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Thursday, January 30, 2014

After Cancer, Dad Writes Daughter 826 Inspirational Notes

Garth Callaghan is pictured with his daughter Emma. (

Garth Callaghan is pictured with his daughter Emma. (

Garth Callaghan has been writing notes to his daughter Emma ever since she was in the second grade. Sometimes it’s just a few words of encouragement, sometimes a famous quote.

Now Emma is 14. And Callaghan, age 44, has been forced to take a closer look at his own mortality. He’s been diagnosed with cancer three times since November 2011.

“Shortly after my first surgery, I found that she had been ripping the quotes off the napkins and putting them into a composition book with a date,” Callaghan told Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti. “So at that point, I knew she was attempting to save some of the more special ones.”

Callaghan decided to play it safe and write 826 napkin notes ahead of time. That way, no matter what happens to him, Emma will have a note in her lunch every single day until she graduates from high school.

Interview Highlights: Garth Callaghan

On how the notes started

“I remember eating lunch with my daughter while she was in kindergarten and eating her favorite lunch, which was chicken patty on a bun, and it was utterly disgusting. And at that point, my family and I decided that Emma really needed to bring lunch as much as possible. And so, one of the things we really liked to do was to make the lunch special, and sometimes it was a pudding cup, or sometimes it was a cookie or a piece of candy. And occasionally, there was a napkin with a small note on it. And back then, they were very simple notes, things that said, ‘I love you, have a great day.’ This was an incredibly great connection that we were having, and it was something that she clearly looked forward to every day.”

How he comes up with the notes

“Part of this Napkin Note process is to pay attention as I see quotes or sayings I think are inspirational or motivational, especially to a teenaged girl. I keep track of them. So a good portion of my quotes were actually personal notes to Emma, and one of my favorites goes something to the effect of: ‘Dear Emma, When I think to myself that I need a miracle, all I have to do is look into your eyes, and realize that I already have one.'”

What he wants Emma to take from the notes

“When I was Emma’s age, I definitely did not feel comfortable with myself, and I really want my daughter to have a very strong sense of who she is, and I want her to be able to express that and not be concerned about peer pressure and really just enjoy who she is.”

“I have faced my own mortality. Frankly, every parent should face their own mortality, and this has just brought it front and center for me. So I would really like her to sit back and understand how incredibly loved she is, how much her dad and her mom support her, and how much we care about the person she becomes.”


  • W. Garth Callaghan, “Napkin Notes Dad” in Glen Allen, Virginia. He tweets @wgarth.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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