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Promoting role of fathers a calling for Robert Nunley

Promoting role of fathers a calling for Robert Nunley
Promoting role of fathers a calling for Robert Nunley

FATHER FIGURE — Robert Nunley (center) sits with some of “his” kids at the Tom and Ann Stuart Community Center.

By JOE LOFARO
Special to The Press
MARTIN — Robert Nunley sat with “his” children at the Tom and Ann Stuart Community Center on Manley Street. The children were having a snack and their attention was focused on the front of the room.
Nunley was paying attention to all the children, especially the little boy sitting next to him. However, he was focused on the man coming up the sidewalk toward the community center. Nunley didn’t say anything to the little boy sitting next to him. He knew the visitor was the little boy’s father.
When the visitor opened the door, the little boy quickly turned his attention. “Daddy, daddy, daddy,” he said.
The two men embraced and made a quick exit. Once outside, Nunley could see both. “The little boy was locked on his daddy. He listened attentively to every word his dad was saying,” Nunley said. The scene was almost like a child at Christmas time talking to Santa Claus.
“The conversation didn’t amount to much,” Nunley said. “The dad was asking his son if he was behaving at home and how school was going and things like that. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for that one.”
For Nunley, who has been the director at Martin Housing Authority’s Learning Enrichment Center Program, and both the after school program and the summer program since 2006, these random meetings between father and son are both awesome and priceless.
Brian Harris, the excutive director of the Martin Housing Authority, said HUD (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) has placed a strong emphasis on engaging fathers.
“Robert has surpassed all expectations,” Harris said. “He acts as a surrogate father to many in the program.”
A humble Nunley would be flattered by Harris’ comments, but he will quickly tell you, “I want to be an encourager to all fathers. I believe all fathers, regardless of their color or how much money they have or don’t have, need to be encouraged.
Nunley said he firmly believes that today’s culture dismisses the values of fathers. “Daddies are always the brunt of jokes.”
It is no surprise that about 70 or 80 percent of today’s children are growing up in homes where the mother is the predominant caregiver.
In Martin, the sad truth, is some dads in my program are in jail or have limited communications with their children, Nunley said.
“I have asked if I can visit their dads … I have gone to the jail and visited them in Indianapolis,” Nunley said. “I go to encourage them. I let them know their children are in a safe place, and their children are around a man who is a father.”
Nunley has two daughters of his own, Morgan, who is in her late 20s and expecting Nunley’s first grandson, and McKenzie, who is in her mid-20s. Morgan is an attorney in Indianapolis, while McKenize has a liberal arts degree from IUPUI.
“My own children have been a great inspiration to me,” Nunley said. “I wish I could spend Father’s day with them.”
Instead, Nunley will spend the day with his father, R.C. Nunley, who is 86 years old.
“I have a great father and I appreciate what he instills in me and my brothers and sisters,” Nunley said.
Nunley has two sisters, Thomasina and Zonia and two brothers, Larry and Gerald. His mother, Avanell, was 93. She died this past October.
“She made my father a really good daddy,” he said. “Sure, my daddy, still tells me stories, but he often asks about my home life and what I am doing with those kids in the program. He wants to know if I am seeing any results.”
On Monday, Nunley and the children the 40 children, 20 boys and 20 girls, will honor all dads with a come-and-go lunch.
“This is the third year we have had this event,” he said. “We had about three or four dads the first year, and this past year we had several dads show up. I do not know what to expect this year.”
Nunley knows the conversations will vary Monday, but he is amazed by how many parents, both mommies and daddies, make demeaning comments about their children’s mom and dad. “In all actually they are demeaning their children instead of taking a “shot” at the dad or mom.
“My goal is for Martin to become the Father Friendliest Town in Weakley County and America,” Nunley said.
Harris thinks Nunley is on the right path. “Under his leadership, this program has blossomed,” Harris said. “In my opinion, this is the best program in Weakley County.”
Nunley, again, would be appreciative of the comments.
“I just want to spend the rest of my life uplifting and affirming fathers,” Nunley said.

(Published in The Press on 6.13.13)

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