Be A Hero Day is more than just a clever slogan to encourage fathers and father figures to become and remain active in their children’s education. It is the tone and tenor of a vital and often overlooked necessity in education. We know that all children deserve a champion, someone who will inspire them, advocate for them and enable them to reach their full potential. There is no greater champion for a child than his or her father. One cannot overstate the influence fathers have on the education and the social and emotional development of children.
I spent the majority of my life without my father. When I found out I was going to be a father, I was terrified because without an example at home, I felt like I had no clue what I was supposed to do. Still, I was reminded that often the best examples life gives us is the absence of what we think we need most. The absence of my own father taught me how important my presence would be in all facets of my children’s lives. So, I started at square one, being present.
The day my daughter, Lailah, was born I had spent most of the day on the east coast frantically trying to get home. After missing most of the labor process, I arrived with just minutes to spare. The room was chaotic: half of it crying and the other half filled with doctors and nurses rushing around. I stood there in awe of this beautiful baby that had my nose and eyes. Lailah was fussy, crying while the doctor and nurse were preparing to perform a routine check up and give her a bath. My mind went back to those parenting classes I did not think would come in handy where we learned that if I had talked to her while she was in the womb, she would recognize my voice when she was born. I walked over to her, placed my finger in her hand and said, “Hey, I’m here. Daddy is here.” She immediately stopped crying and gripped my finger as she turned to try to focus her eyes on my voice. That phrase and gesture would be repeated over and over at crucial and what might seem like insignificant moments since she was born. From hospital stays to nightmares, I have used that phrase as a means of comfort for Lailah but also as a reminder of my commitment to being present.
One of the students who was reading with his dad at the Be A Hero Day event boasted to his teacher about how excited he was. As a preschooler, adjusting to life away from home can be challenging at times. Before this event, this student had been pretty quiet and had often isolated himself from the rest of his peers. However, on Be A Hero Day, he was in rare form eager to play and interact. He proudly told his teacher, “I feel so brave with my dad here!” Moments like that epitomize why these types of events and opportunities to make room for and allow fathers to be present are so important.
With my own daughter, the importance of my presence was all the more clearer. As I visited her classroom, she greeted me at the door with a hug and a huge smile, took me by the hand and proceeded to take me around her classroom to introduce me to everyone. She told her peers and teachers, “This is my big daddy, he is our teacher today. Look how big he is!” My mind immediately went back to the image I had of my father, who seem to be 10 feet tall, walking into my classroom.
Once the event was over, the fathers were seated at tables coloring certificates with our children. Ms. Alvarez, brought out a bag of mustaches and her intention was to give them to the boys. Much to her surprise, all of the girls wanted mustaches too. All of the students wanted to look like like their daddies, their heroes. As fathers, most of us do not fly or have super powers. We come in the most unassuming of statures and our costumes often resemble work clothes as we arrive home daily wearing the residue of hard work. But in the eyes of our children, we can stop speeding bullets, scare away monsters under beds and make the harshness of life go away. Heroes don’t always wear capes or masks. On “Be A Hero Day,” we weren’t there just reading books; we were nurturing and investing in the development of our children.
Whether you have children of your own or not, any positive male role model can wear the cape of fatherhood and support the social-emotional development and educational success of a child. It is imperative that we empower more fathers and father-figures to be active and engaged in education to be a hero.