I am honored to announce that I have been one of 17 people selected to receive a 2016 Miller Grant to attend this year's Dad 2.0 Summit. In order to receive the grant I had to submit an essay stating why I wanted to attend the conference. So, I wanted to share my essay so everyone could see why I really want to be a part of such an amazing event. So, without further ado, here is what I wrote...
I am writing in hopes of securing a Miller Grant to attend the 2016 Dad 2.0 Summit. I would love to attend the conference so I can meet other dads, like me, who care about being better fathers for their children. I came across this summit while searching the Internet for inspiration and help in dealing with a tough parenting situation and thought it would be great to talk to others.
Last year at about this time, as a father, I was presented a tough challenge I had never anticipated. There are fun things like school, friendships, and art I always look forward to discussing with my children. For instance, my oldest child (Abby) started attending pre-K at the same school my wife teaches special education. My wife’s classroom was located next door to the room where my daughter would be. The pre-K class is what they call “reverse inclusion.” Reverse inclusion is “the practice of placing students into an Early Childhood Special Education class on a voluntary basis so that these students can be social and educational role models for the students with disabilities.” Abby went into the school year a little nervous but very excited. She really wanted to learn more about art.
My daughter loved it! She was only 3 years old at the beginning of the school year and really fit right in. Her teacher, Miss Robin, really encouraged Abby’s creativity and taught her how to open up and be the wonderful child she is. For the first time in her short life Abby had a role model that wasn’t a family member. Abby loved Miss Robin and for the first three months of the school year drew her pictures almost everyday.
Then there are not-so-fun things like poverty, stranger danger, and death conversations that you can somewhat anticipate and plan for. However, on Sunday morning December 7, 2014, my wife received a phone call you dread. I remember the moment vividly. At first, I thought it was a normal Sunday morning conversation she was having with either a family member or a friend. We had all three of our kids (at this point, ages 4, 2, and 3 months) in my son’s room playing. Then, in an instant, my wife screamed and began crying. I obviously knew something had happened and immediately thought maybe someone in her family was in an accident or something. I quickly ushered the two oldest children to another room while holding my son. When I came back in I quickly learned that Miss Robin, and her daughter Mani, had been murdered and their house set on fire. At this point I was faced with figuring out how to console my wife whose co-worker and friend just died and telling my daughter that the one non-family member she looked up to would no longer be there to guide her through the year.
Ultimately, we were able to tell Abby that Miss Robin got hurt in a fire and would be watching down on her from Heaven. Obviously she struggled to come to terms with what that meant, but she dealt the best should could. There were a lot of tears, questions, and random memories. For a while, Abby would often draw pictures of Miss Robin. And in fact, right after we told her she ran to her crayons and paper and drew a picture of her holding Miss Robin’s hand—they both wore crowns.
That week of school was tough on everyone. My wife battled through it with grace and dignity so the children could regain a sense of normalcy. Abby continued asking questions and at times cried at the memory of her friend. As they cleaned out Miss Robin’s desk my wife sent me a text of one of Abby’s little drawings tacked next to a photo of Robin’s daughter Mani. That image brought tears to my eyes. To think that this teacher didn’t have to save that drawing, let alone put it in a space reserved for family photos, made me appreciate the hero this woman was.
As a result of this tragedy, my wife and I took it upon ourselves to start sending little lunch notes to school with Abby. It started out as little bits of encouragement. I did not want Abby to lose her interest in drawing and I wanted to keep her creativity going. Eventually the notes got more illustrative and started including characters and other drawings I would make up quickly the night before. Everyday when Abby would get home from school we took the notes out of her lunchbox and put them in a jar to save. Family and friends started seeing them and encouraged me to post them online, which I did. Starting on May 7, 2015 I decided I would draw one lunch note everyday for 366 consecutive days (2016 is a leap year), post them online, and hope that these notes might encourage other parents to add little bits of creativity to their kids’ day. This is neither a new concept, nor am I a great artist. But my goal for the year will be to continue offering encouragement to my daughter. And I’m proud to say her love for drawing and coloring is as strong as ever.
The 2016 Dad 2.0 Summit is the kind of place where I feel I could learn a lot from other fathers going through struggles. Unfortunately, money is tight this year, but a grant would easily cover the journey since I am only a 2 hour car ride from D.C. In the future, I hope to be in a position where I can also add funds to the grant. It would be great to get more dads attending this conference.