So who is Brandon's Atticus Finch?
Elementary school students may not know the dad from the novel To Kill a Mocking Bird, often held up as an icon of principled parenting, but they do know their own dads pretty well.
So the Community Roundtable annually turns to local youth to find Brandon's own Father of the Year. Almost 300 students penned short essays this year explaining why dad is their hero. Three dads — a heart surgery patient turned triathlete, a humanitarian who is helping Haiti's poor and a dad battling terminal cancer — are all being honored this year.
"Some years (we read the entries) and laugh really hard or cry really hard," said Janine Nickerson, vice president of the Community Roundtable. "What we really liked this year is that the kids got the bigger message from their dads about giving to others."
The award is part of the Roundtable's annual Independence Day celebration, which will culminate with a parade July 4 through downtown Brandon. This year's first-place father, Christopher Coleman, will be honored with his own slot in the parade — riding in style in a convertible — where he will join more than 100 other parade units.
Christopher Coleman, 45, didn't think much about the paper his daughter, Christina, handed him a few months ago praising his fathering skills.
"I thought it was just a class project she wanted me to proofread. I was pretty surprised when it turned out she was entering it in a contest."
Christina Coleman cited her dad's work helping the poor in Haiti as her inspiration.
Christopher Coleman has worked with Remember the Poor for five years, spending 10 days a year in the impoverished Caribbean nation and countless weekends fundraising.
The group sponsors three schools and churches in Haiti, providing 500 meals a day to children while working on community service projects. It is also working on developing renewable energy resources and digging new wells.
"It really puts things in perspective when you come home," said Coleman, a software developer for AT&T. "We see children go a day without drinking. I've seen a family of six or seven have to ration a 5-gallon drum of water for a week. It makes you realize how blessed we are and how much we really have."
Coleman shares photos and memories of his experiences in Haiti with both his children.
"It's amazing how they both (Christina, 11, and Sebrenia, 14) understand the people's situation," Coleman said. "Christina even took money out of her bank account and wanted me to give it to the people in Haiti. She's always thinking about others; that's one of the things I love about her."
While Coleman and his wife, Maranda, are pleased with the award, knowing his daughter thinks highly of him matters more to Coleman.
"What's more important to me is that she understands the work I am doing in Haiti. It really means a lot to me that my daughter thinks that way of me."
For more information on Remember the Poor, call (813) 425-3213.
Vincent Kennedy and his family were watching a game at Wrigley Field in Chicago when they heard their daughter Sarah Grace's entry was among the winners in the Father of the Year contest.
"It was a great day for us but that was the topper," said Kennedy, 42, an accountant who runs an executive and retail recruitment business with his wife, Mary Katherine.
The award is recognition for the entire family, said the FishHawk resident who has terminal colon cancer.
"I am so proud of how the kids (Patrick, 5, Sarah Grace, 10) have handled it," Kennedy said. "We keep happy and stay together. They help me as much as I help them."
With Kennedy's help, FishHawk's Relay for Life team raise more than $160,000 for cancer research this year.
As for being Sarah's hero, Kennedy says he is inspired by his daughter.
"She has had a hearing aid since she was born but she has never once complained. Then her mom had breast cancer — which she beat — but she never missed one day of school. She faces everything head on. She's the apple of my eye."
For more information on Relay for Life, visit relayforlife.org.
Father of the Year nominations are nothing new for Dan Rothenbush.
Two years ago, his daughter Caitlyn, 11, earn him third place in the Community Roundtable's Father of the Year contest, writing about the bond between them.
This year, inspired by Rothenbush's recovery from open heart surgery and subsequent commitment to exercise, his daughter Lauren, 9, put pen to paper.
An avid softball player when he had open heart surgery to repair a birth defect in 2007, Rothenbush's doctor told him running the bases a couple of times a week wasn't enough exercise.
"A friend was a triathlete so after a while I started to get into that," said Rothenbush, 39. "It's a great challenge; it almost becomes an addiction but it shows you what you can do if you put your mind to it.
Rothenbush, an engineer for Verizon, was "overwhelmed" when he heard another daughter had nominated him for dad of the year.
"Sometimes you don't realize how much kids are watching and looking up to you but when you do it gives you motivation that you are doing the right thing. It's a great feeling."
He still has time to go for a trifecta. Rothenbush and his wife, Anna Marie, have a third daughter, Madison, 5.
Rothenbush's advice for other dads?
"Enjoy your kids while you can and have fun with them. My dad always played with us so I try to do the same with my kids. Be there for them and they will be there for you."
Kevin Brady can be reached at [email protected]