Stu Robinson has a way with kids. Especially one: Tyeisha Harston. That's his baby. "She'll always be my baby," said Robinson, a radio host for WBTP-FM 95.7, the Beat. Even though she's now 13 and growing up fast. Tyeisha lives in North Carolina and finished her last day of seventh grade last week. As usual, she's flying to Tampa to spend summer with Dad in New Tampa. And as usual, Robinson is throwing a party.
It's not the usual throwdown you might expect from a DJ for one of Tampa Bay's most popular hip-hop stations. This one's for daddies and their little girls. It's called "Her King, His Princess" and will be held this Sunday, Father's Day.
Robinson started hosting the annual father-daughter dance five years ago in Tyeisha's honor.
He takes his role as a dad seriously and wants to encourage other fathers to do the same.
On the phone with Tyeisha, before she was expected to fly in this week, they planned trips to Adventure Island and talked about shopping for the dress she will wear to the dance.
She jokes: "He can't dance. He thinks he can."
"I can boogie," he offers.
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This is about more than smooth moves. Robinson wants to blast the stereotype of deadbeat African-American fathers. He doesn't like to hear the street phrase "baby daddy." His No. 1 goal, he says, is to "keep my baby off the pole," referring to a Chris Rock line about strippers.
And Robinson's tagline reflects this: "It's time for girls to lower their skirts and raise their standards."
He's expecting 300 people for the sold-out event at the Glazer Children's Museum downtown. Fathers may rent limousines, open doors and pull out chairs for girls dressed in formal gowns and tiaras. Some aren't the girls' biological dads, but the bond is still there. After a buffet dinner and a short guest speech, Robinson starts the dance with a slow song, perhaps something by old-school crooner Luther Vandross or Butterfly Kisses by Bob Carlisle.
At a past dance, a dad flew from Maryland to attend with his daughter. He told Robinson they bonded there and he could finally talk to his daughter. Robinson hears many such stories.
As a child, he says he watched the bond his dad had with his sister and saw clearly that the father-daughter relationship is a training ground for future relationships.
As Tyeisha grows, he struggles to give her freedom yet instill values.
Together, they are playful and loving, says friend Ebony Grimsley. The owner of Above Promotions Co. has marketed the dance four years.
"You can tell if a girl has a father's presence in her life by the way she carries herself," she said.
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From the radio studio on Gandy Boulevard, Robinson offers tickets to an upcoming performance by rapper Nelly. He plays with callers seeking the prize by claiming to be Domino's Pizza when he answers the line.
On air, he's all talk.
But when off, he keeps his private life private, including his age, saying that he prefers that people know only that he's 30-something. He's often the quiet guy in the corner at a party, he said.
Shannon Coates opened the door to his studio between songs. Coates, a co-worker, had something to show him: her daughter's report card.
"Mommy, you gotta take it to show Stu," Coates said, repeating her daughter's request. The report card listed a string of A's and one B.
"I owe her some money," Robinson said. He will see her at the dance.
All the children of workers in the building love him, he said.
"They know that he cares about them," Coates said.
Tyeisha was 8 at the first dance Robinson hosted. He had moved from his hometown in North Carolina two years earlier, where he worked at a radio station.
Public speaking has always been his thing, he said. As a ninth-grader, he read an informative essay to his class. When he finished, he remembers his teacher saying, "Your voice demands attention."
He later ran for high school and college student offices — just so he could give speeches.
His shift for the day is over. He signs off with his usual advice: "Live every day like it's your last because one day you're going to be right."
He hadn't planned to host another dance, but he saw the impact. Now his goal is to grow the dance with sponsors, to make it affordable. This year's tickets were $25 per person. As the day approaches, the work increases.
"It's exhausting work," he said, "but it pays off in the long run."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.