How I Gained Lifetime Benefits Meeting the Granddaddy of All Daddying Dads
By Scott Beller
I've known Allan for more than 20 years now. Back in 2002, Allan and I were just youngsters. I was not yet a dad, and he hadn't even started his first parenting advocacy organization (Dads Unlimited) or served on a select White House panel yet (the Obama years), and his 80th birthday was still decades away.
We both had so much to learn. Mostly me.
Allan and I were introduced by a mutual friend who knew I was looking to leave PR agency life for a more fulfilling life consulting on my own, and Allan, a former educator, writer, and parenting advocate, had some big ideas – meaningful ideas – that the world needed to hear. He needed to build a platform to tell his story to a wider audience. I needed a client with a cause to help give me that nudge to move on.
In our first meeting, Allan and I discussed the meaning of the term "daddying" and he asked about my relationship with my father, but not before he shared with me his own story. He told me how his often-absent dad had recently come to watch him compete with the adult rowing club he joined just that year.
Allan opened up, so I opened up, and we met on the common ground of what he calls "daddy yearning." We both wished our dads had been there more for us growing up. In my case, even when my father did show up, I wished he hadn't because it meant I had to endure his verbal and emotional abuse.
I told Allan that growing apart and moving away from my father early in high school had been a blessing. I was lucky to have been freed from living under the same roof as my abuser and being as steeped in his negativity as I was in his cigarette smoke (both of which ultimately contributed to his death in 2017, all alone in his apartment). But the one thing I had worried about by not having him in my life was that I missed the benefit of having a positive male role model to help guide me through some of the toughest times – middle school, high school, college, job searches and losses, relationship breakups.
As I contemplated starting a family of my own, I wondered whether I would be up to it.
Did I have what it took to be a father? How could I be sure I wouldn't screw up as my father had? After sharing these thoughts with Allan, he showed me empathy and quickly opened my eyes to one of the most beautiful truths of daddying: We all have people in our lives other than our fathers, who can play positive fatherly roles. They may be a friend's parent; an uncle, grandfather, or older brother; a teacher or coach; a boss, or even a character in a movie or TV show. Whether we realize it or not, we create what Allan calls "patchwork dads" from others who provide us with the nurturing we want and need in our lives.
We draw our inspiration from our patchwork dads, and they become our de facto parenting role models when a positive male influence has been absent in our homes. Allan assured me I had plenty of these worthy parenting examples I would someday emulate. As proof, he noted I already had demonstrated some aptitude as a parent as a volunteer Little League coach and big brother to Gabriel and EJ, the brothers I had recently begun mentoring through a program with New Hope Housing. This observation helped quiet my self-doubt, which had always been my challenge.
But that's Allan too. A gentle motivator. I knew there were basic communications activities I could provide to help support his fledgling organization and vision, but I wasn't 100 percent sure I could help him take him where he wanted to go. With every building block we put in place for Dads Unlimited – messaging platform, website and content development, strategic media and third-party outreach plan, etc. – Allan expressed appreciation for my efforts and we celebrated every small success. He believed in me as a professional and as a person.
Obviously, we weren't going to achieve everything Allan wanted overnight, but I believed we were indeed "unlimited" in what we could eventually accomplish together. He had enough faith, insight, and perseverance to carry both of us. And that's how our daddying journey began more than five years before I'd even become a dad.
While he may have a gentle voice, open heart, and disarming nature, Grampsy (as his grandkids call him) still possesses that Bronx toughness by which he was burnished in his youth. His impressive resume and an epically long list of professional and personal contacts also have certainly helped us forge ahead. Twenty years after our first meeting, we're on our third iteration of a daddying-driven organization. Allan's "Daddying 3.0" is the DADvocacy Consulting Group (DCG). Over the past five years, he has created three more organizations within DCG to serve the diversity of dads and families we support:
We're also two years into the life of the weekly Daddying blog and, with our inaugural KIDS FIRST! Daddying Film Festival (KFDFF), we just embarked on the most ambitious campaign yet in Allan's quest to, in his words, "spotlight the importance of positive father involvement and to move dads from an understudy to a co-starring role."
Because of Allan, I began to see myself and the world differently. I couldn't wait to become a dad. He'd encouraged introspection, gave me a better understanding of what it means to be a real dad, and equipped me to approach fatherhood better than just about any parenting book ever could. Acknowledging him in my first published book Beggars or Angels, I thanked him for being "a reminder that just being a dad isn't enough (it's much more about the doing)."
While he may not have been my only positive parenting influence (I miss you, Mom), I have no doubt my daughters have greatly benefitted from the guidance Allan has generously offered me since day one. And that includes paying attention to the little things that can make a lasting impact. For example, when my daughter Morgan was born, Allan sent her a piece of custom artwork – a colorful, foot-high sculpture of her name, the letters stacked atop one another like a totem pole and adorned with a variety of Dr. Suess-like animal figures. It was thoughtful, playful, and uniquely Allan. After being displayed in her room for 13 years, it now sits in my new home office next to my other cherished keepsakes. He's sent happy wishes to her and her younger sister (and their dad) on their birthdays ever since.
I've observed more than once that there is no such thing as a five-minute conversation with Allan. But that's another one of the great things about him. It's not just that he has a lot to say, it's that he also cares about your ideas and what you have to say. He listens even more than he speaks. That's especially true if you're one of his kids, grandkids, or "bonus" kids. And the longer I've known Allan, the more he's treated me like one of his own.
To a former kid like me, whose father could ignore him for days at a time, the concept of having an adult male engaged with what you are thinking and saying, freely giving you their time, respect, and undivided attention, has been a revelation to me. And it's often been a great comfort. My decision to leave the stability of agency life to freelance wasn't an easy one. But working with Allan and gaining a friendship that's gone far beyond the value of a typical client-consultant arrangement has proven to be one of the smartest moves I've ever made.
For one thing, his inspiration and that decision provided me the priceless opportunity of working from home and being there for both my daughters every day, sharing all the moments, and watching them grow.
So, after 20 years of collaboration and friendship, on the precipice of Allan and DCG getting the recognition they both deserve, I figured, what the hell, why not write an effusive love letter to him for this Valentine's week post. Allan deserves it and so much more because, in my patchwork dad, Allan absolutely is the heart.
Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, Morgan and Lauren, imperfect husband of rock-star mom, Elisabeth, former soccer coach, Editor of the Daddying blog, and DCG's Director of Communications. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 30 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.