It was Father’s Day 2006 when my fiancé, Katie, told me that she was pregnant and that I was going to be a daddy. I was excited, exhilarated, and ecstatic.

She was on the phone, having just returned from not one, but two, baby showers. She took several tests before she went, and a couple more when she got back to her Connecticut apartment.

It must have been so hard to hold back, but she did. She calmly told me about her day. That she was at both of her stepsister’s baby showers.

I jokingly told her that those things always come in threes. Her response was epic.

“I know.”

“Oh yeah?” I said with a little nervousness. “Who else is pregnant?”

“We are! Happy Father’s Day!”

With those five words, my entire life changed. I shouted to the barracks’ courtyard and several battle buddies cheered for me. The feeling I had is very difficult to describe.

Katie and I got married as planned, and then Ailyn came. Now, you want to talk about life-changing events!

One moment I was cooking pasta in our Tacoma, Wash., apartment, the next I’m holding my beautiful little angel.

It was over, I was done. I held her while Katie slept — she deserved it for what she has just been through. I stayed awake and held my daughter.

Her little hand was the size of a pepperoni, but when she wrapped it around my finger, I was wrapped around hers.

I had one month with her. She was born in February 2007; I was deployed to Iraq in March. I will not complain about that. I signed up, did my duty, fulfilled my commitment and went home.

I am lucky.

I missed many milestones in person, but Katie recorded many of them. I got to see her first steps, her first word, and her most of her first holidays, not to mention her first birthday. She’s had six since, and I’ve been to every single one.

I try to coach her athletic teams so we can spend some more time together and she can see me from a different perspective — not just daddy, but as a coach.

It does melt my heart when my little angel calls me “coach” during practice.

As a father, I worry about the future — mainly her future. I know I cannot control who she will become, but I also know that as long as I stay involved and available, she will at least have something I never had — and that is her father being involved in her life.

I never met my father, Frank, and it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that he died in 1992. So there is no possible reconciliation.

But I only mention that so that I can mention this, I am the father I am today because of Frank. He is my guiding image of what a father isn’t.

I made my choice to be the best daddy I could be. So whenever a decision is tough, whenever I find myself truly stumped as to how to handle a situation pertaining to my daughter, I just think “what would Frankie do?” and then do the opposite.

I think I’m a pretty good dad. Last month when Ailyn woke me up with a big hug and said, “Happy Father’s Day.” It meant the world to my heart.

When she had helped her mommy make me breakfast, that meant the world to my stomach. After all, if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then does the same not apply to daughters and daddies?

Regardless, it wouldn’t matter if it did or didn’t, because my little angel stole my heart before she was ever born, on Father’s Day 2006.

Contact James Harper at or 254-501-7554.​

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