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Dedicated Dads

Shared interests, activities strengthen bond between fathers and their children

By Anne Straub

Today’s dads tend to be more involved than ever, a trend that experts applaud.  

“The earlier there is that attachment and bonding, the better children are going to develop and mature,” said Barbara Moore, president of the Child Care Association of Brevard County.

The father’s investment in reading to children and listening to their concerns is just as important as the mother’s role, she said. “When the father is missing, we always urge families to find a male substitute,” she said. “It’s critical to have fathers involved.”

That attention translates to confidence and self-respect in children. It also builds a foundation for that child’s future family. “It’s amazing, as we get older, how much alike we see we are to our parents. We take those values into our own family,” Moore said.

While earlier is better, a dad’s attention never ceases to be important. “It’s never too late to get involved,” she said.

Here’s a look at some Space Coast dads who are sharing their time and interests with their children, and enjoying every step of the way.

Passion for sports

Ben Clark knows the importance of helping children find their passion.

Growing up on Merritt Island, Clark became friends with a neighbor who was an avid angler. At 60, he had a damaged arm and needed help to fish off the dock behind his house. Clark gladly filled the role, and developed a love for the activity.

“That passion probably kept me out of a lot of trouble and kept me away from drugs. If I raised any money, it was to buy lures,” said Clark, now 45 and living in Rockledge.

Today, it’s his turn to help guide his children into productive activities. Clark has coached Jaryd, 13, and Luke, 9, in baseball and football, and serves as board of directors for a local football league. He’s looking into football camps for the summer.

“I get to go to camp with my kids,” Clark said.

He gives credit where it’s due: Clark admits he’d miss many a sign-up deadline if he were in charge of organizing the family’s time. His wife, Rosalind, takes the responsibility of paperwork and scheduling so their children can learn the fun of competition.

“Otherwise, these poor kids would be doing a lot of fishing. There’s no sign up for fishing,” Clark said.

Sharing a hobby

Oscar Sifuentes doesn’t need to be near his niece to share his hobby with her. After all, the things they’re looking at are millions of miles away.

Amateur astronomer Sifuentes has demonstrated his telescope for his extended family, starting with his eight brothers and two sisters. His niece Elizabeth, 15, showed enthusiasm for the activity, so he gave her his old 70 mm refractor telescope. She set it up at her home in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Uncle and niece keep in touch using the Internet. “I give her instructions as to what to look for, like what planets are visible, what constellations are out, if the space station or Hubble will be making a pass over head,” Sifuentes said. Corpus Christi and Brevard have almost the same view of the sky, which makes sharing the hobby easy. “She really loves her scope and doing astronomy.”

Sifuentes got into astronomy just a few years ago, when his wife bought him a telescope. He’d injured his back in a work accident, and she thought the telescope would help him pass the time. “I saw Saturn, and I was hooked,” Sifuentes said.

He enjoys introducing young people to astronomy in a variety of settings, such as at schools, the YMCA and scout troops through his involvement in the Brevard Astronomical Society. Last month, he took his 8-inch Newtonian telescope to his 8-year-old grandson’s class to do some solar observing through a filter.

“I really enjoy hearing the kids yell out, ‘Oh wow!’ or oohs and aaahs and the famous words, ‘That is so cool!’” Sifuentes said. “I love hearing that stuff. It makes my heart feel good, and we usually get a few boys and girls interested in astronomy.”

Take me out to the ballgame

There’s plenty of pride to go around when the Donatos get together for a baseball game. Anthony Donato Sr., 65, recalls coaching Anthony Jr.’s childhood team on Long Island. “He was exceptional. He could play,” he said of his son, who played shortstop.

Anthony Jr. is quick to mention his dad’s baseball prowess. At 12, Anthony Sr.’s skill in Little League won him the honor of meeting the Brooklyn Dodgers. “That’s what made me so baseball crazy, and I made him baseball crazy,” said Anthony Sr., who lives in Melbourne.

Father and son are continuing the tradition by adding a third generation, Adam, 7. Anthony Jr., 42, of West Melbourne, has been coaching his son since his second year of t-ball. Anthony Sr. is an assistant coach.

They also share a dedication to the New York Mets. That’s why Adam wears jersey No. 3, in homage to Bud Harrelson, his dad’s favorite player. Unfortunately, Adam’s team carries the name of a Mets rival. “Mets fans coaching the Braves – it’s very hard to do,” Anthony Sr. said with a smile.

Adam’s brother, Alex, now just 3, shows signs of joining the family hobby.

“All he ever says is, ‘I want to play baseball,’” Anthony Sr. said. “It looks like we’re going to be doing this for a while.”

Camping getaways

One of Matt Thompson’s favorite parts of camping is what isn’t there. No television, no telephone, no computer.

Anthony Jr. is quick to mention his dad’s baseball prowess. At 12, Anthony Sr.’s skill in Little League won him the honor of meeting the Brooklyn Dodgers. “That’s what made me so baseball crazy, and I made him baseball crazy,” said Anthony Sr., who lives in Melbourne.

Father and son are continuing the tradition by adding a third generation, Adam, 7. Anthony Jr., 42, of West Melbourne, has been coaching his son since his second year of t-ball. Anthony Sr. is an assistant coach.

They also share a dedication to the New York Mets. That’s why Adam wears jersey No. 3, in homage to Bud Harrelson, his dad’s favorite player. Unfortunately, Adam’s team carries the name of a Mets rival. “Mets fans coaching the Braves – it’s very hard to do,” Anthony Sr. said with a smile.

Adam’s brother, Alex, now just 3, shows signs of joining the family hobby.

“All he ever says is, ‘I want to play baseball,’” Anthony Sr. said. “It looks like we’re going to be doing this for a while.”

Making music

When people hear that Brian and Teresa Porter took their son, Elijah, to a Bon Jovi concert for his fourth birthday, they often think the present was purely the parents’ idea. Not so.

“He knew the songs already, he showed a real interest. He truly wanted to go,” Brian Porter said.

Beyond their family connection, music is probably the strongest common bond he shares with Elijah, now 10. They have the same taste in bands, and music is a big part of their lives. Elijah even named his pet snake Dave after Dave “the Snake” Sabo, guitar player for Skid Row. The only downside to getting to go to concerts with his parents: “They made me wear ear plugs,” Elijah said.

When Elijah started to gravitate toward the toy guitars in his toy box, Porter started to show him basic chords. Both now take free guitar lessons through their church, where Brian plays bass and Elijah plays percussion with the worship team.

Elijah’s siblings, Lennon, 4, and Lillikoi, 2, haven’t shown musical interest yet. “The opportunity will be there. They’ll have guitars lying around the house, they’ll have a piano,” said Porter, 34, of Palm Bay. If they show interest in a different instrument, they’ll get one, he said, or they’ll have the chance to play a sport if that’s what they choose.

Porter plans to use his own love for rock to help guide his son as he develops as a guitarist. “Kids who have an interest in music tend to choose the wrong path,” Porter said. Staying involved will help him look out for his son. “If he were to get a band and play in a club, I’d be there,” he said.

Spending time on baseball field

Sam Mazzarell has a simple way to choose activities to participate in with his 12-year-old son, Vinny.

“Anything he likes, I like. We can do everything together,” said Mazzarell, 47, who lives in Rockledge. That used to mean ice hockey, and it often means fishing. Right now, much of their time together is taken playing baseball. Mazzarell has coached Vinny in tournament ball and Little League and still helps out.

“I’m there all the time,” he said, throwing batting practice, for example.

Vinny loves golf, but Mazzarell, who works on the grounds of a golf course, isn’t ready to turn his work site into a recreational option.

He has seen their relationship strengthen through their participation in sports together. “It creates a bond,” he said. “There are ups and downs, struggles and victories.”

He likes the positive influence of the other players and dads involved in local sports programs. “You surround your kids with good kids, then you’re going to get good results,” he said.

United in faith

The absence of an Orthodox Jewish temple in Brevard County could have been a problem for Howard Evans. Instead, he turned it into an opportunity to share his faith with his children himself.

As a child growing up in Brooklyn, Evans attended lessons in his faith at the temple every day after school. Today, he passes on those principles to his kids, making the time relevant and fun.

Evans makes up stories to help the children – Reena, 10, and Tzali, 7 – apply their new knowledge. Often, they’re mysteries in the tradition of Encyclopedia Brown, but with a Jewish protagonist. For example, if they’re studying the laws of the Sabbath, the clue to solve the mystery in Evans’ original story would be related to the knowledge of Sabbath restrictions on a character.

 “They really look forward to learning the stuff because they know that toward end of the week, there will be a really fun story,” Evans said.

Their own Sabbath is dedicated family time, as Jewish law forbids them to drive or use the telephone, among other restrictions, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. They study Scripture, say prayers, and Evans’ wife, Sharon, leads the children in singing Hebrew songs. And there’s lots of time left to play ball in the backyard, do board games together – their latest favorite is Risk – and finish the evening by reading. Howard has read many classics to the children, and now is reading Shakespeare aloud.

“Kids can absorb and learn a lot more than we give them credit for,” he said.

He’s proud to see the children are happy and strong in their faith. “Since we don’t have a community here, we have a little community in our house,” he said.

Dad in shining armor

Plenty of children like to picture their dad as a knight in shining armor. For Jacob Aldridge, the image is less of a stretch.

His dad, Robert, participates in the local arm of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which recreates battles and fosters interest in the arts and sciences of the Middle Ages. Robert Aldridge, 39, has developed a skill for making armor, and his son has become adept at helping him suit up for battle.

“He actually gets to help his dad put on armor,” Aldridge said of his 10-year-old son. When Robert Aldridge competes in tournaments, Jacob studies the field and offers insight on the opponent’s weaknesses.

“He has a lot of fun with it,” said Aldridge, who lives in Melbourne. The group offers activities for the children of members, and Jacob recently got to try his hand at archery. At another event, the kids made small wooden catapults.

Aldridge makes sure Jacob has a chance to participate in activities and classes that interest him at the group’s functions. “I want to make sure he knows he’s not just there for me,” Aldridge said.