The All-Star, All-Pro Dads of Chesnut
In an effort to forge stronger bonds with their children and other fathers, dads at the Chesnut Charter Elementary School gather for breakfast together with their kids once a month.
This past Thursday morning at the Chesnut Charter Elementary School, the dads came out in droves for breakfast before school.
The cafeteria was practically full, bustling with energy and excitement at every table. But it wasn't the food or coffee that brought them there. It was their children, students at Chesnut, and it was All Pro Dad's day.
Gil Hearn spearheads the All Pro Dad effort at Chesnut, where his daughter Allie attends school. Hearn explained what All Pro Dads are striving to do by telling a story.
"I once read an account of a father who was asked by his daughter to play tea with her almost every day when he got home from work," Hearn said. "He always had an excuse as he was too busy or too tired. I know from experience that when children are turned down enough times, they stop asking, almost like a little part of them dies. And you know what? He never played tea."
"This dad didn't realize his mistake until his daughter's wedding day when the reality of marriage hit him. He then set up a play tea party and played tea with his daughter. He, not surprisingly, cried through the whole thing. He realized he had missed many opportunities during his daughter's critical formative years that he could never ever get back."
The story resonated deeply with Hearn, a father of four.
"This story encourages me to get down on the floor every day, play in the yard as often as possible, and in general, seize the day when it comes to my family and kids," Hearn said. "When I'm walking my daughter down the aisle, I don't want to have any regrets that I didn't spend the time with her to nurture and support her in all the ways that she needed."
In essence, that's what the All Pro Dad's club at Chesnut is all about. It's about nurturing and supporting the children, spending time and being there for them when it matters most, and getting out from under the traditional "mom does the school stuff," mentality. In the case of this past Thursday at the group's monthly meeting, only the second, it meant coming to school at 7 a.m. with your child, having a turkey sausage biscuit sandwich with them, and then talking with them and the other fathers in attendance.
"While the primary focus of All Pro Dad is the father-child relationship, a strong second is dads getting to know each other," Hearn said. "By building stronger community among parents, a good school can't help but launch on a trajectory to take it to being a great school."
All Pro Dad is the fatherhood program of Family First, a national non-profit organization based in Tampa, Fla. and launched in 1997 with the help of former Indianapolis Colts head coach and now NBC football analyst Tony Dungy. Hearn came across the program a few years ago on the Internet. When he decided to give it a try at Chesnut, he envisioned helping dads connect with their kids, the school and each other.
"Very little in the All Pro Dad curriculum is news to any dad. It's simply a reminder for us dads to do things that we already know," Hearn said. "With the stresses and time limitations of everyday life, we often need a little push to reprioritize our actions to ensure that they are consistent with our values. By taking bite size pieces with a specific topic each month, it makes the overwhelming task of parenting much easier to tackle…Each month we're reminded of some very basic things that will help us become stronger dads with stronger families."
Thursday's topic was spending time with your kids. Last month it was encouraging your children. Next month they'll discuss role models. On Thursday, the meeting continued after breakfast with fathers and their children breaking off into groups of eight to ten and the fathers telling everyone in the group why they were proud of their child. Other exercises to stress the importance of the 'seize the day' mentality followed.
"I introduced my kids because both of them read at the second grade level," said Mark Breedlove in introducing his twin kindergartners Mark and Mikaylah. Breedlove attended the inaugural All Pro Dad's day in November and said he thought it was a good event and a great way to start the day off.
"She does ballet and he does tennis. They're very busy kids and I'm very proud of them and they're doing well in school," he said.
School Counselor Betty Sule looked on with a smile on her face and had nothing but good things to say about the newly implemented program.
"I think it's wonderful," Sule said. "It gives the dads an opportunity to participate with their children, and they have very few because it's usually the moms up here helping during the day. The dads do help, but for them to get together and be a parent, too, I think is great."
Sule went on to explain the 50 percent increase in attendance from the first meeting to Thursday's second.
"I think dads are looking for an opportunity to be a part of their kid's lives," she said. "This really invites the dads in to be a part."
She added that in her 19 years as a counselor in DeKalb County, she'd never seen a program like it.
"It's really amazing," she said.
The sentiment was shared by Corroll Driskell, who attended with his daughter Sage.
"I loved it," Driskell said. "Just to see fathers with their children and with their daughters always hits close to me. So it was exciting and made me feel good about it."
That's the idea, Hearn said.
"I think most dads don't oppose being involved in the school more but they don't know how and may assume there's not a place. All Pro Dad establishes a clear and easy entry point, and my experience at Chesnut has proven that if offered (the opportunity) the dads will seize it," he said. "They just want some guidance to get started and they'll take it and run…It's a fabulous way to engage a group of parents who are eager to do more but aren't sure how."