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Father's Day: Dads Find Lessons in Unexpected Places

by on June 21, 2015 7:00 AM

As Jermey Diehl walks down College Avenue carrying his young daughter, his love is evident in the way he gently clutches her to his chest.

Maybe his protective cradling is just fatherly instinct.

But maybe it’s also influenced by painful memories of the first few weeks of his daughter’s life.

“The way her life started, she was only three pounds, two ounces. She was born three weeks early,” Diehl says, unconsciously drawing her closer. “She spent the first five weeks of her life in an incubator.”

Diehl says those weeks were perhaps the most difficult of his entire life, filled with worry and fear. But that struggle was also a wonderful lesson, helping Diehl realize just how deeply he belonged to the tiny girl in that hospital incubator.

Diehl says parenting requires “you have to lose a lot of yourself” in your child. You have less time to focus on your interests and less energy to do things for yourself.

Maybe sacrificing your time and interests can be challenging, but certainly not more challenging than spending five weeks praying to God for a healthy life for your daughter.

But in a way, Diehl is almost thankful for that difficult experience because of the lesson it helped him learn.

“It’s helped me to enjoy her more,” Diehl says. “She’s a little miracle, and I have to treat her like one.”

Other fathers, even ones who never feared for their newborns' lives, also have found lessons in unexpected places.

Though every dad has a different story to tell, they share a common theme: even though fathers are supposed to be the ones teaching lessons to their kids, fatherhood is nothing if not one big learning experience.

Thankfully many fathers, like State College resident Berine Rodgers, found valuable lessons from their own dads.

“You learn by example,” Rodgers says. “One thing I learned from my dad was the joy of family.”

Rodgers was one of ten siblings, which sounds like it might’ve been frustrating or overwhelming. But for Rodger’s dad, each and every one of his kids was a source of immense happiness and pride.

Now, having been a father for 35 years, Rodgers understands why his father found such bliss in his children.

“Sure, there’s bound to be some sadness in thirtysome years,” Rodgers says. “But there’s been a lot more joy.”

State College resident Shawn Vashaw also learned some valuable lessons from his father, but that’s only fitting. After all, Vashaw's dad was a high school teacher.

Vashaw, a talkative guy with a well-worn smile, was clearly influenced by what he describes as his father’s upbeat and consistently positive attitude. Vashaw also remembers one of his dad’s major lessons every single day: “life is a series of agreements,” his father would say.

That’s something Vashaw applies every day in his work and his marriage, but also as a father. Sure, he may have parental authority, but he also wants to be able to foster understanding between himself and his daughter.

Just like his father before him, Vashaw wants his relationship with his child to be based on open communication and love. And that technique seems to have worked: Vashaw happily reports that his daughter, by and large, never went through the moody, argumentative phase so common in teenagers.

Instead, he’s had the privilege of watching his little girl grow into “the lovely young woman she is today.”

“My daughter is the best part of me,” Vashaw says.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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