Dedicated to the Fathers who Shaped Me

To all fathers who love their children, guide them, raise them, and teach them: I am able to recognize you because I have a supreme example in my life. My father is more than just a man or a dad or a friend or a husband or a brother: he is the best man I have ever met. In this post today, I want to celebrate the fathers I know best.

Donno Claire Bellows

My mother’s father grew up in Iowa and was the darling of his family. He enlisted in the Army to become a pilot on December 8, 1941 at 25 years of age. In his memoirs, he writes of his flights over the South Pacific. The highlight of which is his story about crash landing his plane in a field of grass that could cut you like a knife, only to make a stop near the edge of a cliff. He said he wouldn’t parachute out; he’d rather go down with his plane. He sat atop the hood of his plane all night with his pistol on his chest, listening to the sound of aborigneshoping he wasn’t going to “be an unwelcome guest in the next morning’s breakfast”. He was rescued and when the war ended, he married my grandmother and had two children. The second was my mother, Mary K. I called him Popper. Anyone who knew him remembers him in one way: He was the funniest man I ever knew. It’s true. He didn’t just tell jokes, he had one-liners…zingers off the cuff that would knock you out of your chair. I am 100% certain that my comedic talent is straight from his genes and I am hope I am making him proud by what I’m doing with it. I’m also certain that I inherited his love for puzzles and games. I grew up watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy with Granny and Popper, watching them do crosswords and solve word puzzles in books. He was brilliant in so many ways. He came to my softball games and even to watch me a cheer a few times. He lived with us for the last five years of his life and I loved every minute. He passed when I was 16 and I so wish I could have asked him so many questions; isn’t that the rub of becoming an adult? You have the wisdom to know what you should have asked when you had the time, but didn’t ask because you didn’t know how or what to say. Popper, you raised a fine woman in my mother and I am eternally grateful for what you have given me: the ability to make people laugh. I miss you and I love you. Thank you for making my mother.

Richard John Leonard

My father’s father was born in Rochester, New York. He was the oldest of 7 children and by the time he was 13, there was a strong need for him to work and bring money home. Instead of getting a job, he joined the Merchant Marines. His picture shows a kid. When I asked him how he was able to join, he made me promise not to tell. Let me just say, he’s one tough dude. He served on a boat during the last two years of WWII. When he turned 18 in 1948, he enlisted in the Army and became a paratrooper serving in the Korean War and earning a Brown Star for bravery during service. He crawled across enemy lines to warn another platoon of an incoming attack because their radios had been destroyed. Then he crawled back to rejoin his platoon. It is not known how many lives he saved that day, at the risk of his own (and mine) and isn’t it wondrous that the grandchildren of the men in the platoon he saved have no idea how close they came to not existing, but the courage of one man: my grandfather. He was the patriarch of the Leonard family and gave my father his name. He returned to the United States, swept Florence Wilma off her feet and spent the next 52 years of his life married to his love. It was the kind of relationship that we don’t see very often anymore: true love forever. He had six children, worked at a factory and became a coach. There are many stories I can tell about my grandpa, but this is my favorite: The baseball coaches had to get together to choose the All-Star team. My dad wanted to hear if he had made the team and waited up. My grandfather was very late getting in and my father says he overhead the following: the votes were going well, decisions needed to be unanimous on each kid. When they got to Carl, there were a few nos. Carl was indisputably great. One coach was unwilling to agree to putting him on the All-Star team. My grandpa went on and on about how great Carl was, what an asset he would be until he realized that his argument fell on deaf ears. The coach wouldn’t vote for him because Carl was black. To which my Grandpa said, “Until you agree to put Carl on the All-Star team, I change my vote to no on every other player.”

Carl made the team.

That’s the kind of my Grandpa Dick was. If I learned anything from him, it was: Character is defined by what you do when no one is watching. I try to remember that in all I do, to make him proud, to live a life I can be proud of. I miss you and I love you. Thank you for making my father.

Richard John Leonard Jr.

God did not create adequate words to describe how I feel about my dad. My father is a survivor, a hero, a real man, with a loving heart and a warrior’s spirit. Growing up, my dad taught me to love a few things: wisdom, baseball and Star Trek. These three things have been instrumental in shaping who I have become. He taught me to love knowledge and learning, to excel and pursue my education with vigor. He taught me to understand the strategy of the game, to appreciate the smell of a ball field, to love legging out an extra base, and feel connected to something bigger than me. He taught me what it meant be Kirk-like as a leader and Spock-like as a friend: fearless, but loyal. In 1988, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. While he watched those around him battling the same disease and losing, he somehow used his will to fight and beat it. He outlived the doctor who gave him 30 days to live. He worked for years building a business and a family and has given my sister and I everything we could possibly need or want. But, everyday, I carry this knowledge with me: I don’t need fancy things – it is enough just to have my dad. I love you more than I can express. Thank you for making me.

There are other fathers who deserve recognition, fathers who are special to me:

Darryl Johnson (godfather)

Robert Leonard (uncle)

Joe Harless (uncle)

Robert Mock (father’s friend)

Patrick Moss (father’s friend)

Mike Hedberg (father’s friend)

Bob McCollister (father of my friend)

Steven Venanzi (father of my friend)

James Brannon (best friend’s husband)

Chad Hayden (friend)

I am blessed to know you. Thank you for loving your children.

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One thought on “Dedicated to the Fathers who Shaped Me

  1. I keep forgetting about all the men who shaped me before now, even the ones that I had never met. It’s really important to be thankful to them as well as to the others who have shaped us and made us who we are.

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