A father and daughter’s relationship is precious. A father protects his daughter, guides her on the right path, and reminds her of how valuable she is. Most fathers plan on being there for their daughters for their whole lives, supporting them from childhood to adulthood.
But when Garth Callaghan was diagnosed with cancer, he realized that he may not always be around to tell his daughter Emma how much he loves her and to encourage her—so he came up with an idea.
He wanted to find a lasting way to send his love to his daughter.
When Emma was in third grade, Callaghan started using notes on napkins in her lunch box to show his love and encouragement, he explained to Today. The notes started off simple, but got deeper as she grew older. Besides writing notes in his own words, he takes quotes from people like Ghandi and Dr. Seuss.
“A good portion of the notes are literally just letters from me to her. They start out, ‘Dear Emma,’ and I say something, and then I say, ‘Love, Dad,’” he said.
“I try to mix it up because frankly, sometimes she needs to hear that yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s game, and that’s a Babe Ruth quote.”
Callaghan has written 826 napkin notes for his daughter.
Callaghan created a napkin note for each school day until her high school graduation. The notes range from making sure she has a great day, to letting her know she is strong and powerful.
“If she had a big softball game that afternoon, I’d wish her some luck at the game. It became less of a, ‘Have a good day,’ to more of a ‘I know you’re a strong person. Believe in yourself. Be who you are,’” he said. “And really, I wanted to help make sure she developed into this nice, well-rounded young woman.”
Although it started off as a creative way to make sure his daughter knows he loves her after he is gone, he admitted that it is not about him being diagnosed with cancer.
“Any parent at any time could be hit by a car or have a heart attack,” he said, explaining to Today why he continues to write his napkin notes. “This is really about leaving a legacy so that she can understand some of my life philosophies and how much I love her.”
Their bond is strong—and the notes made it stronger.
Now a senior in high school, Emma explained that the notes make her feel special and closer to her dad.
“I love napkin notes for a couple reasons, not just the obvious ones such as knowing my dad is thinking about me or learning new quotes,” she said. “I love them because they remind me not to take things for granted, because my dad started getting serious with them when he had cancer for the first time.”
Callaghan is all for other families creating a bond like he has. When other parents started contacting him through Facebook with questions, he compiled all of his notes and made it into a booklet.
“If you like our story and think what we do has some meaning, you can grab your own pen and your own disposable napkin and write a note to your own child,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be great. It can say,’ ‘I Love You’ or ‘Have a Great Day.’”