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Tales of Two Dads

Most of us know that Father’s Day is celebrated in June, but how many of us are aware that the nation’s 1.3 million stepfathers have an unofficial day of their own — Stepfather’s Day — celebrated the following Sunday?  In this special blog, we take a moment to learn a thing or two from one of First 5 LA’s very own stepdads and to hear from a First 5 LA father on how a moment of kindness hit a home run with his son. 

The Sunday After Father’s Day

By Gustavo Muñiz, First 5 LA Graphic Designer

When I was around 24, I started proclaiming that I wanted to be a father. Not that I had a plan to accomplish this, but rather that I loved the idea of being a father and caring for a child that I would nurture, if the opportunity ever presented itself. Fast-forward to present day, and I think I’ve realized that what I’ve always wanted was to be a father figure. That might sound like a cop-out, but I feel that it can be equally rewarding.

One of the first things my wife, Lupe, mentioned on our first date was that she had a son, Isaiah (10 years old at the time). I think the fact that I didn’t immediately ask for the check that night, eventually led to meeting him four months later. Marrying her four years later gave me an instant family, and I officially became a stepfather. I have that opportunity to be a father figure, and I can honestly say that I love this role.

I’m not new to this situation, though, because I was a stepson myself. My mother remarried when I was 20, but I had already known my stepfather, Beto, for about seven years. Interestingly enough, my stepfather was also a stepson, and it would not surprise me if my stepson also becomes a stepfather.

My experience as a stepson has given me guidance for my role and responsibilities as a stepfather. Since I must have been out getting donuts when the stepfather classes were happening and Hallmark hasn’t yet figured out how to capitalize on Stepfather’s Day (unofficially, it’s the Sunday after Father’s Day, by the way), I’m sort of “learning on the job.”

Lupe inadvertently (maybe?) helped ease me into the role before we were married. She allowed me to interact with Isaiah on occasional outings, and I got to know him as a friend, as opposed to an authority figure. I remember how Beto would interact with us, would give us advice, would take us fishing and would teach us about auto repair, so I try to do the same for my stepson. Of course, the teaching moments are different, but I still feel honored that Isaiah has allowed me to be part of those moments – show him how to tie a necktie, how to shave, how to drive a car and how make his Mother’s Day gift Instagram-worthy. Lupe expects me to provide guidance and counsel, and I strive to do that. I don’t pretend to be his father (that’s his father’s role), but I do end up doing some “fatherly” things, such as go to Report Card Night at school, settle a discussion or tell Dad jokes. Just as Beto never forced me to watch football with him (Go Cowboys!), I don’t intend to force Isaiah to be into cycling or fonts. And, even though we have a friendship, I’m not trying to be his best friend. In other words, when his friends come over, I’m not about to pull up a beanbag chair and play video games with them.

Being a disciplinarian, though, is a tricky thing. I defer to Lupe to provide punishment if the need arises – not because I want to make her the bad parent, but rather because I don’t feel comfortable punishing her son (If she did a quarterly performance review for me, this would fall under “Areas of Improvement”). In these cases, I become more of an arbitrator or enforcer and try to hold him accountable to whatever the punishment was (I think my wife trusts my Libra sign for this). Still, though, I believe that each moment and experience helps us become a better family and my contribution as a father figure is significant enough to further bond with my stepson.

What all of this has taught me thus far is that I have a role to play, and my family and I are learning as we go along. If I could talk to my 24-year-old self I would say, “Yes, you want to be a dad, but be open to the idea of being there AS a dad – it’s just as valid, very rewarding and you’ll still be able to keep this ridiculous bicycle collection you have going on.”

I do my part wholeheartedly, and I’m lucky that Lupe and Isaiah are supportive. I’m lucky that Isaiah is respectful, and I’m thankful that Lupe has been an amazing mother. Beto was a great example for me, and if Isaiah continues this cycle of stepfatherhood, it is my hope that I will be a good example for him.

Homeless Man Hits a Grand Slam with Boy

By Karlo Herrera, First 5 LA Family Supports Program Associate

Life in general is hard. There are moments where bad breaks feel like nasty curve balls and sinkers are being thrown at you. Depending on the individual and circumstances, such events can lead to a life of despair and extreme hardship, ultimately culminating in what is known as homelessness.

Being raised to have compassion toward others and to not judge a book by its cover is in part what shaped me to be the man I am today. As a father, I strive to instill these values in my kids and I am quick to turn experiences into instant life lessons.

Two years ago, my family and I were out at a restaurant celebrating my daughter's 2nd birthday. Everyone was full and satisfied with the meal, and since it was getting late, it was decided to head home. Upon exiting the restaurant I suggested for us to take a picture to remember the celebration.

What came next truly impacted me.

People that know me know that I'm a huge Dodgers fan (huge!). And since I instill good values, my then 11-year-old son is also a huge Dodgers fan.

As we stood outside of the crowded front door of the restaurant, trying to figure out how this picture would be taken, a homeless man with a white dog on a leash approached us.

"So, you're a Dodgers fan?" the man said to my son, who was wearing his Dodgers sweatshirt.

"Yes, I am," my son responded.

"How big a fan are you?" the man asked.

"I'm a huge fan!" my son proudly stated.

The man introduced himself and extended his right hand. My son without hesitation shook his hand and introduced himself also.

 "I have something that is going to make your day!" the man said.

This gentle soul slowly removed the backpack he was carrying. Upon opening the backpack he took out something wrapped in a navy blue handkerchief. As he untied the knot of the handkerchief, he revealed a signed baseball in a protective case.

"I want you to have this. This is a ball signed by the 1956 Dodgers" the man said confidently.

My son's facial expression said it all. His face was beaming with excitement and his eyes and mouth were as wide as could be. My son thanked him. We all thanked him. And in the blink of an eye the man left with his white dog. I was in disbelief. We all stood there for a minute trying to process what had just occurred. My disbelief then turned into reality as what had just happened suddenly hit me and I was overcome with emotion. I began to get teary-eyed and with a crack in my voice and tears rolling down my cheeks, I looked at my son and told him to never forget that day and to let this be a lesson that even though this man had no home, he had a huge heart. My son looked at me with tears rolling down his cheeks and shook his head in agreement. The entire drive home was a bit somber and conversations took place about being thankful for what you have and that there's always someone less fortunate than you.

The next day, my son and I walked the streets of Old Town Pasadena looking for this man with his white dog, but to no avail. We looked for this man for several weeks but were unsuccessful in locating him. All I wanted was to thank him for his generosity and to treat him to several meals. I wanted to let him know that his act of selflessness and kindness had a profound impact on me and my son.

This man never asked for anything in return and he probably gave away his most prized possession. I know this event impacted my son as he wrote a report in school about his experience.

Human kindness does exist. Thank you, kind gentleman.

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