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Protectors, confidants, supporters: Readers share stories of the dads who shaped them

 NPR readers are honoring the father figures in their lives.
Julie Ruben, Christine Muehe, Rebecca Summerlot, Nathan Rudy, Molly Mamaril, Abby Henkel Roman, Riva Binks
NPR readers are honoring the father figures in their lives.

Dads: You put in the work for Mother's Day. This Sunday, it's your turn to get pampered and hear the nice things your loved ones have to say about you.

For Father's Day, we asked NPR readers to tell us about the father figures who have shaped their lives. You shared stories about dads who cheered on your life decisions and careers and dads who taught you lifelong lessons. Others shared stories about how a father's absence shaped their own parenting style.

These are some of the responses that stood out the most.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Dads as cheerleaders

 Abby Henkel Roman's credits her dad as her biggest cheerleader.
Abby Henkel Roman /
Abby Henkel Roman's credits her dad as her biggest cheerleader.

Abby Henkel Roman of Bloomington, Ind., said she "never felt shame" about her sexuality because of her parents. They were LGBTQ+ rights advocates long before Henkel Roman came out as a lesbian in college. When she did so, she said her dad showed "not just his support but his enthusiasm by excitedly telling me about how everyone is on a spectrum." Aside from her wife, Henkel Roman credits her dad as her biggest cheerleader. "Many of my friends from childhood have said how my dad was a father figure to them, too…and how my parents' marriage taught them an example of a healthy and loving long relationship.

 Molly Mamaril moved to Honolulu to retrace her parents' footsteps and learn more about her heritage.
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Molly Mamaril moved to Honolulu to retrace her parents' footsteps and learn more about her heritage.

When Molly Mamaril thinks of her dad, she thinks of how genuinely excited he always was to see others succeed. "It is refreshing to be around someone like that who sees your joy and success as his own," she said. "Heʻs not doing it for attention, heʻs doing it because he really wants you to be happy." Mamaril's father was originally from Hawaii but has lived in Minnesota for more than three decades. She now lives in Honolulu and is retracing her family's footsteps to learn more about her heritage. "My mom and dad cultivated this natural curiosity about the world in us. They're both librarians, so it makes a lot of sense."

Dads as heroes

 Christine Muehe says her dad is Superman, and her family members are blessed to have him in their lives.
Christine Muehe /
Christine Muehe says her dad is Superman, and her family members are blessed to have him in their lives.

Christine Muehe has one word to describe her dad: Superman. He lost his leg in 1970 working for the Santa Fe Railroad. Still, he taught Muehe how to snow ski, change a flat tire, paint a room, tile a floor and more. "I often compare him to having Clint Eastwood's heroic persona with Harrison Ford's love of adventure mixed with Kevin Costner's charisma," she said. "He's my dad, and he's the best. Our family is blessed to have him in our lives. I hope he knows how much I love him."

Nathan Rudy says he's deeply involved in his own community because of the lessons his dad taught him.
Nathan Rudy /
Nathan Rudy says he's deeply involved in his own community because of the lessons his dad taught him.

It may seem hard to live in the shadow of Nathan Rudy's father, Donald. The "burly, bearded, bespectacled man with forearms that would make Popeye jealous" is a Korean War Navy veteran. He has a master's degree from Harvard and a PhD from Washington University.

Donald achieved so much before Nathan became a teenager. Despite this, he never pressured Nathan to be like him or think like him. "There was just the expectation that I be a good person who helped other people who needed it," Nathan said. Nathan is now deeply involved in his own community and raises his daughter, Kendy, to be strong and do the things she loves.

Dads as teachers

Leah Etling's dad, William, is an author and longtime newspaper columnist. She followed in her father's footsteps to become a professional writer and editor. She said her father was her first editor. "We used to have regular screaming matches about the edits she would make to my high school essays. For the record, I did most of the screaming." Later in her career, Etling said she realized the best writing advice she's ever gotten came from her dad: "Keep it easy to understand. Keep it concise. And, you can usually delete your first two sentences — you were just clearing your throat."

 Julie Ruben's dad deeply influenced her career choice.
Julie Ruben /
Julie Ruben's dad deeply influenced her career choice.

Julie Ruben of Bay Harbor Islands, Fla., also followed her dad's career, though she initially resisted it. Her father, Leon Gersten, was a teacher who "saw the light" and the call of teaching in her. Despite reacting negatively to the idea, he planted a seed. "As I wind down my career, I'm so grateful for the amazing, life-changing experiences and opportunities that I've experienced and the lives that I've influenced," she said. "I'm proud to have dedicated my time, life and passion to working with children and being an extension of my dad.

Dads (and moms) who stepped up

Sometimes, moms are the dads in our lives. Michael Kane of San Bruno, Calif., said he sends his mother a gift every year for Father's Day. "Raising me as a single mom, she had both jobs: mother and father,” he said. “If you had both jobs, you should get both holidays." Kane grew up primarily around women. The influences of his mother, grandmother, aunts and others gave him a "less testosterone-fueled image" of what it means to be a man. "I am more founded in the idea of being not just a protector but a caregiver, a confidant and a supporter to those I care about," he said.

Riva Binks /

Riva Binks of Raleigh, N.C., shared how much her husband, Adam, with whom she shares three children, means to her. She loved her dad, who she described as a "funny, tender and thoughtful" man. But her father had bipolar disorder, which could manifest negatively. "Adam filled that role of first man that my father couldn't fully manage," Binks said. "I think Dad appreciated his son-in-law for it. I think he knew that Adam picked up where he left off, turned me slowly back around and helped me move forward."

Lessons learned from dads who weren't available

 Rebecca Summerlot wants to raise her differently from how she grew up.
Rebecca Summerlot /
Rebecca Summerlot wants to raise her differently from how she grew up.

Rebecca Summerlot of Windermere, Fla., is estranged from her father, whom she says was abusive. "I didn’t set out on purpose to parent in a way that diametrically opposed everything about how my father interacted with me," she said. "But some corner of the back of my mind has kept score." Summerlot says her son, who is 11, knows he's loved and treasured. She listens when he tells her things he's interested in. He knows she's not perfect, and she doesn't expect him to be. "What I have realized, and what I’m proud of, is that the way I’m raising my son would be completely incomprehensible to my father. And that has made all the difference."

Jenn Manning of Attleboro, Mass., hasn't had contact with her father in almost 20 years. She said she raises her son to "accept feelings, work through bit and little problems and avoid shame and yelling," and strives to be the opposite of her father. Though she admitted it was hard, she still recognized the good things her father gave her, like a sense of humor and worth ethic.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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