My daughters’ other dads


My three girls had it so much better than I did in so many ways.

They enjoyed academic opportunities, enrichment programs, and even a choice of schools to attend that I could not have imagined in the regimented, one-size-fits-all schools of my own era. They had the chance to participate in recreational sports and school athletics that didn't exist for girls in my pre-Title-IX school years. And they had a mother who was involved in their lives and passionate about raising them to grow up to be confident, capable, compassionate young women.

There's only one way that I can say I was one-up on my daughters.

I had four brothers who were a significant presence in my lives. They had none. Not only that, but their dad was minimally involved in their lives, so we had virtually no male presence in the household as they grew up.

But don't think for a second that they lacked for father figures. Because the girls were involved in sports from an early age, they had the benefit of interacting with dozens of male coaches – as well as neighbors and teachers – who had a lasting positive impact on them.

So as we honored fathers last month, I took time as well to celebrate the men in my daughters' lives. I could never list all who had a positive influence, but to start with just a few, there was Jackie's basketball coach Bo Hobbs, soccer coach Dickson Benesh, and softball coach Donnie Hatchett; and Lanie's soccer coach Gary Paz and softball coach Ron Kasoff.

What makes all these coaches memorable is that they cared about my girls not just as athletes, but as young women.

Ben Mize and Rick Mormando, for instance, coached Jackie's travel soccer team, which brought home multiple tournament and league titles over the years. My best memories of these coaches, however, are not of the on-field successes but of the time Ben and Rick took getting to know Jackie off the field.

Some of those occasions were public, such as when one of them would show up to watch her middle school basketball games. Other moments were unbeknownst to Jackie – such as the follow-up phone calls to me to check on her emotional state after a particularly brutal practice.

Another coach (and coaching moment) that stands out in my mind is Mark Teachey, who gave a memorable pep talk after Lanie's AAU basketball team lost a hard-fought tournament to a team that was rough, raucous, and – to put it gently – less than sportsmanlike. As the girls huddled with Mark following the game, nursing their bruised bodies and spirits, we parents could tell Mark was frustrated with the home-court refs who had let the opposing team get away with such behavior.

But the girls were soon all smiles again, as Mark told them he was not at all upset with them; he was extremely proud. He wanted them all to walk out of the gym holding their heads high, because they had refused to lower themselves to the vicious tactics of the other team. They had kept their cool and played their game.

"You girls are going places," he told them. "You are going to go on to great things and be successful in your lives. Those girls may have won the game – but they are going nowhere."

And I can't discuss My Daughters' Other Dads without mentioning the late Earl Green and our family friend Jim, who both have played fatherly roles with my girls.

When my oldest daughter Leah was in her early twenties, Jim was coaching at the college level and working with young men of her age. During a time when Leah was frustrated over her relationship with a certain guy, the three of us took a walk on Oregon Hill in Richmond, and the conversation soon turned toward the boy Leah liked. Jim gave me a side-along glance to indicate that he and Leah were going to peel off, and they left the path to walk and talk in private.

While Leah has long ago gotten over that particular guy, I have never forgotten the relief I felt as she and Jim walked off with their heads together. I was so grateful that Leah had someone like Jim to confide in – an excellent listener, wise and experienced in the ways of young men. There was no way I could have given her anywhere near the counsel she would get while in Jim's capable male hands.

Earl Green, our late neighbor, was one of those big teddy bear types who came across gruff and intimidating, but made it clear that he
adored all three of my girls. He was closest to my youngest, however, because she was only three when they met, and he liked to say he watched her grow up.

Earl frequently ranted to me about the girls' father and the way he never spent time with them; but he wasn't the type to simply complain. Earl took it upon himself to become a surrogate father – at least to Lanie. She hung out at his house frequently after school, and he loved her company so much that he would often take her out to a favorite Italian restaurant when his wife wasn't up to the trip.

Lanie helped organize his home office and his computer files, spending enough hours at it that Earl eventually began paying her for the help. But even after he became her employer, their easy, bantering relationship lasted until the day Earl died. I have always thought that it was Earl, in particular, who helped Lanie become so comfortable interacting with people of all ages.

Father's Day may be over for another year, but I am grateful every day for men like Earl and Jim, Gary and Mark, Rick and Ben, and all the others who helped the girls grow up into remarkable young women.

My daughters may have missed out on brothers – but they've had no lack of wonderful men in their lives.
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September 2017
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