Hamil R. Harris

Dads Find Ways to Love During Trying Times

As Father’s Day approaches amid a global health pandemic and worldwide unrest over racism and police brutality, patriarchs are finding new methods to keep their families — and themselves — together.

Danny Hayes has a son in his 20s, a daughter in her 30s and a 4-year-old grandson. Somehow, after 31 years on the gridiron, Hayes, 59, is still lifting weights and coaching football at Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine.

Greg Presbury is a network architect for a major information technology firm. Since he began working from home because of the COVID-19 epidemic, the 52-year-old Hyattsville resident has been cooking breakfast lunch and gourmet dinners for his wife and 6-year-old daughter.

Hayes, a resident of Brandywine, said he is already reading books and teaching lessons to his grandson during these challenging times.

Danny Hayes
Danny Hayes

“I am going over reading and talking to him and keeping him going,” he said. “You have to start early with these kids.”

To have an impact on his daughter, Presbury said he tries “to make every opportunity I share with her loving, learning and being in the moment because this is all we have right now.”

“Being a dad is both rewarding and scary at the same time,” he said. “Because my actions as a father will the foundation and mold for this impressionable being.”

Before Presbury and his family started sheltering in place, he was active as a deacon and leader of the youth ministry at University Park Church of Christ in Hyattsville. He and the other deacons have had to alter the usual large events held at the church for members amid the pandemic, such as the Memorial Day cookout, which was canceled since the church grills are currently locked down.

Recently, Presbury and fellow deacon Tom Leibrand hosted an online program to honor the high school and college students of the Class of 2020.

“For me, and I think this trait is common to fathers, being a father is partly defined by providing for my family,” he said. “I want them to be secure in as many things as possible, which is like the good soil that enables them to freely grow. The tools I use to provide for them during the pandemic are the spatula and tongs. I’ve done most of the cooking at home and I have fun doing it when I’m dropping 20-30 pounds of meat in my drum smoker that I know will delight their tastebuds for a week or so.”

Leibrand, who works for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, has many 14-hour days, but he always has time to cook for his wife and their two adult sons in Upper Marlboro.

“My wife has done most of the cooking the last 30-plus years, so I love the fact that she is freed from this chore a bit,” Leibrand said. “But fatherhood often means doing those things that no one pays much mind to until it’s gone or doesn’t work. That’s where the satisfaction is for me — not so much getting a pat on the back but, rather just knowing, as in just knowing that the family is taken care of.”

Hayes also works hard to love young people. In addition to his biological family, Hayes said each one of his football players and other students are close to his heart, including one who got into trouble with the law that he took into his home and helped get back on track.

“I take everything to the man upstairs,” said Hayes, a Brandywine resident. “If I had to stop praying with my kids, they might as well fire me, because I love my kids. Everybody wants to win, but it ain’t about football — I care about lives.”

When asked about what keeps him motivated, Hayes said, “I got a call from a kid who had about seven downs in his high school career. He said, ‘Coach Hayes you might not know me but I want to say thank you. You said never quit. That stuck with me and today I am a millionaire.'”

Ken Roberts, a retired Giant Foods employee, has made grilling and extension of his deacon ministry at University Park Church of Christ. Since his twins are adults, he often grills for the Northwestern High School football team.

“Being a dad means responsibility, whether it is my children or someone else, because today we want the best for young people,” said Roberts, a Baltimore native and resident of Ellicott City. “It is frustrating what we see going on and even though there are issues with cops, we as Black men have to [stop] killing each other.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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