I feel that Michael's message from a place of eternal rest is so applicable to me. It is so heartwarming for me.
It speaks about a love that never dies. It lives on with such undying devotion. It is eternal. This father's heart will go on for a lifetime even if Michael is not around for all of Bailey's birthdays.
It is the same message I want my daughters (and son) to know.
I would want her to respect her mother cos she is the first love of my life, and a love that transformed me for good. My heart would never be strong and resilient without hers beating in mine.
And I would also want my daughter to stay true to herself. Don't pretend to be what you are not my dearest. You don't need to prove to others or get their approval.
I want my daughter to know that she is always my angel, the precious jewel God has given, and I will always love her because this love cannot be shaken by circumstances external to us.
In fact, the circumstances, however intimidating, are there as building blocks to strengthen our love even more, and not break or threaten the bond.
And I wish that she will always be happy and live life to the fullest.
In this world, it takes so little to be happy. We tend to forget that. We run around empty looking for it when the truth is that happiness has never left us.
It is in fact in the touch of another, the sweet words of encouragement, the embrace of passion, the joy of a walk together on an ordinary day, and the growth we build up through overcoming in hope, faith and love.
Mind you, not one of those things I have written about require any herculean effort on a father's part to achieve, or at all. He doesn't need to build up his career or cash balances for most of his lifetime to buy them. They are free, priceless and forever. They are readily expressible.
In other words, they are simple acts, deeply felt, and quietly transforming. They are eternal too.
In any event, what is a lifetime to a father anyway. It may just come sooner than he could ever wish against.
Lastly, of all the above, my daughter needs to know this: "I will still be with you through every milestone, just look around and there I will be."
Indeed, fathers have never left. We are always there. The memories we form with our child can never be extinguished. A father's love stays with his children for their lifetime. It watches over them and his heart still aches when their hearts ache, and leaps for joy when theirs leap.
But whatever happens, the greatest gift of fatherhood is that we hold our baby's heart in our hands when we first carry them in our arms.
From thereon, our hearts are already intertwined, joined as one. It's unbreakable, inseparable. And it is an overcoming love that lasts forever. Cheerz.