Every child treated by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle Murphy during his nine-month stint as a medic corpsman in Kandahar, Afghanistan, made him homesick for his own little girl, Kylie.
She’s a seventh-grader at Copley-Fairlawn Middle School.
It wasn’t a new feeling. Before the military, Murphy was a globe-hopping, freelance photographer who was so devastated by the death of one of his subjects, a Tahitian child with an iron deficiency, that he quit the profession in 2005.
“Her death broke my heart. I tend to do that in the various parts of the world where I’ve traveled. I treat them like they are Kylie; I see them as a surrogate child,” Murphy said.
On Tuesday, it was time to reunite, so Murphy, his ex-wife Stacy Murphy and school Principal Bill Kerrigan planned a ruse.
Kylie’s seventh-grade choir was escorted into the gymnasium under the pretext that they were judging a talent competition that started with a piano performance of Chopin’s Polonaise by classmate Yuka Suzuki.
“I’ve asked you to judge this talent show because you have the most talent in the school,” Kerrigan had instructed the choir at the beginning. “I’ll be asking for your feedback.”
When he announced the second act, the curtains parted, Kyle Murphy walked onto the stage and descended the stairs.
“Daddy,” she said softly as recognition sunk in.
The 13-year-old ran to her father and jumped into his arms.
“It’s wonderful,” and she just liked “having him around,” she said as her dad handed her a bouquet of roses after a long embrace.
It was her first time with her dad in 10 months.
Kyle and Stacy Murphy, who divorced more than a decade ago, work together to make sure their daughter has quality time with her dad, who lives in Seattle.
“She really is so perfect,” he said of his daughter. “Her mom is emotional, empathetic and poetic — definitely a glass-half-full kind of person. [Kylie] is the perfect blend of both of us,” he said.
Stacy Murphy said she is grateful to a group of “surrogate moms” — family and friends who are always there to help get her daughter to cheer practice, volleyball, numerous other activities and any other help a single mom needs.
Kyle Murphy, who realized in the service that humanitarian work is his calling, will attend Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., to study to be a physician assistant when he is released from the military this summer. Murphy, who saved a 9-year-old girl by inserting a chest tube after she had been wounded by an improvised explosive device, will give Kylie a camel-skin backpack that was handmade especially for her by people of the Afghanistan village where the child lives.
On Friday, dad and daughter will fly to Seattle, where they will spend Kylie’s spring break snowboarding together and reconnecting, said her mom.
“She’s amazing,” Stacy Murphy said of her daughter. “The best gift to anyone’s life.”
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.