Dad-tastic: Celebrating Father's Day

  • Article by: KRISTIN TILLOTSON, BILL WARD and AIMEE BLANCHETTE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 18, 2010 - 5:44 PM

At worst, without our fathers, we wouldn't be here. At best, children of all ages have an inextricable, inexhaustible bond with their fathers. The Twin Citians profiled here are among those blessed with a truly special father-and-child relationship. For them, every day is Father's Day.

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“When I look in the mirror, I see my own father,” says Mohamed Barre, who is father to six children of his own, from left: Ilias, 8; Issa, 7; Ismael, 9 (in green); Ilhan, 5; Ilham, 5, and Ishaq, 6.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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When Spokane, Wash., celebrated the first Father's Day 100 years ago, most dads had one major role: The Breadwinner.

That has changed mightily, and not just due to the onset of dual-income households.

At various stages of life, today's fathers can wear any number of chapeaus: hero/role model, coach/mentor, confidant/best friend.

So while Father's Day might be one of those "Hallmark holidays," is that any reason not to celebrate the ties that bind us and our dads once a year?

At worst, without our fathers, we wouldn't be here. At best, children of all ages have an inextricable, inexhaustible bond with their fathers. The Twin Citians profiled here are among those blessed with a truly special father-and-child relationship. For them, every day is Father's Day.

MOHAMED BARRE

Mohamed Barre's six children, ages 9 to 5, are American, but they live in two worlds -- Minnesotan and Somali. It's a balancing act: "We are living in a host country, and I need to give my kids room to learn and adapt. Every morning, I think of this."

A child support officer for Hennepin County for the last five years, Barre moved to Minnesota in 1998. He worked as a security guard while getting his degree in health and human services administration at St. Mary's University of Minnesota. He and his wife, Naema Ali, whom he met in school, are parents to boys Ismael, Ilias, Issa and Ishaq, and the youngest, twin girls Ilham and Ilhan. They share the surname of Barre's father, Issa, according to Somali custom.

"When I look in the mirror, I see my own father," he said. "Being a father did not begin with me, and it won't end with me. Carrying that legacy, to raise healthy, good children who can get along with everyone, is my responsibility."

The family shares a three-bedroom apartment on University Avenue in northeast Minneapolis. Quarters are "very close," he said, but worth it, because "we live in a building with many other Somalis, and we all help each other."

The hardest part of fatherhood, he says, is "knowing you cannot control what is to come when they grow up. You want the best future for your child, but you have to give them their freedom someday."

KRISTIN TILLOTSON

Two more fathers: A guiding light and a stay-at-home dad. Turn to page E10

CRAIG AND JOE VANDERAH

Joe Vanderah has always considered his father, Craig, "a guiding force." For Craig, Joe has been more like a guiding light.

"He smiles all the time," said Craig Vanderah, 54. "He has a smile that makes a rare churchgoer like me keep believing there is a God. I'm so lucky and happy to be his dad."

It's far from what Craig expected nearly three decades ago, when he and his wife, Nita, learned that their infant son was mentally disabled. But Joe turned out to have a less severe, "higher-functioning" form of disability -- he works 30 hours a week as a cashier at Target -- and over the years Craig went from feeling "devastated" to "really, really blessed."

He tried to raise Joe the way any good father would.

"He taught me to always do my very best ... and to set goals and never give up," Joe said. "I've been learning how to ride a bike by myself and how to cut the grass with our riding mower."

Joe, 28, also came to share his father's passion for music -- "even though we listen to different artists and rib each other for what the other listens to," said Joe, who likes contemporary country artists (Taylor Swift, Shania Twain) more than his father's alt-country faves (Steve Earle, the Jayhawks).

Both also love movies, travel, politics, reading, baseball and Nita's cooking.

As with the best of such relationships, "we share a lot of laughs every day about nothing," Joe said.

And while they look alike, the Prior Lake residents have personality differences. Blessedly, they prove more complementary than confrontational.

"He's got more of Nita's personality. He's patient, relaxed," Craig said. "I'm a little more Type A. So Joe adds to that element of 'Let's slow down, be patient.' That rubs off.

"He's a guy that we all dream of being: really content with his job and our home life. As far as he's concerned, everything is going as well as it could be."

And, again, the feeling is mutual.

BILL WARD

BO SCHMIDT

Sitting in a circle with a group of men discussing potty training isn't exactly where Bo Schmidt thought he'd be at this point in his life. Just add it to a long list of firsts the 29-year-old has experienced over the past few years as a stay-at-home dad of three girls.

"It's a pretty crude proposition when daddy's the one doing the ponytails," he said. "It's lopsided, there's hair falling out ... it's not pretty."

Yet he does it. Every day. And he gladly handles doctor appointments, play dates and the majority of the housework -- all in time to get dinner on the table before his wife, Alicia, returns to their St. Louis Park home from her full-time accounting job.

After the couple's second daughter, Caitlin, was born, they decided that Bo should leave his teaching job. Alicia had better earning potential and Bo's patience and active lifestyle better suited him to the role of full-time parent.

"Nine out of 10 days it's the best job I've ever had," he said, "Then there's always that one day that you're ready to pull your hair out."

Bo's biggest challenge is making sure he doesn't become too isolated. Once a week, he gets together with friends, goes for a run or plays volleyball. He's also a member of Minnesota Dads at Home, an organization of stay-at-home dads that meets once a week for play dates.

"What makes it easy is the support from my wife," he said. "She reminds me every day that I'm a hard-working man whether I bring home a paycheck or not."

Alicia even nominated him for the "Papa of the Year" award on the local website www.papa-gio.net. He's one of six finalists.

To make it all work, the Schmidts have made adjustments to their finances by cutting back on dining, vacations and other extras. But nothing's a sacrifice when you get the chance to watch your kids grow up, Bo said.

"Simple pleasures like watching the girls ride tricycles in the driveway melt my heart. I can't imagine missing those moments."

AIMEE BLANCHETTE

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  • Bo Schmidt and his three daughters.

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