If you never had a relationship with your father but knew he was homeless, would you bother to look for him? That's what Michelle Hallagin did. She didn't know who I was when I sent her a letter via Facebook asking if by any chance she happened to be related to a homeless marine with the same last name. I had sent a few messages to people on Facebook with the same last name but only Michelle answered. Her reply back to me put her on the path of reconnecting with her long lost father.
Prior to meeting her, she told me about how she would drive to various parks hoping to find her father but never had any luck. Growing up she heard plenty of negative things about him but as an adult, she wanted to find out for herself what kind of man her father was. When I told her I met her father at a local McDonald's in the city of Auburn, Washington and what his medical condition was, it took her a few moments to respond. If someone contacted you out of the blue and told you that your parent was dying of pancreatic cancer, what would you do?
Maybe you can walk away from another person's suffering but I can't. I had to help so I did the only thing I could think of; I got on Twitter and Facebook and started talking about him. People started sending donations via the PayPal donate button I have on careyfuller.com. I went to different hotels until I found one willing to help Gandalf out even though he doesn't have a state ID right now. I didn't find just one hotel but two! Every cent I received for Gandalf went to the Quality and Days Inn Hotels in Kent. Gandalf was absolutely stunned that anyone bothered to care. I made sure to stop by after dropping my kids off at school to check on him.
Sometimes we'd go over to the Shari's restaurant next door and just sit awhile and talk over coffee. I listened to his stories about Vietnam and how fast he ran track in his younger days. Eventually the topic of what he was going to do for the holidays came up and Gandalf simply shrugged his shoulders. He said he usually spends them alone and he had gotten used to that. I knew I didn't have plans either but I knew I'd be visiting him either way.
Gandalf didn't know I had a surprise in mind for him. I made arrangements to bring Michelle to the hotel unannounced to meet him. Understandably, she was nervous and didn't know how he'd react. In all honesty I didn't either but I knew that if we didn't try, we'd never know. We showed up at the hotel in the early afternoon. I told Michelle to stand back a ways while I had the front desk ring Gandalf's room. I walked towards the windows near the hallway so that he couldn't see his "surprise". I gave him a hug and held his hand and told him to follow me.
When he saw his daughter standing in the lobby with tears in her eyes smiling back at him, he was pleasantly stunned. He said "Well look who this is!" and held his arms out to her. At this point I walked away to give them their privacy. I knew Michelle was going to ask him to stay with her during Christmas instead of spending it alone.
The next day I found myself loading Gandalf's two backpacks into the van and we headed out to Michelle's. When we got there, we sat in the van for a few moments waiting for Michelle to greet us. Gandalf turned to me and said "I have no idea how to repay you for all you've done for me. This is the first Christmas I've ever had with my daughter. You gave me my baby girl and I'll never be able to thank you enough." I just told Gandalf, it's not about repaying me. It's about you and your daughter spending as much time together as you can while you can.
For Michelle, this is a chance she may never get again to have her father in her life. Even though she's struggling to pay rent on the small trailer she lives out of and is losing a kidney, she is adamant about keeping her father as close to her as she can. If help doesn't come soon, the tragedy is, they'll both be homeless.