Not a day passes that Daniel Giles doesn’t give thanks that he’s a dad. Giles and his wife, Lynette, had their first child 15 years ago after wanting to be parents for years.
“That’s why family holds so much value to me,” said Giles, 57, a federal police officer. Two more kids followed. All along, he has been their shepherd. Twice a month, he gathers his flock at the dining room table in their Aberdeen home for a soul-baring session “to learn what’s going on in their lives and who is hurting or has something they need to let go of.”
Three years ago, on Father’s Day, the family surprised their patriarch with a book that chronicled the children’s lives, from those first grainy sonograms forward.
Unwrapping the book, “I just broke down,” Giles said. “It’s the greatest gift I ever got. I just love to hear the word ‘dad,’ and the kids make my being one an honor.”
As father of a blended household, Nathan McVey espouses compromise.
“Coming up with a cohesive game plan to benefit the kids, instead of the egos of the adults, is tricky,” McVey said. He and his second wife, Briana, care for five children in their Aberdeen townhouse. “It calls for sacrifice. Above all, stability and consistency for the children are key,” he said.
It’s a challenge that befits McVey, 39, youth ministry coordinator at nearby St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church. At times, he said, daughter Aurora, 12, lays her head on his shoulder without saying a word. And on occasion Noah, his willful 6-year-old stepson, offers McVey his approval.
“You’re the best stepdad ever," he’ll say.
Giles and McVey will celebrate with dads around the country this Father’s Day.
The two men have children who attend Bakerfield Elementary, where each man volunteers his time to lift young spirits.
Every Friday, before the coronavirus pandemic, they and a small group of dads calling themselves Smile Makers met at the entrance before school to greet arrivals and dole out smiley stickers and even hugs. The dads wore bright yellow shirts with smiley faces.
“It’s neat to see the kids’ faces change from looks of suspicion and who-is-this-weirdo to grins as they jump up to give you a high five,” McVey said.
Giles, who works nights, arrived after his 12-hour shift with a chipper “Good mornin’!” or “How you doin’?” to children, some of whom he knows have difficult home lives.
“They spill stories about themselves; I don’t even have to ask,” said Giles. “One little girl gave me a buttercup; another, an acorn. I told them, ‘Thank you, thank you, you made my day.’ They fill me up as much as I do them. The hardest thing about this COVID business is not seeing those kids in the morning.”
Both men are “amazing fathers who say and do everything you wish a parent would,” said Tara Dedeaux, Bakerfield principal.
Each September, on the first day of classes, the school holds a Million Fathers March, a one-mile walk through the neighborhood where the parade of men and students celebrate the start of the year. Giles and McVey “have been a huge part of that success,” Dedeaux said. “You couldn’t ask for better dads.
Being close is ‘a blessing’
Having to wait to start a family tested the Gileses’ faith.
“It was rough; it was trying,” he said. “But my wife and I pulled strength from each other, trusted in the Lord and he gave us His blessing.”
Now they’ve begotten a handful: Arynn, 15, Elijah, 13, and Ethan, 11. Giles’ tenets are simple but steadfast: Education is paramount. No cellphones at dinner. Sex is for marriage. Mom and dad have your passwords. And take care of your siblings.
“They truly stand up for one another,” said Giles, who as one of 12 children, did the same growing up. “Two years ago, Elijah had a problem with another kid in school and Arynn stepped in and said, ‘Don’t mess with my brother.’
“Elijah has tested us. Last year, a young man threw juice on him in the school lunchroom and said, ‘Do you want to fight?’ Instead of reporting it, Elijah took on the challenge and got suspended. I told him that, as a first option, fighting is totally unacceptable; you try to settle it at the lowest level. You say, ‘No I don’t want to fight you.’ If that doesn’t work, you defend yourself — not to hurt anyone but so you don’t get hurt.”
Last fall, with a middle school friend poised to brawl with a bully, “Elijah stepped in and stopped it,” Giles said. “He told me, ‘Dad, I remembered what you said about doing the right thing.’ ”
The pandemic, Giles said, only strengthened family ties.
“It’s been a blessing to be this close to our children. Others might say we’re nuts, but I dare not complain,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed just sitting here looking at them, knowing they are safe with dad and mom. You take advantage of such times.”
Family is a ‘beautiful privilege’
With classes canceled, McVey has gone old school to keep his brood together.
“We explore the woods and streams in the neighborhood,” he said. “The girls like to spot wildlife — frogs, newts and spiders. The boys want to skip stones and find sticks they can use as a staff.
“Yes, there has been more noise, calamity and chaos with them all here — having five kids is a juggle — and we’ve gone through way more food than before. But the flip side is that being together as a family has been a beautiful privilege.”
The four oldest are honor students — Aurora and Madison, both 12, Deacon, 9, and Noah, 6. With Grant, 3, they make it hard for dad to take group photos with anything but a fisheye lens.
Maxims like “Choose Civility” pepper the walls of their house; refrigerator magnets preach the same.
The family Bible is laced with bookmarks for passages that cover every mood. Feeling sad? Read this verse.
“It helps make the Bible real for kids, to show how a centuries-old book can have relevance in their daily lives,” he said. “When we sit down to dinner and Noah reminds us, ‘We didn’t bless our food,’ that’s huge to me; it warms my heart.”
Internet access is limited to 30 minutes a day for non-school use. Forget television. Last year, a squirrel chewed through the wire out back and McVey never got it fixed.
There are tempers; there are tiffs. Sometimes even Dad wigs out.
“When I have a knee-jerk emotional response and yell at someone, we’ll talk it through,” he said. “I’ll tell them how I could have done it better. As much as a parent is called to be a teacher, you have to be a student too.
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“At the end of the day, I want them to choose good friends and to be good friends, to be compassionate and kind and to look out for those who are different and not just cast them aside. There’s a saying, ‘Kids are a message that we send forward to a time that we may never see.’ I want my kids to be good people who will do fine without me.”