Tuesday, June 07, 2005


FROM: TALK Greenville Magazine [link]

WRITTEN BY: Kim Hassold

Three Greenville Dads talk about Life as Father.

Ask any man who has traded his life of golf buddies and spontaneous road trips for the role of being a parent, and he will tell you that the experience is life-changing in more ways than one.

There’s no denying that becoming a father is monumental. We asked three men in different stages of fatherhood to share with us what it is really like, day-to-day. We found out that the experience is sometimes scary, sometimes humbling, but always worth it.

Stewart Spinks is the father of four boys, all grown up now. Looking back at the early years with his family, Spinks says that he would make a few changes in the way he did things. He said that he feels fortunate these days to have five grandchildren and a chance to put those changes into action.

“My wife Martha and I got married when we were 20 and had our first child when we were 22. We just sort of raised our kids on the run,” Spinks said.

“We didn’t have textbooks, and because we didn’t have family in town to help us, we were kind of on our own.”

Spinks said that he found himself in a situation most young fathers face, that of being concerned with getting by financially.

“When I was raising our boys, I was tired when I came home at night after a long day at work. I was home every night, and I did spend quantity time with the boys, but probably not as much quality. I wore a lot of people out in those days, burned them out trying to keep up with my own energy. I was in my 20s, running like crazy. Now, looking back, I encourage our boys to do things a little differently with their children.”

Spinks said he wants his sons to realize that the time they will spend with their own children is finite, and that they should be aware of each special moment. Maybe one of the most important tips he has given them is to ask for help when they need it.

“I encourage them to be involved and to invest in their families. I also want them to have support in friends who have their priorities in order,” Spinks said. “Fathers should not be afraid to admit that they don’t know what to do in certain situations with their children, and to be able to ask someone else for advice.”

Talking about his family inevitably brings the conversation around to the five beloved Spinks grandchildren. The warm tone in his voice makes it clear that those little ones are the apple of his eye.

“Ella is the first Spinks girl to be born in 49 years. She has one thing to say to everyone she meets: ‘I’m Pop’s girl!’ I love all of my grandchildren, and I try to balance that love with knowledge and experience. I would tell younger fathers not to let anyone take away that precious time. It cannot be replaced.”

While most folks will always know Spinks for his very successful business, I’m not sure that is the way he would want to be remembered. When I think of our time together, it will be these words that will define the man:

“You can get that report done another time. Your children will grow up before you know it. Invest the time in taking care of those relationships and you’ll never regret it.”

The next father on my list is right in the middle of the fathering game, with three daughters ranging from ages 12 to 18. I could almost hear the excess power of hair dryers in the background as I spoke with the Greenville businessman about the challenges of fathering girls.

“I certainly came from a predominantly male background growing up, but learning to see things from the female perspective has been fun and exciting” Reed said. “Boys just beat each other up and get over it. Girls do it with words.”

This wry admission is only the beginning of the lessons learned at the hand of a house full of females, but Reed seems up to the task. Asked how he plans to keep his girls close as his oldest daughter graduates from high school this year, Reed said he has a few tricks up his sleeve to keep his girls coming back.

“We know it will be tough for the first one to go. We are used to having all of us around the table and when one is missing, that is a lot missing. My wife and I try to plan fun things to do together as a family, traveling and other things that will hopefully make our girls want to come back home.” Asked if he has any advice to offer new fathers, Reed laughed at his own former naivete.

“How quickly you eat your own words,” he said. “The only thing I can tell new dads is to be part of your children’s lives. I always want my children to know that I have an ear and that I will listen, while at the same time drawing the line at being too much a friend and not enough a parent. Sometimes it is hard to say ‘no’ to the girls, but when they walk out the door we expect them to do the right thing, so the discipline not to give in pays off in the long run,” Reed said.

Just a short time later, this youthful looking man walks away with his arms around three striking girls.

Before they leave, Reed tells me that if he had it all to do over again, he can’t think of much he would change. His family, he says, has been blessed.

Watching them walk away together, I would have to agree.

Our last visit on this look into fatherhood was with a man new to the game.

Taft Matney is the oh-so-proud father of Trey, his first child and the sparkle of his eye.

“When my wife and I met, it was love at first sight. We both knew right off the bat and we waited a while before having children so that we could have some time with just the two of us. Before Trey was born, we decided that we didn’t want to know if the baby would be a boy or a girl. There are so few surprises left in the world, and all we wanted anyway was a healthy baby.”

That optimistic attitude makes it no surprise that Matney fell into fatherhood wholeheartedly.

“Before Trey was born, the information we got seemed so academic,” Matney said. “What I found out after he got here was that if you listen to your child, you can figure it out. What is gibberish to anyone else makes perfect sense to you. It just all clicks and you can understand him.” Matney says that devoting time to your child is the key to success. That means turning off the computer and cell phone when you are with him and really totally being there. Doing so, says Matney, makes those times when you can’t physically be there more tolerable.

“I don’t get upset if I can’t be with Trey every waking moment, even though I would like to,” he said.

“I just want him to know that his dad loves him and when I am with him, he is all I need.”

Matney said he and his wife feel it is important to spend time as a couple as well. He says their close circle of friends makes that possible.

“We don’t have family here and have been so lucky to be surrounded by people who love us and love Trey,” Matney said.

“The funny thing is when we do have the time together, we have to be careful because if we’re not, we end up talking the whole time about him!” Taft Matney says that he knows how he wants Trey to describe him one day.

“I simply want him to say: ‘I love my Dad. I am proud of him and he is my best friend.”

Trey Matney, I hope you took a nap today. Your best friend will be home soon and he’ll be ready to play.



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