Dear ol Dad

Locals reflect on fathers and fatherhood

by Bernadette Suski-Harding, Special Writer
   Fatherhood means different things to different people. Acting silly. Being courageous when faced with danger. Setting a good example.
   But above all else, it’s about love. Unconditional, unfettered, unfiltered love.
   We asked people from the Princeton area to tell us what they’ve learned about fatherhood from the men in their lives, what makes a good dad, and what lessons they hope their children learn.
   Here is what they had to say:
    Rabbi Adam Feldman, Jewish Center of Princeton:
   ”I am the classic parent who did not fully appreciate what my parents did for me until I became a parent myself,” says Rabbi Feldman, who has a son and two daughters. “From my father, I learned unconditional love and encouragement, and as a father now, I try to give that to my children. And, I help celebrate the good times and be a sounding board for the challenging times.”
    Liz Lempert, mayor of Princeton: This mother of two girls, ages 14 and 11, looks to her father and her husband for lessons about life.
   ”My dad is someone who never complains and who has always approached life with a sense of humor and encouraged his kids (I have two older brothers) to be tough,” Ms. Lempert says. “My husband (Ken Norman) has taught me to get really excited about sharing your passion and love for whatever it is in life that you love, to share that with your kids and to get excited about the things that excite them.”
   Silliness helps.
   ”I remember one time when my husband saw this experiment on the Internet, where you put Mentos into a soda bottle and cause an explosion. We did that in the back yard for fun,” she says. “We watched the video of how to do it, but you don’t really believe the results until you try it yourself.”
   When her daughters grow up, Ms. Lempert hopes they “find partners who will be an active part of their lives and their kids’ lives,” and that they remember what they’re experiencing now with their dad, whom she describes as amazing. A good dad, she said, “parents by example, approaches life with enthusiasm, supports their kids’ dreams and helps their kids to achieve their dreams.”
    Nicholas Carnevale, architect, Princeton: “I grew up working side by side with my father, uncles and grandfathers. These were older men who taught me about respect, morals, dignity and humor. And that every night you go home to your family, that they come first,” Mr. Carnevale says. “I grew up among working men in farming and gardening, all had families that were mostly immigrants, and I learned that you not only have to work at your job from dawn to dusk, but you have to work at your relationships when you get home.”
   Mr. Carnevale learned about fearlessness from his father, who journeyed to America from Italy with his wife and two young sons so he could give them a better life.
   ”He sent me to college and enabled me to pursue my dream of becoming an architect, which allowed me to provide for my family and let my daughters pursue their dreams,” he says.
   The lessons he learned from his father, and which he has passed on to his daughters, are these: Don’t do anything to embarrass yourself or your family; once you start a project, see it all the way through and do the best you can; with patience, time, love, perseverance and a strong work ethic, you can do anything any other man or woman can do; and finally, whatever you don’t finish in the morning, won’t get done in the afternoon.
   He doesn’t need gifts for Father’s Day, he says, adding, “I’ve made many sacrifices in my life to give my daughters the best I could. Seeing them grown and successful and happy in their own right far outweighs anything that could be bought at a store.”
    Kevin Bullard, garden center manager, Kale’s Nursery & Landscape Service, Princeton: Kevin Bullard learned from his dad that a father is loving, respected, strong, stable, dependable and hardworking, and that he “needs to be available, not just for sports or vacation, but for life as it unfolds and occurs on a daily basis. A father needs to find and maintain the balance of not just a provider, but also a role model and emotional support center.”
   He says he hopes his son grows up understanding that being a father means being available for his children and enjoying life together; earning respect, not demanding it; and offering guidance and means, but never limiting a child’s growth, hopes or dreams.
   You know a father was good, Mr. Bullard says, “by how prepared for life their child is when they become an adult. A good father will be a better grandfather and constant in both lives.”
    John Miranda, Athletic Director, Princeton High School: This father of three, tries daily to live up to the example his own father, Juan, set.
   ”My father was a Vietnam veteran, a dedicated husband, and a family man,” Mr. Miranda says. “He was my hero and my role model. He was a teacher of life, and he gave me unconditional love and inspiration.”
    Erik Kent, co-publisher of njwedding.com, Montgomery Township: “I had a wonderful relationship with my father (he passed away in September 2011). He was always there for me in any situation, and I always knew that. I have only great memories of time spent together fishing, traveling, listening to family stories and learning what’s truly important in life,” Mr. Kent says.
   He says he works hard to teach his three children about unconditional love, respect, support and encouragement, integrity, character, hard work and having a sense of humor.
   ”My definition of a good father is one who is himself at all times, and completely loving of his children and family. A good father can help his children become confident and self-sufficient by teaching skills and encouraging them to make good decisions. And a good father knows how to play and really enjoy family time, since it’s those times together that really count,” he says.
Christine Abrahams, director of guidance, Hopewell Valley Regional School District: “I learned that men have a lot on their plates. My dad was a short-order cook on 57th Street in New York City, and my mom was a waitress. He was the breadwinner and was often mugged while opening up the store. He would leave for work at 2 a.m., and when he was mugged, he would come home at about 6 a.m. (after having been to the hospital). The lights would be out and he’d say ‘Don’t turn on the lights,’ which I knew meant he had been pistol-whipped, his face swollen and often an eye closed shut. It was very scary,” Dr. Abrahams said.
   ”But he kept going back because he had to earn a living to make sure we could eat and have a roof over our heads. He was determined and courageous.”
   Dr. Abrahams hopes that her step-children, learn from their father “that they should be kind and gentle, and loving, and honor all commitments. To me, a good father is strong, but also in touch with his emotions. It’s time to let go of the ‘dad as stoic’ stereotype.”