Napkin Notes: The Power of Parents to Make a Difference

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This Thanksgiving, as many of us prepare to sit down to great meals shared in the company of family, we take time to remember the things we are grateful for. Today we share a heartwarming piece that features lessons appropriate to this time of giving, and a very positive message for all. One father’s incredible story teaches us about the value of our connections with our children, about strengthening those bonds, and finding motivation even during very difficult and challenging times.

Garth Callaghan was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2011, prostate cancer in 2012, and a new occurrence of kidney cancer in the fall of 2013. These were the diagnoses that would devastate most people. Doctors gave him “about a 10% five-year survival rate,” which prompted a bit of soul searching for Garth. Rather than slide into depression or self pity, he saw it as an opportunity to shift his focus to the number one priority in his life: his daughter Emma.

When Emma was a small child, Garth started writing short notes to her on napkins, which he would pack with her school lunch. At first it was a passing fancy, inspired by “because I said I would,” a social movement “dedicated to bettering humanity through the power of a promise.” It became a true passion for Garth when Emma hit third grade, and his cancer diagnoses caused him to redouble his efforts to make a habit of sharing these “napkin notes.”

Following the final diagnosis in 2013, Garth made a commitment that he would complete 826 more of these notes – one for every day of school until Emma would graduate from high school. The notes feature kind words, inspirational phrases, and touching thoughts to offer guidance and support for Emma. Living with the uncertainty of cancer in his life, Garth believed that the notes could serve as a legacy should he pass away, an enduring sign of his commitment to his daughter and his vision for her future. We share some of our favorites below:

  • “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” – Benjamin Franklin
  • “Dear Emma, Everything in moderation. Except Awesome. You can never have too much awesome. Love, Dad.”
  • “Dear Emma, Sometimes when I need a miracle, I look into your eyes and realize I’ve already created one. Love, Dad.”
  • “Dear Emma, ‘It’s too hard’ is where other people give up. Not us. Love, Dad.”
  • “Dear Emma, Leave everyone better than you found them. Love, Dad.”
  • “Dear Emma, Don’t just be yourself, choose yourself. Love, Dad.”
  • “Dear Emma, Don’t let the fear of embarrassment dictate your actions. Love, Dad.”
  • “Dear Emma, Choose Happiness. Create your own. Love, Dad.”


Garth also published each one of the notes on his blog, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. The notes became a viral phenomenon for good, with a book of the compiled messages hitting shelves (is available for purchase at Amazon) so that everyone can enjoy the inspirational messages and this fantastic example of true fatherly love. Just as Garth was surprised to learn of his initial diagnosis, he was blown away by the outpouring of support from the online community after sharing his notes. He soon learned of thousands of people around the world that relied on his daily social media posts to get through their own hardships.

Garth’s book ends with a list of 59 things that he hopes his daughter will experience as she goes through life. He hopes when she hits major obstacles in her life, that she considers what her dear dad would have done if he were in her situation. While the impetus for Garth’s notes may have been whether or not Garth would be around to watch his daughter grow up, the message is one we can all benefit from. Garth encourages all of us to make a habit of writing simple notes and demonstrations of care on a regular basis. These notes can let those around us know how we feel, and spread joy and thoughtfulness that are infectious.

Garth’s story is one that shows all of us how parents who get involved and take an active effort can touch not only their children, but all who surround our families. The positive energy of these notes and the level of commitment they represent tend to inspire the same in others. We can help make our children more thoughtful and caring individuals, and the world around us a brighter place, when we take the time to do something, even if it seems small at the time.

Time with our families is a precious commodity. As you spend time with your family this holiday season, think of these “napkin notes” (and take the time to explore more of them online), and consider ways that you can reach out and touch your children, to let them know you care, and communicate to them your goals and hopes for their future.

This story is particularly touching to those of us here at because we believe so strongly in the idea of family communication and togetherness. Our children may know that we love them, but going out of our way to show them is still important. We can’t hope to see our children grow up with the values we want for them if we don’t share about them together. Take the time to talk with your children and teens about the things that matter most. Provide for their future, reflect on the past, and fill their present with the love and support that only parents can provide.

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