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  • Writer's pictureSierra Winter

I LOVE YOU!

I had a random urgency to call my dad late in the afternoon. Knowing it was long past his 'quitting time' and expecting him to be asleep I gave him a ring. He answered after two rings and although he sounded drowsy he chuckled and said "Weird, I was just thinking about you." I smiled even though he couldn't see me, just because those divine timing moments are always remarkable, even when they are small.


He chatted about his day, without taking a breath in between thoughts and after telling me about his camp clean-up day, he asked what I was up to using one of his regular catchphrases.


"Are you working away like your dad?" His assumptions were correct as I typed away, working on the development of the Northern Valley Health Coalition, while responding to a Bald Mountain guest, updating my sale for Artwork by Sierra Winter and updating my hours for Sunshine Community Health Center. "haha, you could say that! I just had my first Northern Valley Health Coalition meeting yesterday and I am getting all caught up from those discussions" recognizing that I wasn't giving my dad my full attention, I stopped doing the other 372 things I was previously emerged in.


"Northern Valley... HEALTH coalition?" my dad emphasized the word health, for reasons he probably doesn't even know. "Wow... that sounds... like.. what is it?" I explained the vision of the coalition and how I was really excited to have people from the State of Alaska, Mat-Su Borough, the Medicare Information Office, Alaska Health Fairs, and other impactful organizations at the table. I gave him examples of some projects we (the Northern Valley Health Coalition) would like to try to work on in the years to come. Meanwhile, as I shared these things my dad was softly laughing to himself. "Wowee. That sounds like ALOT! Wow... hah.. my kid... you're a busy lady." That is an understatement. My dad continued to laugh and asked if that was what he had been hearing about on the radio recently. KTNA public radio had shared some stories about our plans and my dad is a proud sponsor and member of KTNA so he doesn't miss much.


He asked about my art business and what my website was again. He asked how to send that to one of his friends. Dad still has a flip phone where it takes 3 clicks to get to one letter so texting is quite the mystery to him. He wanted to make sure that he could see pictures of the snowmachine wraps so he could "brag to his friends" about how cool they are. If I have any ounce of modesty in my genes, it is not from my dad. He is loud, proud, and not afraid to share, and well... it seems I am more like him than I think.


A little back story, when I was a little rugrat, I'd say about 7 years old and younger, dad would call me his princess and say I love you at the end of every phone call. As I grew up we grew apart and he called me punk instead of princess and "I love you" was said in voicemails and not in person. I would say it to him at the end of every call and get answers like "alright, talk to you tomorrow" or "yea, bye-bye now". That doesn't mean my dad is an a**, well not for that reason at least, and it doesn't mean he didn't love me too. Whatever his reasons were, saying I love you became a rarity.


When he was diagnosed I made it a point to annoyingly say I love you at the end of every call or interaction. I would say it loudly, awkwardly, and repeatedly. I just needed him to know that I did. My actions showed that I am sure, but I needed to say it. I needed him to hear it. Looking back, I did it for me more than anything. To help protect my heart in really scary times.


I recently started calling my dad back after saying I love you and getting the cold 'click' in return. He'd answer and say "What, did I forget something?" or "What happened?" and I would poke and prod saying "yea you forgot something!" but my hints didn't always prevail. Eventually, he caught on and when I'd call back after getting the click, he would say "OH I LOVE YOU!" and yell it into the phone before hanging up again.


After telling my dad about my businesses, the coalition plans, and other things that are going on in my life my dad said "Wow, I am proud of you. You are just like your mom and dad, doing big things" and that alone was more than enough to fill my healing heart. I seldom received words of affirmation from my dad. I knew he was proud but I hadn't heard him say it. Then as we said our goodbyes I said "Alright Dad, I will talk to you tomorrow" and as he said "Bye" I expected that to be the end and clicked to end the call. Right as I did I heard "I LOV"...and then silence.


NO WAY. He was about to say it first and I HUNG UP ON HIM! I immediately called back and he said "What!? I said I LOVE YOU!" and I laughed and said "I know! I didn't expect that! I love you too."


Click. The call ended again.


Fighting my dad's cancer with him has been painful, tiring, worrying, devastating, and debilitating at times... but it has also changed the dynamic of our relationship in so many ways. We are closer. We are bonded. I wanted to remember this phone call someday, so I share our story. "I love you" Sierra Winter Smith

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