We could all use a little good news right about now.
The global pandemic, a faltering economy, and the too frequent reminders that equality is not yet a reality are challenging our physical, financial and emotional well-being.
Bright spots are rare but do exist. We should celebrate them. We should highlight the stories that show the good in people. The great examples of people who are making a difference, in either big or focused ways. To celebrate this Father’s Day, it’s worth calling out some special dads.
Each year for the past 24 years, the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative has sponsored an essay contest on “what my father means to me.” During that time, nearly a half million essays have been submitted by Illinois schoolkids, read by thousands of volunteers. These essays capture the poignant stories of fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers and father-figures who are positively impacting our next generation – one life at a time.
In the face of major change going on around us, 2700 Illinois school children wrote compassionate stories about the men who influence them. More than 300 volunteers virtually stepped up to narrow those heartfelt submissions to our 13 father-of-the-year finalists.
I’m proud to share the names of these budding writers and their special role models:
- Pre/K: Catherine C, Columbia Explorers, and her father Carlos Cardenas, Father of the Year
- 1st Grade: Liena R, Columbia Explorers, and her father Andres Rios, Father of the year
- 2nd Grade: Adelyn W, Arbury Hills, and her father Aaron Werkman, Father of the Year
- 3rd Grade: Arizbeth P, Columbia Explorers, and her father Ramiro Pineda, Father of the Year
- 4th Grade: Diego R, Columbia Explorers, and his father Samuel Rivera, Father of the Year
- 5th Grade: Daniel M, Columbia Exploers, and his father-figure Ben Bukovac, Father-Figure of the Year
- 6th Grade: Nicolas P, Rachel Carson, and his grandfather Jesus Jasso, Grandfather of the Year
- 7th Grade: Arabella E, Bridgeport Catholic, and her father Ken Elliot, Father of the Year
- 8th Grade: Enriqueta P, Rachel Carson, and her father Jose Perdomo, Father of the Year
- 9th Grade: Tatiyana D, De La Salle Institute and her father-figure Eric Lamont Payton, Father-Figure of the Year
- 10th Grade: Soley G, De La Salle Institute, and his stepfather Qortez Lewis, Stepfather of the Year
- 11th Grade: Brian M, Saint Ignatius, and his father Michael Moore, Father of the Year
- 12th Grade: Aniyah D, De La Salle Institute, and her father Andre Davis, Father of the Year
The stories these children articulate reinforce the value in having their dads step up and be an inspirational presence in their lives.
My own dad continues to be an inspiration in how I raise my children. His epitaph reads, “Faith, family and friends, all before self.” He lived those words and it resonates in the family he and my amazing mom raised. His first and foremost priority was others, whether entertaining the masses through his years on TV and radio, serving his country during the Vietnam war, tending to the homeless through his community church, or being actively present in raising his three boys. He always had a story. He always put a smile on your face. He treated everyone with dignity. I can only hope I’m living up to his standard.
Dads, we have an obligation to make this kind of impact in our children’s lives. To be that role model. To feed off the teachable moments we’re now experiencing to give needed guidance and hope.
The pandemic, as awful as it is, is our great excuse to better bond with our families. For those fortunate to have a family unit – however defined – we can be each other’s direct support group. We can take advantage of the added time we have together to show our kids what it means to be good fathers, husbands, and members of a global community.
These days, my wife and my two teenage daughters are with me 24/7. We watch movies together. We play games and sports together. We live within our means but don’t count every penny. Most importantly, we talk. We talk about the injustices occurring in our world and what difference we can make, in our own small but hopefully resonating ways. We try to instill in them that critically important societal value – to live by the Golden Rule – to treat everyone with respect.
We’re getting through this and it’s bringing us closer. It reminds me how fortunate I am to have them in my life and how grateful I am that we have each other.
Certainly, not everyone is thriving.
The increased time together can make bad family situations worse. Spouses and children in abusive situations across Illinois face environments where they can’t escape their abuser. The Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-877-TO END DV can provide support. Similarly, children are experiencing increased stress and panic. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is an important resource for those especially impacted.
Another group in need are single parents struggling to provide for their families. Children sheltered at home may not have the reassurance and support needed at a time when they are at their most emotionally vulnerable. Dads in these situations need to particularly step up however they can.
What else can be done? Fathers, father-figures, stepfathers and grandfathers need to be present for their families. It may not always be possible to be physically present, but we must be there emotionally, financially and spiritually.
Children will look back at this time the way other generations remember 9/11. It is a defining time when people who matter to them need to be present. There is no shortage of ways we fathers can be there for our kids, regardless of the family dynamic. We can answer their questions, reassure them that things will be okay, guide them when they have questions about the inequalities around us, provide support to their primary caregiver when it isn’t us, and simply spend time with them. Now, more than ever, is the time to be that role model.
Some resources to help be a present dad include the Child Welfare Information Gateway for a variety of valuable tools, Watch D.O.G.S. for ways to become active in your kids’ schools, and 21st Century Dads for fathers raising children with special needs.
Finalist Taiwo Sowemimo eloquently wrote, “The ideal father – or parent for that matter – is one that knows how to read their child and adapt to their behavior.”
On this Father’s Day, with all the change around us, let’s commit to adapting to the needs of our kids and building needed bonds with them. For us and our kids, that would be very good news indeed.