In my life, I loved you more…

Rosita and Papa

Throughout my childhood my father always told my siblings and I, “When I die, I won’t be leaving you money, because we’re not rich. The only thing I can give you that you will have forever is an education.” My dad was right – when he passed, no lawyer came up to let us know he left millions in inheritance. However, he did keep true to his word and provided us all with the opportunity to pursue higher education.

My parents are extremely intelligent, both with a Masters in Chemistry, and my mother even has a second Masters in Education Administration. The importance of education was always stressed in my home. Even with working full-time jobs and taking classes at night (ESL when they first arrived in this country and later graduate courses), my parents always stayed up to help with homework or projects. And my parents didn’t only strive to educate us, but others as well. After they retired, they both taught ESL classes to bilingual parents in the community. We always knew that education was a big deal to our folks, but my dad was wrong in saying that education is the only thing he would leave us.

This past week was the hardest week of our lives. What got us through it was remembering all the things my dad, or as we called him, “Papá”, left us. We talked as a family about what each of us siblings had inherited from Papá. We decided my brother Carlos, the oldest, inherited Papá’s sense of humor. My dad was always cracking corny jokes and being a goofball. My sister Liz got his love of dancing. At any party they attended, my parents were always the first people on the dance floor, and they were always the last ones to leave. I got his taste in music. On the weekends, Papá and I would sit together in the living room and listen to the Beatles and other oldies music, which I still prefer to listen to over any music that’s playing on a Top-40 station. Gloria, the youngest, inherited his temper and strength. My dad had a pretty scary temper, but to this day he is the strongest person I know and it’s a strength I see in my little sister.

Papá left us so much – memories, funny stories, and words of wisdom. I’ll never forget what he said when I told him I was taking a job with the National PTA and would be moving from our hometown of Joliet, Ill., to Chicago. He said, “Mija, I gave you all wings so that you could fly.”

Papá, we will miss you so much. Thank you so much for giving your children and so many others the gift of education – a gift that is much more valuable than money. You also left a bit of you in each of your children. You will always be in our hearts.

Please join me in supporting PTA’s Million Hours of Power campaign to encourage more men to get involved and support the education of their children. Vote at Pepsi Refresh Project.

– Rosa Vivanco is Programs & Partnerships Coordinator for PTA.  Her mother, Liduvina, resides in Minooka, IL  along with her two sisters and niece, Lily. Minooka is near Rosa’s hometown of Joliet, IL  where her brother and his family live.

Bridging the Big Break Up

Joy & Dad

My parents were married but divorced when I was eight.  I vaguely remember the speech about the break-up had nothing to do with me; I was loved and everything would be fine.  Suddenly, I became the child of a single-parent family.

At first, I wondered how I would tell my friends if they asked.  I soon found out we were in the same boat.

Just like them, I had to get used to the fact that my Dad wouldn’t be coming home daily. I wondered what it would be like not eating popcorn together in front of the TV or washing the car while squirting him mercilessly with water. It was my Dad that took the training wheels off my bike and watched me wobble triumphantly up the driveway cheering me on with “Pedal, Joy! You can do it!”

Shortly after the divorce, my Dad announced that he was moving to another state.  Yet somehow, Dad bridged the gap. There were phone calls, letters and visits. Words of wisdom coupled with laughter and guidance magically appeared.   During the summer, I visited his new city and did all the fun activities a Dad and a daughter do together.

When I was 14 years old, my Dad moved back to my city. Just in time to teach me to drive!

I remember it vividly.  I was trying to drive by mimicking the car’s driving pattern in front of me. My Dad said, “That car is not paying attention to where it’s going and you’re trying to follow it.  It’s straddling the line and not driving correctly. Since you’re trying to follow it, you’re making the same mistakes. Instead, you need to focus on what you’re doing, drive like you practiced and don’t tail that car. Learn to look way down the road so you can anticipate road blocks and don’t have to switch lanes abruptly or lose your positioning on the road.”  That lesson became my personal blueprint for driving and life.

I was fortunate to have my Dad as a strong male role model, yet many single-parent family children (children of divorce, unmarried parents or adopted by single parents) miss this experience.  Please help enrich children’s lives by supporting male engagement through the Million Hours of Power Program. Show your support and vote daily in October for the Pepsi Refresh Project to support this effort.

Joy Lindsey lives in Alexandria, VA. Her parents live in Jackson, MS.  She is the only child born to her parents, yet the oldest of her siblings.

Heeere’s Daddy!

Lia on her father’s lap

There were only two men I admired when I was little: my daddy and Johnny Carson. My father would let me stay up and watch the “Tonight Show” with him. At one time he fussed, but I think he just gave up. Watching the “Tonight Show,” I felt like I had membership in a special club that only met at 11:30 p.m. eastern/10:30 p.m. central. Laughing at Johnny’s monologue or staring in amazement at Joan Embery’s animals were some of the best times with my dad.

I am undoubtedly, unequivocally, and unapologetically 100% a “Daddy’s Girl.” In fact, being a “Daddy’s Girl” runs in the family. My mom was one, and based on the way my daughter instantly melts my husband’s heart with one puppy dog look, she’s going to become one too.

As a little girl, my father and I were inseparable. It wasn’t until I was older did I appreciate the uniqueness of my situation.

Much has been said about how the absence of a father or father figure in the household may negatively affect boys. The fact is, girls need their fathers too. A father is the first man that shapes a girl’s view of manhood. Many of my girlfriends who grew up without their fathers are still feeling the effects of their absence to this day.I feel very blessed that I have always had my father to rely on. Growing up in a neighborhood where the presence of single mothers was the norm, I knew I had a different experience growing up than some of my peers. Even from the very beginning my father was involved in my life. My mother worked the night shift, so my dad, who was the janitor of our apartment complex, played both the mother and the father during those late night feeding and diaper sessions.

On her wedding day, Lia with her father

My father is also the man behind my “unique” personality. So for those who know me, blame him. He would entertain me with impersonations of Johnny Carson and educate me on the jazz idiom by exposing me to the great voices of Nat “King” Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Louie Armstrong.  I recall a particularly awkward moment when my puzzled 1st grade classmates gave me an odd look when I asked them If they’d like to listen to Dizzy Gillespie during a playdate. Being a particularly quiet man, he subconsciously taught me that it was ok to not always be the center of attention. Sometimes it feels good to just stand in the background and observe from afar. He also taught me what hard work was. At one point, he took on two jobs as an apartment building janitor to send me to private school.

Over three decades later, I continue to be “Mr. Merriweather’s little girl.”  I married a wonderful man who has the same tenderness and quiet strength that my dad has. I make funny voices and characters for my daughter’s amusement and for my husband’s embarrassment. I spend select weekends where I expose my child to different genres of music. It brings me extra special joy when I see my 86 year-old dad chase his crawling infant granddaughter across the living room floor. Since becoming a parent one year ago this month, I’m amazed at how the games, ideas, and values my parents passed along to me surface in my relationship with my daughter. I could not imagine my father not being there for me. Who would teach me Johnny Carson’s patented end-of-monologue golf swing?  Who would teach me that black and white movies didn’t mean that the whole world was literally black and white?  Who would be a model for the man that I married?

Dads, both your sons and daughters need you to shape and guide their lives, as my father did mine. Please vote for National PTA’s Million Hours of Power campaign at in the Pepsi Refresh Project. Help us, help men shape the lives of our young people.

Lia Rogers

Lia Rogers is the Electronic Communications Manager for the National PTA based in Northbrook, IL.  Her parents, Elbert and Grace Merriweather, live in Chicago, IL where they eagerly await visits from their granddaughter.

Read to Me, Daddy

Some of my fondest memories of growing up are of sitting with my mother and brother on the double bed my parents handed down to him when they got new furniture and listening as my mother read us stories. We had Big Little Books and Golden Books in those days and, of course, Mother Goose. I could always find my mother reading her adult books and couldn’t wait for our weekly trek to our public library.  She’d weave her way through the book shelves checking for favorite authors or interesting titles, and finally check out a stack of books for her and a stack for me. As I grew older and taller, there was little I liked better than to sit in the spreading Chinese elm tree in our backyard and take myself to new worlds and different lives via the pages of a book. The example my mother set has a lot to do with my choice to become a writer and editor.

But I honestly can’t remember seeing my father ever pick up a book while I was growing up. He did sit at the kitchen table and painstakingly read the newspaper and then discuss some of the articles over dinner. This annoyed my mother, as he liked to argue his points when she would rather have had a relaxing, quiet meal. But he never shared a book with us. He never read them himself, and he certainly never read them to me and my brother. I remember my mother even suggesting that he couldn’t read very well, pointing to how slowly he went over the newspapers. And I guess I kind of believed her.

Imagine my surprise when I saw my father devouring novels like candy when he was laid up in bed with a long illness. Why, of course he could read! He liked it, and would talk about the authors he especially enjoyed—Elmore Leonard, Mickey Spillane, Damon Runyon. I was thrilled to be able to share my passion for literature, but why had it come so late? Why hadn’t he read to me as a child? Why hadn’t he read books when I was growing up? What a wonderful thing that would have been to share with him.

Today’s fathers are much more engaged with their children in every way than they used to be, but some of the pressures that kept my father’s reading sidelined during my childhood—working at night, having very tiring days, household chores, and defined roles for moms and dads—are still preventing fathers from being more of an active presence in their children’s lives and education. Reading to children, especially, is one of the very best ways to ensure their academic success. So dads, when your child says to you, “Read to me, Daddy,” remember the lasting effect you will have if you say, “OK! What story will it be?” You’ll not only be helping your child learn, but you’ll be building memories you both will cherish in the years to come.

Please vote for National PTA’s Million Hours of Power in the Pepsi Refresh project so that together we can increase male involvement.

Marilyn Ferdinand is the editor of Our Children, National PTA’s magazine.


What Can A Role Model Give You?

What can a role model give you?

A love for baseball and an unshakeable allegiance to a frequently-disappointing team. A zen-like approach to spackling, priming and painting. The ability to read a map and get somewhere I’ve never been before. A lifelong desire to do what needs to be done, volunteer, and help others. A knack for parallel parking despite my height-challenged state. The capacity to make decisions for myself and stand on my own two feet. A deep appreciation of the value of family, loyalty, and friendship. The urge to dig in the dirt and make things grow. The knowledge that, despite their stinger-like bodies, dragon flies can’t hurt me. The sense to read between the lines and know not everyone speaks the truth. An appreciation for the genius of a great punch line. The knowledge that girls can indeed beat boys. The ability to talk to anyone about anything absolutely anywhere anytime. The value of a well-told story as a great teaching lesson. The certainty that a dinner of basil-laced tomato sauce over al dente spaghetti, crusty bread, hearty red wine, and pignoli-filled meatball is the perfect comfort food. A belief in my ability to learn. The confidence to talk “Car” with a mechanic. The value of saving regularly, shopping smartly, and giving generously. The courage to tackle home improvement projects. A joy in the undervalued humor of a well-crafted pun. The importance of saying, “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry.” The value of knowing when to hold them and when to fold them. An ability to laugh at my mistakes. A drive to aim high and try hard. A great example of what a good person is and does. That’s what they gave to me–my Dad and uncles and male cousins and brothers, the men of my childhood.

The value of an interested, caring adult in a child’s life is indisputable. For a little girl, the act of a male caring enough to take time to talk, volunteer, and get involved in your life is precious. The male influences in my life shaped me into the woman I am: a lifelong volunteer with a passion for PTA. Those male role models worked through me to shape my sons into the men they are today—the passionate, volunteering, and green-thumbed son who work with children and the baseball-loving, meatball-perfecting, punch-line-perfect son finishing college.

Please join me in supporting PTA’s Million Hours of Power campaign so that more men will be encouraged to get involved and shape a child’s life. Vote every day at the Pepsi Refresh Project. Your support can help PTA do even more to get more men involved.

Deborah Walsh is a mother, former Connecticut State PTA President and currently the National Service Manager for the National PTA.

Long-Distance Relationship with Dad

Kinny with her father at college graduation

My parents decided to immigrate to the U.S. in 1991 so that my brother and I could have a more progressive education and be freed from the pressure that accompanies entrance exams in the Taiwanese school system. We moved to Montgomery County, a suburb of Washington, DC, to be closer to relatives living nearby and take advantage of its first-rate public schools.

Unfortunately, for financial and professional reasons, my dad stayed behind in Taiwan so that he could support our family expenses and continue his medical practice. From third-grade on, I spent four weeks with my dad each year—two weeks during my summer vacation and two weeks during the holiday season. Needless to say, my father missed many Kodak moments—my ballet performance or my brother’s band recital—while we were growing up. However, that’s not to say that he wasn’t an involved parent. Before the Internet age (wait, my dad still doesn’t know how to use e-mail), we would talk to my dad over the phone several times a week. On most days, we’d call him before we had to go to bed, just as he’s getting ready to go to work. He would ask if we’ve brushed our teeth, completed our homework and obeyed my mom—the usual dad stuff. With our fax machine, I’ve even sent my homework for him to check. Knowing how much my dad sacrificed to provide for us drove me to push myself in school.

Male involvement can come in many shapes and forms—start by showing that you care even if you cannot be around physically. It can go a long way in a child’s life. Please vote for National PTA’s Million Hours of Power in the Pepsi Refresh project so that together we can increase male involvement.

– Kinny J. Mu is the Resource Development Manager for National PTA based in Alexandria, VA. Her parents, Ting Hui and Bor Jang, currently live in Taiwan.

Shake-It Off

“Shake it off,” was a phrase I heard quite a bit from my dad growing up. It usually followed a minor sports-related injury or mishap. It was his attempt to get me to stand up and get back in the game, in the pool, or out on the field. Whether it was basketball, swimming, softball, or any backyard match; my dad was always there, playing, coaching, cheering and encouraging me to keep trying my best in the face of adversity.

I had a father who was not just a presence around the house, but extremely involved in my life. Not only did he support my participation in sports, he also volunteered for things at school, like science fair judging, fund-raisers, and chaperoning. He was active in my church; always offering assistance to those less fortunate, always fixing things, always ready to lend a hand to friends and neighbors. Looking back at all that he did for me and for others, it is hard to imagine a better example of a loving, caring and engaged father.

As a child, I admit, I took my father’s presence for granted. He was always there for me. And to fully understand just how special he was, you would have to multiply his dedication times seven. I am the second oldest of eight children. Somehow, in someway, he was able to spread his time and attention to me and my seven other siblings.

Today, I often wonder what it would be like to not have a father around. From time to time I meet people who were not blessed with a strong father figure involved in their childhood. I am touched by their stories, and impressed by challenges they overcame because of an absent or unengaged father. Mostly, I realize that I am one of the lucky ones, and am inspired to do something for the children who are less fortunate.

That’s where PTA’s Million Hours of Power comes into play. Supporting an effort to encourage all fathers to spend more time with their children is one thing I can do to help. Every child deserves a strong male role model to take them to school, to games, to church, to the doctor. Every child needs a father around to pick them up and hug them when they fall and say ‘shake it off.’ That’s what my father did, and that’s why I now, I can pick myself back up when I fall, and keep going when I am down.

Everyone please support PTA’s Million Hours of Power by voting for the Pepsi Refresh grant every day in October by going to  And men everywhere, please let us know how you spent time with your kids by completing our Million Hours of Power survey.

Post contributed by Anne Wald- Director, Membership & Field Operations for National PTA. She is from Falls Church, Virginia and now live in Annandale, Virginia with her husband and three children. She is also step mom of two. Anne enjoys spending time with her children, going to their various activities and school events.

Bottom Line — Father Figures Help Families

Andre Ellis and Richard Thomas at Graduation May 2010 Father figures – they have added up over the years. I started with one – my mother Kristyl Thomas. Yes, I am the oldest son of a single-mother. She’d say to me, “I may not be a man, but I am going to raise you to become one. Until then, I am the man of this house. I am your mother and your father.”

I was intimidated at first. Over time, I quite naturally questioned how my mother could be both mother and father. I questioned whether or not I could identify one man who exemplified the characteristics of a father figure. I built relationships with mentors, teachers, artists, coaches, relatives, and strangers all of whom were men and women. I could say all of them were father figures. I saw them at their best and at their worst.

At his worst…

One mentor in particular, Andre Lee Ellis, a family friend and entrepreneur lives in Milwaukee where he produces Stage Theater. After one of his productions one night, my mother introduced me to him and told him he should put me in his next show. He said I’d have to attend his acting classes and audition as he recommends all of his actors. I wanted the opportunity to shine so I attended classes, but by the time auditions rolled around, his theater company closed.

At his best…

While he did not in fact have a theater company, he made it his sole job to train me to be what I wanted to be, an actor. He dedicated man hours to assure me that he would cast me in a show someday; if not I would be on the big screen. Until then, Mr. Ellis trained me when I wanted to compete in high school forensics in the category of Drama; to compete in NAACPs ACT-SO competition; and to audition for college theater programs. I don’t remember being on the big screen because it never happened, but I remember when he said, “acting means to always be art in motion.”

“Acting is more than saying the lines, you have to feel them with actions,” he said. “You have to make them feel real. You got to make moves, you can never fake moves.”

He was good at answering my questions. I always had questions. One question I never asked Mr. Ellis was whether or not he would open a theater again. I never asked because he always said that he would. But, he had much to say, much advice and many answers to my questions overall.

I asked him at one time, how my mother could be both a mother and a father. He said, anyone can be anything and actions speak louder than convictions.

His word proved to be true. He was right. My mother’s actions have exuded beyond the barriers of sound. She has raised me to be the man that I am to so many people. He was right. He did reopen his theater company. In fact, Mr. Ellis recently reestablished his theater company and became the owner of the first African-American performing arts group to have their own space to work in Milwaukee.

Time spent being trained by Mr. Ellis was about more than acting experiences, but object lessons for me. In my eyes, he exemplified the characteristics of a father figure. I would not go so far as to say he was a better father than my mother because she raised me to be the man that I am for her and others. I would say Mr. Ellis is a father figure who has dedicated valuable “Hours of Power” to help me become the man my mother raised me to be for my community. Bottom line, father figures help families.

Vote for PTA’s Million Hours of Power in the Pepsi Refresh project, then encourage everyone you know to vote for PTA. Your voting power can provide a voice for children who need father figures.

Dad’s Tools of Engagement – Tape and Glasses

My father is always in motion. Whether it’s putting hardwood flooring in the living room, making lunch for one of my brothers or designing a “jig” or “fixture” that will improve the manufacturing process at his plant – he’s always doing something.

He’s an engineer and wrestler, which is why I suspect he feels most valuable when he’s doing something. Seeing my dad tackle a problem or project is like watching a master chess player– strategic, pragmatic, and with singular purpose. Movies aren’t his thing (unless it’s a documentary) and he doesn’t read books all that often. Primarily because once he finally stops moving, he almost immediately falls asleep.

When our family was young and my parents just had two sons – Sven and me – we had a bed-time routine. Mom would make sure we brushed our teeth, put on our PJs, washed our faces, and picked out a book. We had a collection of about 40 Berenstain Bears books. As brothers will, Sven and I would argue at any opportunity – except for picking out the book at night. We had a truce on that front because we wanted to get into their bedroom ASAP to “wait.” Mom would call, “Doug!! It’s time to read to the boys.” As she tracked him down in the middle of whatever project he was working on, Sven and I secretly took the opportunity to jump up and down on their bed.

Of course Dad would often come in and catch us in the act. He would pretend to be mad – warning that we might get our heads stuck in the ceiling fan if we jumped too high or sternly inform us that it’s “reading time” not “jumping time.” Then he’d pick up the book we chose and lie down with one of us on either side. In retrospect, I imagine he was more envious of the energy we still had at 8pm than anything.

The poor guy rarely ever got halfway through the book before falling asleep. As soon as he drifted off, Sven would poke him to make sure he was asleep and I would count to three with my fingers. When my 3rd finger popped up, we would both scream at the top of our lungs “READ!” And our startled father would bring his hands to his ears – many times snapping his glasses over the bridge of his nose. There are many years of photos where my father is pictured with glasses that are taped across the bridge.

I’m about the same age now that my father was then, and his dedication inspires me. Even though Sven and I are still in doubt as to how a number of those books ended, my brothers and I never had a doubt about who was the priority in both of our parents’ lives. Nor what the priorities should be in our little lives – brush your teeth, eat your veggies, read your books, apply yourself in school, and love your family.

A father, brother, uncle, and cousin can be a powerful example in a child’s life – even if he konks out doing the right thing. My father’s commitment to my brothers and me – one of his favorite projects – is why I believe PTA’s Million Hours of Power campaign is so important, and why as grant writer for PTA, I applied to get $250,000 from the Pepsi Refresh project for this important campaign. Vote for PTA’s Million Hours of Power in the Pepsi Refresh project, then encourage everyone you know to vote for PTA.

– Stefan Romberg is the Grant Writer for National PTA based in Alexandria VA. His parents, Doug and Thea, live in Maryville, TN where they raised him and his three younger brothers – Sven, Seve and Stian.