Like a lighthouse that towers along the water's edge, guiding vessels safely to shore, he was always larger than life, firmly planted and revered. He was my compass. Today marks the first Father's Day without Dad. It's just one of several firsts my family has endured since his passing in early October. With each major holiday, birthday and gathering, we cling to fond memories of lessons learned under his tutelage. But today is not about loss. It's about honor.
The Army, which Dad joined at 18, shaped the man he became. He was a disciplined soldier who served in the Korean War. It was with that same discipline — Army style — that he would raise his brood of five daughters and two sons.
Stern warnings were short and to the point: "You better mind" and "Don't let dark catch you" outside the house.
Church and school attendance were mandatory: "You're going to church every God's Sunday, and you're going to school every day."
When political party officials in the Hampton Park district in Charleston, S.C., needed young people to hand out campaign fliers near the polls, they knew to look no farther than Mr. Charlie's house.
Through the years, we learned to avoid interrupting him when he was entrenched with the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite (later Dan Rather), The Price is Right (with Bob Barker) and Jesus.
As we kids got older, virtually every Saturday was Mother's Day. As Mom rested, Dad loaded "Betsy" the station wagon and took us to Edisto Beach or the Hilton Head area for the day.
These are just some of the memories I hold dear. I will forever cherish time spent with my father, teacher and friend.
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But there are many who are not as fortunate.
On Saturday morning, the Clearwater and St. Petersburg housing authorities hosted a special Father's Day event at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg to celebrate and encourage responsible fatherhood among the housing authorities' low-income residents.
"Many of the folks in our program don't have great family relationships," said Audra Butler, communications officer for the St. Petersburg Housing Authority.
The goal, according to organizers, was to provide a venue to connect fathers with their children and introduce the fathers to local programs and services.
"We invited the children and encouraged them to bring the male family member who is their fatherhood role model," said Butler.
The children made Father's Day cards, and photographers were on hand to take family pictures for them to take home.
I applaud the housing authorities, for nothing other than making the effort. Sometimes, it's all that is needed.
Last year, the New York City Housing Authority hosted a very successful event, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development encouraged other agencies to host a similar event.
"This is a huge HUD event nationally," said Butler, adding that 200 agencies are participating this year, and HUD intends to make it an annual event.
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There are 70.1 million fathers in the United States. Of that number, 25.3 million fathers were part of married-couple families with children younger than 18 in 2010.
According to HUD officials, children with involved fathers grow up happier, healthier and better prepared to succeed in life. While there are always exceptions, male role models are important.
In St. Petersburg, the Housing Authority has 333 units; 235 of them have children in the home. Of that number, nine have males as head of household; 226 have households headed by females.
In Clearwater, the majority of the public housing units owned by the Housing Authority serve people 55 and older. But in its Section 8 housing program there are 656 households with children; 28 are headed by males and 628 by females, said Butler.
In a world where young people increasingly find role models in sports figures and pop icons, I am grateful that I didn't have to look beyond the front door.
Sandra J. Gadsden is an assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 893-8874.