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Chapman: Belated Happy Father’s Day

By Staff | Jun 27, 2014

As often happens in relationships with fathers and sons, we tend to be a little late to the game when it comes to expressing our love for one another.

Luckily, I was able to spend Father’s Day with my dad a couple weeks ago back in Virginia. The idea of writing to honor him around Father’s Day was cemented as I wrote about mom for Mother’s Day. Vacation loomed and the weeks zoomed by and, of course, I didn’t have it prepared when the time came. It goes back to that “dude thing.” The appreciation is too often understated and pushed aside at the moment, but we know it’s there.

We talked via phone the other night and, though we don’t always see eye-to-eye, it became ever-so apparent that you take after your old man in many ways.

Ralph Chapman was born March 21, 1948, at a hospital in the Bronx, and raised in Nassau County on Long Island.

His father, Fitzdarrel, sold tokens for the New York City Subway for about 30 years before moving to Virginia to work with my dad’s uncle at a machine shop. Dad’s mom, Dorothy, worked for a plumbing company during much of her adult life, while the couple raised four boys.

Dad was active and went on to play baseball and soccer at State University of New York College at Cortland, upstate near Syracuse. Shortly after graduating with a degree in physical education and health, he and mom moved to northern Virginia where he began his teaching career in the fall of 1970 (in 1978, he received a master’s degree in school administration from Antioch University in Ohio).

He and mom made an admirable decision to have a large family and he privately beams at the accomplishments of his 14 children and 24 grandchildren. Mom stayed at home and somehow Dad managed to keep us all healthy and active on a teacher’s and coach’s salary in the D.C. metro area!

He said he simply enjoys “just watching everybody grow up and be good people and everyone getting a degree and seeing people getting married. And having grandkids is kind of neat.”

Not that getting a degree is the only measure of success, but some of us can be an unfocused bunch, so it even surprises him.

“When I think about it it’s kind of amazing,” Dad said. “We just wanted you to be good people and do the best you could do and go into whatever you were interested in. We never pushed anybody into anything. From my standpoint, if you’re happy and whatever you’re doing is legal that’s fine with me. You have to be happy with what you’re doing.”

But Dad took a no-nonsense approach and made it clear what he expected of us as respectful and engaged members of society. He wasn’t afraid to take a stand and after 28 years as a high school soccer coach, he was fired after leading his team to the district, regional and state championship games in 2001.

College scouts often go to club soccer matches instead of the high school matches, but his rule was if the players missed his practices or games for their non-school teams, they didn’t start for his team. Didn’t matter if it was his best talent, and some parents in the boosters didn’t like that. Nevermind his years of experience and accolades, including a National Coach of the Year nomination as the recipient of District 2, which had 15-20 states.

I was probably more bitter than him, but it’s always been a moment I remember when something I know to be right is challenged. That’s what dads do: instill us with fortitude.

My dad is 65 and still teaching and coaching. He’s been coaching high school field hockey since 1989 and has taught health to nearly every student at Chantilly High School for the last couple decades.

To have taught thousands and raised 14 of his own, he needed a sense of a humor and that always captured the attention and respect of every child he impacted. Yes, he has 14 kids and teaches high school health, which means, yes, he teaches sex education. I even had to sit through that class! He knew each year that countless obnoxious questions would be thrown his way, but he took it in stride.

At the beginning of the course, he writes SEX across the blackboard in huge letters and the words “is fun” real tiny. Then he goes into a big deal about how it’s reserved for the right time, with the right person when you’re MARRIED. It was a little embarrassing, but hilarious and I had already heard countless students older than me talk about that first day of class.

I asked my dad what advice he’d give to his sons as they become fathers. He emphasized spending more time with one’s own kids and said coaching took way too much time away. I think he’s a little hard on himself in that respect. We had enough companionship with that many siblings and he let us ride the bus with his teams when we were young, and he even coached our youth teams.

If a little time with us was sacrificed so he could make a few extra bucks doing what he loves, so be it. He more than made up for that by coaching, teaching and just being their for thousands of students – many less fortunate and probably more needing of the attention.

My dad is an incredible person and I’m sure many of you feel the same way about your father. Only in the last couple years have I routinely told him I love him, but that comes with growing up. We share the thought at the end of each phone conversation. I know plenty of men who still struggle to say those words to their dads, brothers and others. It’s OK to say! Don’t wait before it’s too late. And a Belated Happy Father’s Day to all dads out there.

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