By Hedy Phillips
Jan 17, 2019 @ 5:30 pm
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I was sitting in the San Francisco airport flying to a Harry Styles concert when I learned my dad had acute myeloid leukemia. After a routine physical, his doctor noticed his blood work was abnormal, and during the months spent waiting for more test results, I feared the worst. My stomach dropped right onto the floor of the terminal as my mom told me the news. Four months later, I was at home in New York, about to book a flight to Europe to another Harry Styles concert when I got another call — my dad would need a bone marrow transplant. That time, I canceled my plan to see Harry in Europe and headed back to Ohio instead.

My dad’s always known about my love for Harry Styles. My devotion to the singer started when I was living in California, but that never stopped me from gushing to my parents over the phone, through text, and even with gifts. The multiple copies of One Direction CDs they received for Christmas year after year were much appreciated, I’m sure. After I moved to New York, my dad and I took countless road trips back and forth to Ohio, and each time, I’d play One Direction — and then eventually Harry’s solo music — in the car the whole time. He’d always pretend to be annoyed, but I knew he secretly loved it. He teased me about never having met Harry Styles, despite my dedicated fandom. The first time he heard one of Harry’s songs out in the wild — “Sign of the Times” was used in an Olympics commercial in 2018 — he called to tell me he heard Harry Styles on TV. Always “Harry Styles,” like his name is just one word: HarryStyles.

I’ve been a Harry Styles fan since 2012, when I heard One Direction on the radio for the first time. Over the years, I devoted myself to the band in a way that made sense for my age — 26 at the time and now 32. Rather than coating my walls in posters I ripped out of magazines, I framed high-quality concert photos I shot myself. Rather than wear T-shirts with Harry’s face on them, I bought the same Gucci shoes he wears. I admired him for things other than his music; instead of being caught up in scandals, he was spoke out about women’s rights and donated his hair to charity. Honestly, I’m proud to be a fan.

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Since Harry set off on his solo venture in 2017, I’ve been to 23 of his concerts. I camped on a sidewalk for three nights to see him on Saturday Night Live. It sounds excessive even to me, but each show is unique, and for my time and money, worth whatever it takes to get there. In 2017 alone, I hit San Francisco, Dallas, Boston, and London, among others, to see him. 2018 took me to Chicago, Vancouver, Sacramento, and back to Los Angeles, with plenty more stops in between. It takes a lot of strategy (and frankly quite a bit of money) to plan flights, trains, and cars all over the world, but teaming up with my friends and fellow fans and splitting costs made it possible — and a lot more fun.

You could say that Harry Styles has been at the center of my life for years. But with my dad’s diagnosis, my life was about to change.

Since I’m able to work remotely as a writer, I moved back in with my parents during my dad’s treatment to help run the household. I took care of my parents’ dog, along with my two cats, who had to make the trip back to Ohio with me, and I shared the responsibility of looking after my 10-year-old nephew before and after school. I told my mom after the first month of this that I’d never felt like more of an adult and at the same time I’d never felt like more of a child. Even though I was 31, I wasn’t ready to be responsible for a kid or deal with the household day-to-days. Obviously, I was happy to help however I could, but I wanted everything to go back to normal — living in this pseudo-reality felt wrong. My dad struggled through treatment, as is to be expected. I sat in the house feeling sorry for myself, mostly, but I always tried to keep my spirits high when I visited him in the hospital. The reality of his illness was difficult for him to process, and some days, even his daughter’s smiling face popping into his hospital room wasn’t enough to make him feel better.

Though I wasn’t sick myself, I felt my dad’s frustration. Being back home during his treatment was isolating for both of us, I think. He had to leave home and put his life as a parent and grandparent on hold to focus on getting better. I left my social and professional life to be at my parents’ house while they spent the majority of their time in a hospital. In my own dark, lonely moments, I watched Harry’s concerts on Twitter with my fandom friends around the world, and it helped me escape. It occurred to me that if Harry’s magic worked for me, maybe it could work for my dad and help us focus on something that wasn’t cancer for the first time in months.

It started slowly — I showed up at the hospital in one of my 37 Harry Styles T-shirts; my dad would notice and ask what Harry was up to. I sat in the uncomfortable chair next to his hospital bed with my computer in my lap, feeding him information on where Harry was in the world that day. Meanwhile, nurses and doctors would come and go to change an IV or take vitals; sometimes the social worker would drop by. But through each of cancer’s interruptions, our conversation always turned back to Harry.

Eventually, my dad recovered enough from his bone marrow transplant to move out of the hospital and into a recovery facility nearby. Instead of nurses constantly poking and prodding at him, he and my mom were going through walks in the courtyard so he could regain his strength. And instead of his horrible hospital food, he was finally allowed to eat the chocolate cake I made for him. Things were finally, thankfully shifting back to a bit of normalcy. That’s when I started spending less time worrying about his recovery and more time getting ready to put my life back in order. Our conversations shifted from idle musings about Harry Styles and into the idea of me seeing him in concert again. My dad made it clear that I wouldn’t be sitting at home with him for the rest of his recovery — I’d be joining Harry instead.

From there, my dad helped me scour StubHub for tickets to any shows we could find, and once the June 2018 start of Harry Styles Live on Tour was looming, he told me to start booking flights and planning a route. We sat together in his room at the recovery facility and made a plan. There was no routine testing, there was no bucket of medication to take, there was just us and a map, Harry Styles’ “Only Angel” blasting out of my computer speakers as we worked.  

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Eventually, after three long months of treatment and recovery, my dad was sent home with strict instructions to do nothing and go nowhere. As much as he grumbled about his restrictions, he knew better than to do anything to throw off his stellar recovery. Even though he was progressing remarkably, I still hesitated to leave his house, but my mom practically pushed me out the door to go on tour. I set out to tour the country with Harry (completely unofficially and completely unbeknownst to the man himself). I traveled through New England, the Midwest, and down the West Coast. I saw 15 Harry Styles concerts between June 14 and July 14 — making sure I spoke to my dad every single day from the road. He complained about not being allowed to clean his pool or mow his lawn, but he always asked if I was enjoying Harry Styles (one word: HarryStyles).

I toured for four solid weeks — save for one weekend. The tour coincided with Father’s Day, and Harry’s show was in Toronto.The only place I wanted to be, though, was in Ohio with my dad. I was at a concert in Philadelphia that Friday but drove all night to be back in my hometown for Father’s Day weekend. I walked in the door first thing in the morning, and my dad was there to greet me. He could have scolded me for driving through the night, or asked if I’d eaten breakfast, or even told me how he was feeling. Instead, he had another question for me, one that I’ll never forget:

“Where’s Harry this weekend?”