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A picture of fatherhood
Prize-winning photo captures dad's love
Fathers Day winning photo.jpg
This picture entered in the Daddy and Me Photo Contest is a shared emotional moment as Dustin Pack embraces his 6-year-old son, Branson, after he completed a session of chemo treatment.

Father’s Day means so many things to different people, but it has a special meaning to this year’s Daddy and Me Photo Contest winner, Dustin Pack.

In January, the father of 10 received news that no parent wants to hear. “We found out Branson had stage 4 Burkitt’s lymphoma on Jan. 12,” he explained. This diagnosis meant months of tests, treatments and intermittent hospital stays.

The picture that won the contest featured Dustin holding Branson outside of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital after the 6-year-old finished a session of chemo and they were overwhelmed with built-up emotion after days of treatments. Among those emotions was relief because it meant he could go home, at least for a little while.

The family currently awaits results from tests to determine the status of Branson’s cancer, but all embrace the thankfulness that comes with Father’s Day.

“When this all first started, we were really concerned that he wasn’t going to make it. Even the doctors told us at one point that there’s still the possibility that we could still lose him,” said Dustin. “That’s something that’s really difficult to take in. Getting to know that we’ve got one more year with him, and hopefully the rest of his lifetime, it’s an incredible feeling.”

This year has also seen the Pack family grow to 10 children with the arrival of Carli. 

“When Carli was born, Branson was in the hospital,” Dustin recalled. “So we had to come home. The day after she was born, we had to come back to Vanderbilt for more treatments. When we came back home a couple days later, Branson smiled for the first time in almost a month.”

Even with all the work that goes into raising 10 children, Dustin wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s kind of like herding cats,” said Pack in his description of being the father of 10. “Somebody is constantly into something. There are times when it’s the most stressful thing on the planet but then other times, the stars all align and it’s pretty nice. I couldn’t imagine it any other way at this point.”

The family likes to go camping and partake in all things outdoors, fishing and sports included, and they find themselves spending a lot of time outside whenever they can. “They really go for anything outdoors,” said Dustin.

“The most rewarding part of being a dad is seeing them get to do the things they want to do, or have been trying to do, and getting to complete it and doing everything we can to get them there,” says Dustin. “Seeing the accomplishment on their faces makes it all so worth it.”

Outside of his familial setting, Pack served as a sheriff’s deputy for 11 years before the medical requirements of Branson set his life on a different professional path. Now, he works for St. Thomas Rutherford and is pursuing nursing. He will begin the program in February with hopes to work in pediatrics or pediatric oncology departments after the events with his son inspired him.

The outpouring of love and support from the community during Branson’s journey and the avalanche of votes that gave him the distinction as this year’s winner of the Daddy and Me Photo Contest are a source of surprise for Pack. 

“We didn’t even know we were entered in the contest until someone pointed it out to us,” admitted Dustin. “It amazes me how many people, in McMinnville and other places, have rallied behind us and our family to the place we are now. Sometimes we haven’t known what the next move was, but someone was always there to help us figure it out.”

The family is composed of Dustin and his wife Beth along with their 10 children: Jaxon, Skyler, Eli, Taylor, Branson, Hudson, Paisley, Arlie, Archer and Carli.

Pack took home a six-month subscription to the Southern Standard, a cash prize and gift cards to TeeTime and The Detention at The Elementary for his winning entry.