The bond between Stu Robinson and his 15-year-old daughter Tyeisha Harston has only grown deeper since he started staging Stu's Father-Daughter Dance seven years ago, an annual Father's Day event that allows proud papas to fete their little girls like princesses. • Now Tyeisha carts him around on shopping excursions, picking out fancy dresses and matching shoes so she can look her best. Robinson says he enjoys the time together, with a couple of caveats. • "I hold my peace," Robinson said. "As long as what she picks out is respectable, we're good. And I always ask her to start in the sale section and then we can look at the higher-priced outfits. Just because it's on sale doesn't mean it's not nice." • Yet it's not just the personal gain that has inspired Robinson to continue hosting fathers and daughters this year. Even though he lost his job as music director for WBTP-FM 95.7 in December, Robinson continues with the event — with the support of former boxer Winky Wright, former Bucs receiver Michael Clayton and the generosity of T.Pepin's Hospitality Centre — because of what it means to so many others. • Robinson recently spoke with Times columnist Ernest Hooper about the dance and his motivation to keep it going.
What happened to your position with the Beat and Clear Channel Communications?
It was one of those corporate situations where they were doing downsizing and decide to go in a different direction. I was one of the last originals left (since the station switched to a hip-hop/R&B format in 2003) so I knew it might happen one day. But it was more than a sad day for me because 30 minutes after that, my mom called and told me that my grandma had died. I'll never forget Dec. 6, 2012.
What have you done since?
I have a voice-over company and I've been doing spots for different clubs around the country, including Tampa and Charlotte, N.C., where I grew up. I'm also in the process of developing a pilot for a TV show. I also maintain tampabayvibe.com, which lets people know what's going on in Tampa Bay, and tampanewmusic.com, which features local artists and helps them create more of a fan base in the Tampa-St. Pete area.
You know, no one would blame you if you chose to focus on your career and didn't do the dance this year. What drives you to maintain this event?
I've said from Day One, this wasn't created around me. One day I plan on leaving Tampa and hopefully it would have become more of a citywide thing and I could have turned it over to a nonprofit. There have been so many great stories that have come from this. We have fathers who fly down just for this event. To be honest, the moms get more excited because they get to go shopping with their daughter, get their hair done. It's all about a father raising his daughter and showing his daughter how she should be treated in life. One day, my daughter will say, "Daddy, I'm too old for this dance" — hopefully, not until she's 25. When we get to that point, the dance still needs to go on.
You mentioned great stories that have come from the dance. Tell me about that.
We had one situation where a mother had moved on without the father. Her new man had been taking care of her daughter, but the father wanted to come back into his daughter's life and take her to the dance. She was debating about it and she and I had a conversation. I said, "Now is the time. Let him be involved if he wants to be involved." Since then, that father has become a big part of his daughter's life.
You said you don't like the term "baby's daddy." Does this event give men, and particularly black men, a chance to show they're more than just a "baby's daddy"?
Baby's daddy sounds degrading. Black men get this whole stigma that drives me crazy. In today's society, we have a generation of parents who have become younger and sometimes I hear the mother say, "That's my baby's daddy." It's like he's not a father, he's just the baby's daddy. The event is about helping dads create a bond with their daughter. The government can make you pay child support, and that's important. Some men need to step up. But no government can make you spend time with your daughter and that time is valuable. You can't replace the love and bond you create with your daughter.
Have you and your daughter grown closer since you started the event?
Definitely. One-hundred percent. She's unlike me; she's quiet. She's real reserved and won't open up until she gets to know someone. But at the dance, she's a wonderful busybody. She's right there by my side saying, "Don't forget to do this. Don't forget to say that." She's my ace. I've watched her grow up. We have a professional photographer at every event and we have a whole montage of photos. When we started, she was at my waist. Now she's at my shoulder. It's a beautiful thing.
Are you surprised by how much this event has grown?
To be honest, yes. But it's all about treating your daughter like they're the greatest thing in the world, which they are, and showing them how they should be treated. I've been in situations growing up as a young man and I've seen how young men mistreat women. We tell them, "Daddy knows the game. Daddy knows what these guys are going to try and do. Lower your skirts and raise your standards." We have guest speakers and then I speak and I tell myself don't get caught in the moment. But I always do. I always get emotional. I try to blame it on my contact (lenses), but they don't fall for that anymore.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.