This Father’s Day we asked a few dads the following question: “How has your activism influenced your parenting or family life and how has your family life influenced your activism?”
These dads talk about how they strive to show up meaningfully in their activism and at home. Their reflections confirmed that there’s a constant jockeying between always being present and changing the world – both really tall orders. But the stress and concern can be heard just as often in these quotes as the stubborn determination to leave a better planet, and more just society for the next generation.
Enjoy these Father’s Day reflections and know that each man, father, son, husband and friend here — and millions like them around the globe, carries a torch as they fight along side others to enshrine their work and parenting under a banner called, “Building a Better World.”
Angel F. Gonzalez, UFCW International Union
My family has been the wind at my back in my career as a union activist. It is they who keep me motivated and energized when times are hard and challenges daunting. It is difficult to admit, but many times my activism has stripped time away from my loved ones. I have missed birthdays and anniversaries, as well as school plays and recitals. Even when disappointed, never have they complained or resented my absence. Their love and support, unconditional. I pray that the sacrifices they have made will be a small contribution to the labor movement and the future of all working families.
Gerry Hudson, SEIU Secretary Treasurer
I have been married for 22 years. My wife and I are activists with demanding jobs who also chose to have children. I wish that I could say, out of our shared commitment to ending patriarchy, that Carol and I were immediately able to take equal responsibility for the running of our household. My heart may have been willing but my skills were sorely lacking. I have had to learn how to cook, clean, wash clothing, and organize the busy schedules of two extremely social youngsters or the care of aging parents. And if that were not enough, I have had to support my wife’s career while attending to my own. In short, I have had to learn to be fully human. Imagine that.
Steve Kramer, VP , 1199 Service Employees International Union
I’ve been at the union for 46 years. When I became a father I wasn’t ready to be a father. I was totally immersed in the movement and the union. But it changed my perspective when I realized that, ‘you are raising children and you want to make a better world.’ It gives you something greater and more creative to live for.
If one of the children were heading in the wrong direction, you talk over a plan and figure it out. If you don’t, you could have regrets the rest of your life. The movement is obviously so important but if a beat gets missed, a beat gets missed. You always want to weigh in on the side of your children. A mistake there can leave a very damaging effect, and make you wonder why didn’t I take care of that. The next generation will carry the torch for you. You want to leave the planet in a better shape and the humanity of people at a higher level.
Tyrek Lee, EVP, 1199 United Healthcare Workers East, Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
I had three children before the age of 20. The union has grounded me in my family and the social, racial and economic justice that we fight for. I realize everyday that my family can be totally ok, but if the society around them is struggling, it’s going to impact my family. I dug right in to the labor movement, advocating for worker’s rights, advocating for the true meaning of community and it took me a while to realize, I had to bring my family along with that. This isn’t work for me – it is my life. I merged the two. I got my family involved, rallies, or at a night at the movies, I’ll ask them – what is a union? If we’re building a movement, we need to bring along our communities, our families and our friends.
Stephen Lerner, Fellow at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, and the architect of the Justice for Janitors campaign.
It has been hard and wonderful to raise three sons, while my wife, Marilyn Sneiderman and I both were working full time in the labor movement. Our sons would probably challenge that we worked full time and say we worked all the time. It was physically painful to me to leave them when they were babies, or to miss important family events because of a strike or crisis in one of the campaigns I was working on.
I took paternity leave in 1989 and 1991 which was seen an unusual thing, at the time, to do by some in labor movement. I remember moments when the kids were excited about our movement work and other times where I am sure they wished they never heard Justice For Janitors again. I have no idea how I could have combined movement work and raising children if I had been a single parent. Despite or maybe because of, all the work/home life tensions, it has also been extraordinary to watch them grow into the kind, generous, moral and socially conscious adults they have all become.
Doug Ley, President-elect, AFT-NH
Talk about work and politics was a given at the nightly dinner table as our boys grew up. For me, it was so important to instill an interest in the world around us, and even more so, a deep respect for the people who work, the people who produce the wealth. More than once, I asked how if teachers didn’t teach, what would happen in school? No teachers, no education—doesn’t matter how many principals or superintendents there are! And labor unions—why shouldn’t working people be able to have a voice? They do the work!
Our sons are now young men. They are not afraid to speak up at work, question authority and raise issues of gender or race discrimination. But even during their school-years, both had moments where they decided they would go their own way. At one point, one son responded to harassment about how he dressed, saying “Why should other people think they can tell me how to dress, or how to act?” All I could think was, good for you, you found your voice. Made me damn proud as a parent and father.
Lee Saunders, President, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
My dad inspired me to join the union as soon as I got a job working for the state of Ohio after college. The lessons he taught me about solidarity encouraged me to pursue a life of union activism. Now I’m the father of two sons, Lee and Ryan and grandfather of 1 year-old Benjamin.
I can’t wait to pass on to my grandson what I learned about unions when he gets old enough: the value of standing with your co-workers to demand respect and fair treatment. The dignity of having a voice on the job. The peace of mind that comes with earning a decent salary and having solid benefits. The knowledge that after a lifetime of work, you can retire with security.
I don’t know what my grandson will grow up to be. Who knows what opportunities he will have 20 years from now? But I know one thing for sure: Just like me, my grandson will be standing on a substantial foundation: a proud union legacy.
Kent Wong, Director of UCLA Labor Center and VP of the California Federation of Teachers
I am a union attorney, a university teacher, a scholar, and social justice activist. But being a father has been the most important job in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have tried to provide unconditional love for my two sons, from the time they took their first steps, to their graduation from college.
Being a father has always been rewarding, and sometimes challenging, especially balancing parenting and activism. Work and travel that takes me from home has always been the most difficult, along with the profound guilt of being away from your children. Having a supportive partner in life, and an extended family support system has been indispensable.
Parenting has been a grounding experience. My children have taught me to be a better person, to be more caring and compassionate. Being a father has made me appreciate the sacrifices that parents make for their children, and why working parents struggle so hard for their children to have a better life. As a father and activist, I understand why the fight for economic and social justice is a fight for our children and for their future.