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Dads, children reflect on Father's Day

By Justin Reedy and Clay Wilson

This is it, he thought. Time to start acting like a dad.

Ben Stewart got that powerful dose of reality this week when he first held his newborn son, Tyler, in his arms.

For the 30-year-old police officer, seeing his first child only days before Father's Day made him realize that his 20s were really over and it was time to be a grownup.

"I've been having to grow up for the last five years or so," said Stewart, as his wife, Shannon, held Tyler in their room at Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale. "I've been in work and family mode since about 25. Now I really have to grow up."

The significance of Father's Day this year – which is Sunday – didn't hit Stewart until well after Tyler was born Tuesday afternoon. Then Shannon mentioned they were going to her parents' house for the holiday, and asked her husband of 1 – years what he wanted for Father's Day.

"I said, ?A coffee mug,'" Stewart remembered with a chuckle.

Though Stewart has always appreciated his father's role in his life on the holiday in past years, this will be the first time he experiences it from the other side. That's a strange feeling for the Fayetteville resident.

"I don't think it's going to set in until we get back into our home environment," he said. "That's when it'll hit me that, ?OK, I can't do anything stupid anymore. Somebody's dependent on you for everything.'"

Though Stewart hasn't had long to get used to being a father, he's already found a sense of purpose that he never knew before, as well as the one-track mind of someone consumed by a new child.

"It makes you responsible," he explained. "Things that seemed real important before don't even matter now. When I do have free time, I won't know what to do with it. I will know when he gets a little older, though."

Ben hopes to instill in Tyler the same values that his father developed in him – hard work, sincerity and a firm grasp on home improvement. Whether it's being able to install a ceiling fan or having a strong work ethic, he wants Tyler to be able to learn the same things he learned, whether directly or indirectly.

"A lot of it is expectations," he said. "We knew what our dad expected of us, and that's what we tried to do."

Though Stewart has yet to begin passing fatherly wisdom and knowledge along to his son, Ron Worgo has been doing that for his son for some time through their family's dry cleaning business. Ron may be able to take credit for passing a knack for the dry cleaning business to his son, Scott, but he can't claim credit for Scott's financial sense.

"We're very complementary," said Ron, who owns the Courtesy Cleaners company. "I'm not very good with the financial figures, but boy, he is."

"That's an understatement," cracked Scott when told of his father's assessment of his own financial skills. "He's very customer-oriented, and I'm becoming that way, but I guess I'm more of a numbers-type person."

Scott has been working in the family business, which Ron started in 1989, since his junior year in college. He began working full-time with the business in 1996.

Ron, 60, who is married to Jean, said that in addition to Scott, all three of their daughters have worked at the four Courtesy Cleaners locations in Eagle's Landing, Jonesboro and Lovejoy. Scott, 35, has made the business his career.

He said he never felt pressured by his father to go into the family business.

"He totally left it up to me – he wanted me to choose my own path," Scott said.

Ron said he was rather surprised with his son's choice.

"We figured – he would be the comptroller of some ski resort out west," Ron said of Scott, an avid skier who took a year after college to travel the world, "so this was a wonderful shock to us."

He said he likes the opportunities for interaction that working with his son allows.

"We get to spend a lot of quality time together, which not a lot of parents get to do after their children get older," he said.

Morrow resident Tom Hawkins, 77, still spends time with his son David, a 40-year-old Forest Park resident. Much of the time Hawkins and his son spend together, though, involves him helping care for David, who suffers from a mental illness. But the two still find plenty of time for recreational activities, such as shooting pool with one another at the Shelnutt Senior Center in Jonesboro.

Even though Father's Day has special meaning for Hawkins as a father, he finds more enjoyment from actually being a father.

"The day itself isn't that significant to me," he said. "I value the relationship between me and my sons much more."

Henry County resident Jeff Cooper said he is still able to spend quality time with his two daughters, but he realizes that adulthood is approaching them quickly.

"I think as my children get older, it's just watching them grow into miniature adults," he said.

Cooper's daughters, Courtney and Christine, are 14 and 13, respectively. They are still at the age where it's not yet totally uncool to be seen around one's parents.

"He's very involved. He's at most of my sister and my games. It's nice," said Courtney. She said her father comes to as many of the girls' basketball, volleyball and track meets as possible.

"I think he's a very involved and loving father," agreed Christine. "He's very supportive in all that we do."

Like the Worgos, the Coopers also have a "family business." Jeff's wife, LouAnne, is a professional actress, while he has been involved with the Henry Players for seven years. The entire family had roles in the Players' productions of "Damn Yankees" and "Guys and Dolls."

Jeff likened raising his girls to being a director, which he is currently doing for the Players' production of "Two by Two."

"It's like my job as a director," he said. "At some point you've just got to let them go."

The Coopers' Father's Day plans entail church, a family brunch and then going to visit both of the girls' grandfathers.

Courtney and Christine said they already have their Dad's gift – although they didn't disclose what it was. Christine said the gifts vary from year to year, depending on what their father requests.

Still, she said, "He loves ties, so, yes, we do get him those."