When I was a child, his hands were a sign of strength. They were expansive, plump and firm.
His hands protected from all the bad in the world and let only the good in; at least that was the intention. His hands reached out for his little girl each evening when he came home from a busy day at work. His hands unbuttoned his suit jacket and loosened his necktie in preparation for an evening at home.
When walking anywhere, his hands engulfed mine. He held on firmly, not wanting to let go of those moments. One of his biggest fears was of the little girl in ruffled dresses growing up to be a woman. His hands were making a fleeting attempt to prevent the inevitable.
As a young girl, I saw his hands as a sign of wisdom. They were distinct and healthy and the fingers tubular. They worked diligently at the dining room table, furiously scribbling down notes from self-help books as he tried to bridge the gap between jobs. He always wanted to be a better man.
His hands taught me how to play catch and swing a bat, making his daughter the first draft pick in South Whitehall softball summer recreation leagues. His hands would grip over mine when teaching a new skill. His hands were willing to do the work if it meant his daughter's success. His little girl was a gem in his eyes.
When I was a teen, his hands were a sign of dominance. They were becoming blotched by sun spots, but they still had a liveliness about them that refused to diminish. They tapped on his wristwatch if I walked through the door a few minutes past my curfew. They shook my dates' hands -- a little too firmly -- when they came to pick me up.
His hands pulled me in for a bear hug with each greeting, one around my back and one around my head, as he kissed the top of my head. His hands always squeezed me close. I learned quickly that I was never too old to get a hug and a kiss from my dad.
His hands were in charge when they took away my car keys because I was not where I said I would be. His hands clapped with a raucous clamor as I played in WPIAL championships or sang in the high school talent show. He was my No. 1 fan and his hands made sure that I knew it.
As a woman, I saw in his hands a sign of love. They felt tough, like a man's hands should, but still had a softness about them that comforted. They reached for me when I needed reining in, and they reluctantly let me go when I needed to fall on my face in order to learn the ways of the world. His hands wrote daily emails during my days of college, just checking in.
His hands turned the key in the ignition for every every St. Bonaventure Parents Weekend or home softball game I played there, with little concern for the four-hour drive ahead as long as it meant seeing his little girl and getting to give her a hug. His hands waved the Terrible Towel with pride each time the Bonnies scored. My teammates loved him! He savored each moment with unbelievable sentiment. Nothing was more important to him than being with his family.
And now, his hands are one of my most precious memories, one of the few things the cancer could not touch. His face became sallow, his body weak and frail. But his hands remained untouched. They remained strong, wise, dominant and loving.
His hands were one of the few parts of my dad I could look upon without feeling a stab of pain in my chest as he lay helpless in bed as the disease took over. But I could always hold his hands. They felt the same as I remembered. I was a daughter holding my father's hands, and nothing could hurt me.
Now I pray with my hands -- tender, soft, feminine and lean -- that I will exude the qualities of my father. I pray for his strength when I need protection. I pray for his wisdom when I stand at a crossroads. I pray for his dominance when I need to take control of my life.
And I pray for his love when I need a patient heart. My prayers connect our hands together once again.
Caitlin Grattan of Whitehall, a special education teacher in the Brentwood School District, can be reached at email@example.com. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.