Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Remembering a Daddy and his daughter

My daughter’s best friend lost her Daddy Sunday. He was too young; it was too soon, and it’s all too sad.

John Welch lost his brief battle with cancer Sunday night, surrounded by his family and friends, and he had a lot of those.

I knew John as Danielle’s Daddy, first meeting him as we sat in the uncomfortable bleachers in the Wilcox Academy gymnasium, watching our girls plays basketball. Danielle was a starter who charged up and down the court, a threat to perhaps throw an elbow and foul out early. Then, my daughter, Mary Claire, might get in the game.

John was there for Danielle’s ball games, and for the prom, where I remember him waiting with me in front of Gaines-Ridge Dinner Club, for the lost limo driver to come take our beautiful girls and their dates to the prom, also at the gymnasium.

That’s how I remember John – being there for his Danielle.

I knew John Welch as just that, Danielle’s Daddy, and I don’t have a bio or obit information to guide me as I write about him. But that’s okay, because, you see, it was Danielle that John was most proud of.

He’d tell you that his beautiful blonde daughter was what he’d done best in his life.

As far as background, I know John Welch grew up in Birmingham and went to school here. Professionally, he ran restaurants and believed in good food and hospitality. Most recently, he managed the Dream Land barbecue restaurant in downtown Birmingham. (This picture is Danielle, who we call D, and John Welch at Dream Land in Birmingham.)

I know John loved rock n’ roll (having followed the Grateful Dead around for a brief period in his young life) and I know he was a Bob Dylan fan, like me, one of those music lovers who get Dylan. John also loved serving folks good food and being a good host.

But most of all, John loved his daughter Danielle, his only child, a love child, even, and he was always, always there for her.

And when John was diagnosed with cancer just a couple of months ago, it was Danielle who was there for John.

Danielle quit school for the semester, withdrawing from Southern Union, where she was studying radiology, moved out of the Auburn trailer where she lived with Mary Claire and others from Camden.

I remember her sitting on our back porch, after she had made the decision to drop out this semester, saying “I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t spend every minute I can with Daddy, just in case he doesn’t make it,” she said, crying, and even then, bolstering herself for what she feared was coming. Danielle negotiated with her grandfather, John’s father, a retired Texas A&M educator who, by nature, disapproves of dropping out of school. Danielle made the tough, adult decisions she had to in order to be at her Daddy’s side, and she was, every step of the way.

I was 23, probably a year older than Danielle, when I lost my mother to cancer, too. So, I feared that I knew what was coming for Danielle and her Daddy, and I knew that she was right to be there for him as much as she could, and she was.

Danielle was there (and Mary Claire was an honored guest) when John was baptized by his father at the Church of Christ he went to as a child. She was there for the doctor meetings, the radiation, the discomfort, the visiting friends and family and more friends. They all moved in together, grandfather, Danielle, John and, for much of the time, and at the last, Danielle’s mother Kelley, and Kelley’s mother, a nurse who I know only as Nanny.

During his final weeks and months, Danielle and her Daddy went out to eat, watched movies, looked at old pictures. They went to an Alabama football game and to see Widespread Panic and the Allman Brothers. She rubbed her Daddy’s back, and helped figure out the meds, made sure he tried to sleep and to eat. She learned more than she ever wanted to about how quickly cancer can move in and devastate.

But, I know that John Welch was right with the Lord and with his family as he faced his final weeks, then days, then hours, with his family and friends, and his Danielle, at his side.

And, I know something else with certainty. Danielle Rose Welch was John Welch’s pride and joy, and he was her hero.

Song of the day: Pride and Joy, by Stevie Ray Vaughan

1 comment:

  1. So sorry to hear this news, Jackie, but I know that Danielle and others will appreciate such a beautiful tribute to her father.