Four dads on fatherhood

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According to various sources, Father’s Day started in medieval Europe, in conjunction with the March 19 feast day of St. Joseph.  Its first celebration in the U.S. is said to have been on July 5, 1908, at a church in Fairmont, West Virginia.  Father’s Day is recognized on various dates throughout the world, and in the U.S. takes place on the third Sunday in June.  We asked four fathers from around the Redwood City area to reflect on the meaning of fatherhood and family.  Here are their stories.

Dan Smith: Like Fathers, Like Sons

Like his father, Sergeant Dan Smith of the Redwood City Police Department chose public service as a career.  (Smith’s father, Jim, was city manager for Redwood City during the 1980s.)  And like their own father, who played on two national-championship rugby teams at Cal in the early 1990s, Smith’s twin sons, Austin and Frank, are now competing in the sport at Sonoma State.

“Rugby’s a great game,” says Smith, who’s proud that Frank was just selected for a regional all-star team (in rugby, it’s called a “select side”).  He’s enjoyed helping his sons play the sport he loves, although he admits that these days, “I’m just an old boy – I’m a spectator.”

Being there for Austin and Frank has been a priority for Smith, who coached their youth sports teams, led their Cub Scout pack, chaperoned school trips to Washington, D.C. and Yosemite, did elementary-school show-and-tells about working as a police officer and provided morning drop-offs at school in his squad car.  (Later, in high school, the boys asked him to park down the street.)

Not that it was always easy.  Shift work limited Smith’s ability to see his sons, and he and his wife, Kem, eventually became estranged.  Still, they stayed together to raise the kids, and as Smith says, “We might not have agreed on a lot of husband-and-wife stuff, but we were in agreement on a lot of mom-and-dad stuff.”

That included that the twins should stay busy and out of trouble.  They earned good grades, played sports and music, and participated in drama and other school activities.  All the while, there was another backup family – the Redwood City PD.  Smith recounts that, while Austin and Frank were in high school, a group of officers broke up a party the boys were attending, and one called them out by name.  That, Smith says, sent a double message – the boys were being watched, and also watched out for.

Austin and Frank came along fairly late, when Smith was 38.  He had served in various overseas postings while guarding embassies with the U.S. Marine Corps, then returned at age 26 to attend Cal on the G.I. Bill.  He joined the Redwood City force in 1993 and the boys arrived just in time to stave off middle age.

“Kids keep you young,” Smith says.  “You participate with them, they keep you active.  You know, two boys – you’ve got to wrestle with them, you’ve got to play sports.”

As a police officer, Smith has seen young people achieve great things and also get into terrible trouble.  And as a father, he’s felt a profound responsibility to help his sons make wise choices.

“My kids are the biggest joy of my life,” Smith says.  “I kind of work for them now, so to speak – give them guidance, give them information, tell them the road that I went down, tell them that’s not a good road over there, try this one over here – just be there when they need you.

“My experience was, just participate,” Smith adds.  “With two boys, I had to participate and be involved.”

Rafael Avendaño: New Dad

For Rafael Avendaño, fatherhood has been a new experience, in a couple of ways.  His daughter, Alana, is just eight months old.  Moreover, Avendaño’s own father left the household when Rafael was 12.  (They’ve since reconciled.)  Becoming a dad has been a steep learning curve, but one he has welcomed.

“One of the greatest takeaways so far has been that I’m a coach – I’ve been coaching for the past 20 years – and I’ve had great coaches during my life.  But when you have a child, you have one of the greatest accountability coaches.”

Avendaño, director of the Siena Youth Center, part of the St. Francis Center on Redwood City’s east side, describes Alana as “a gift from God” and “Mommy’s little angel.”  So far, he says, she’s been a dream baby, crying only occasionally and now sleeping several hours during the night.

“She’s really happy when she wakes up,” Avendaño says.  “She smiles every time she sees Mom or Dad when we go get her from the crib.  That’s really fun, just to know she’s thinking, ‘I’m up, I’m ready, let’s get going.’  It’s great just to have a little buddy.”

Using a chest harness, Avendaño takes Alana hiking at least once a week, exploring local open spaces and state and county parks.

“That’s something I want to make a part of her life early, is getting her outside,” Avendaño says.  “I want her to see the animals, the trees, the colors, the difference of environments.  I don’t believe in just keeping your child indoors.  We all started outside, so keeping that ritual of where we all started is really important to me.”

An immigrant from El Salvador and now a U.S. citizen, Avendaño is conscious that he has more resources for his daughter than he had as a youth.

“I have to hold myself accountable to making sure I do my best,” he says.  “And have fun with it, too, right?  Enjoying the process of learning every day and being aware of those things.”

When it comes to working to improve their situation, no one could accuse Avendaño and his wife, Ana, of giving less than their best.  Rafael earned his bachelor’s degree online from Colorado State University while living in the East Bay and toiling at three jobs.  After that came a master’s degree in education from the University of San Francisco.  Ana, meanwhile, is currently pursuing a doctorate.

Realizing that having a child didn’t spell the end of ambition has been a relief to Avendaño.  As a coach who had worked mainly with boys, he also feared terminal cluelessness with a baby girl.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is going to be a true challenge,’” he says, adding, “I thank God for my wife, because she’s amazing.  The mom is at least 75 percent of it, at least in the beginning.”

With that, Avendaño may have just cracked the code to this fatherhood business.

Gary Gaddini: At Home with the Feminine Mystique

At least this much can be said of Gary Gaddini:  He’s the man of the house.

That is, he’s the only man.  The lead pastor at Redwood City’s Peninsula Covenant Church, Gaddini is surrounded by six women – his wife, Anne, and the couple’s five daughters.

And, perhaps like another father of many girls, the constantly beleaguered and bemused Mr. Bennet in Jane Austen’s novel, “Pride and Prejudice,” he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“At its best, it’s dynamite,” Gaddini says.  “We have a great relationship, which is such a gift.  The ability to have fun, to see the power in the feminine gender, to watch these girls grow, to have three who are really adults and see who they are as strong women, is just a thrill to me.  I am not missing out at all, not having sons.”

Of the five daughters, two – Hannah, 27; and Mary Courtney, 23 – are, as Gaddini proudly puts it, “off the payroll.”  Hannah does website analytics in Bend, Ore., and Mary Courtney, whom Gaddini describes as “our horse girl,” works at a commercial thoroughbred farm in Kentucky.  Elizabeth, 21, is an international-affairs major at the University of Georgia, 17-year-old Isabella is a junior at Notre Dame High School in Belmont, and 10-year-old Joella – known as JoJo – is a fourth-grader at Clifford School in Redwood City.

Gaddini calls Jojo “our encore.”  Seven years ago, the family was helping to build an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and became attached to a toddler in the village.  Soon after, they adopted her and brought her to Redwood City.  It was, Gaddini says, an act of fortitude – not for the family, but for JoJo.

“Imagine coming here, not speaking any of the language, never having slept in a bed, never having had shoes or running water or electricity,” Gaddini says.  “And then we show up and take her halfway around the world and plop her into the Peninsula.  The courage that this girl has is amazing to me.”

For the girls, Gaddini says growing up as “preacher’s kids” has had both advantages and disadvantages.  Among the former – Gaddini has regularly paid them modest royalties for the many times he has mentioned them in a sermon.  They have also had godparents from PCC, and a large church community that knows them and in certain ways looks after them.  As for the disadvantages, Gaddini says, “Sometimes they have Pastor Gary for a dad, and they just want a dad.”

A family tradition has been coffee or hot chocolate – or, in Isabella’s case, Boba tea – for half-an-hour or so for each daughter every week.  The girls are free to say whatever’s on their minds, and conversations have ranged from movies to boys, spirituality and social issues.  Gaddini jokes that he thought the girls were in it mainly for the free coffee, but was touched recently by a card from Hannah that told him she had cherished her dedicated “dad time.”

For his part, Gaddini says, “I never knew I that could have it like this with these girls.  Anybody can be the pastor of PCC, but these girls only get one dad.  It matters a lot that I don’t fail at that role.”

Dave Miller: Family Act

Lawyer by day, jazz pianist by night, with a wife who’s an organist and two grown daughters and two grandchildren who all sing up a storm.  That’s the life of Dave Miller, a New York native who came to California as a young attorney and has made his mark both at the legal bar and the piano variety.

Several nights a month, Miller leads his jazz trio at venues such as Angelicas in Redwood City and Savanna Jazz in San Carlos.  The band is fronted by Miller’s daughter, singer Rebecca DuMaine, who offers both swinging and sensitive interpretations of the Great American Songbook along with the impeccable diction one would expect of a professional drama coach.  DuMaine’s children, 13-year-old Jackson and 10-year-old Kealy, also occasionally join the act with considerable humor and stage presence.

Miller’s other daughter, Stephanie, is a solo singer and guitar player in San Francisco who tends toward folk and rock.  And in addition to playing the organ, Miller’s wife, Elizabeth, has sung in numerous choirs while coping with the emotional demands of her other passions – teaching English and French and rooting for the San Francisco Giants.

DuMaine first sang with Miller at age 16 at the old Trader Vic’s restaurant in San Francisco.  Since then, they’ve recorded numerous albums together.  The latest, called “Chez Nous,” will be featured at a CD-release party at Angelicas in Redwood City on June 15.  Miller also has another, instrumental-only, album due out – a tribute to the late pianist George Shearing called, “Just Imagine.”

“There’s no way to put words around what it means,” says Miller about passing the heritage of American popular music to his extended family.  “Family is everything.  But to be doing something that at the same time is part of our profession – it’s Rebecca’s daily profession and it’s mine more and more – Rebecca and I approach what we do as professionals.  When we’re together, it’s not father-daughter.  We’re putting arrangements together as people would in any business in which they’re working with their family.

“But there are times when we’re performing, and I look up and it hits me – ‘Holy cow, this is my daughter, and we’re doing this together.’  I don’t have words to describe what it means to be connected that way.  It just adds a dimension to the relationship.  And then to see it passed along to my grandkids and doing it with them – these are memories I’m sure they’ll have for the rest of their lives, three generations performing together.  But for me, it’s a joy that keeps me young, I think – feeling young and very motivated to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Growing up on Long Island, Miller was the grandson of a concert pianist.  He started picking out tunes by ear on the piano when he was three, and studied classically until jazz and popular music took over in his teens.  He had a jazz band in college at Alfred University in upstate New York, where he met Elizabeth in a music-theory class.  But along with music, the law also beckoned.

“I’m blessed to have had a career in law, which has been my passion,” Miller says.  “But to have music as something that is so prominent in my life – it’s not just a question of doing something with my children and grandchildren.  Music keeps you young.”

This story was originally published in the June print edition of Climate Magazine. 

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