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Friday, January 28, 2011
Upbeat Dad of the Week: Chris Singer
Chris Singer and daughter Tessa
Every so often, we come across individuals seemingly by accident. But the more we get to know them, the more we realize it was no accident at all. It was on purpose. And that person’s life as it is displayed, causes us to believe in the genuine goodness of humanity in a new way. Today’s featured Upbeat Dad of the Week is one such individual. So let me say it gives me great honor to share with you the story of our Upbeat Dad of the Week is Chris Singer.
When I began the Upbeat Dad blog, one of the first things that became apparent to me was that there’s a whole world of fellow bloggers who have their own unique niche. In late September 2010, the day after I decided to start the blog, I saw a feature on CNN about “Dad bloggers” and I thought “How cool is that?” I was excited to know that there are other men like me who care enough to share their thoughts on fatherhood with others.
It was in this world of blogging fathers that I got to know Chris Singer. He runs the website Book Dads. On that site, he works with authors and book reviewers to publish reviews of children’s books. Here are his blog and other social media tools:
Make sure you check these out after reading about Chris’ story. I think you’ll agree with me that he’s deserving of the recognition with this feature. Here’s a chronicle of his journey.
Chris grew up in a town in northeastern Pennsylvania. His childhood was marred with physical and emotional abuse of him in the home. That early experience caused him to suffer from anxiety and depression. He often contemplated just how he could escape from this daily reality. Though others, when faced with similar situations, turn to alcohol or drugs, Chris opted to use all of this negativity surrounding him to propel him to live a meaningful life.
He shared with me that two things kept him going. First, though he didn’t get the love and affection at home that every child needs, he had a close and loving relationship with his grandmother. So whenever he contemplated things such as drugs, alcohol, suicide or running away from home, he thought of how heartbroken his grandmother would be and that deterred him from acting on his thoughts.
Chris and Tessa
Secondly, he made a vow that if he could survive such a difficult childhood, he would dedicate his life to making a positive impact on others, particularly children. That was the motor that kept him going through all the challenges and difficulties. He says, “I told myself, if I can make it through this awful experience, I will help kids so that they don’t have to feel trapped and alone like me.”
He attended the State University of New York, where he got a Bachelors degree in Literature. As he contemplated how his life could be used to help others, he was drawn to the continent of Africa. He grew up in the United States, a place where wealth and privilege are often taken for granted. He saw widespread poverty in Africa. He saw orphaned children who seemed lost and lonely. Thinking back to his own childhood, he wanted to give of himself to them to relieve their suffering.
He knew that if he was to live his dream of impacting the lives of children around the world, if he was married, then his wife would need to share a similar vision. He had relationships throughout his life but none of them materialized beyond the dating phase.
Chris and wife Deb
In early 2000, he joined an internet dating site. After sharing his information, he was shown the pictures of three women that the system suggested would be a match for him. He was drawn to a particular one of the three. Her name was Deb. What drew him to her was that in her profile, she was pictured in Africa surrounded by a group of kids. He later learned that that picture was taken in Namibia as she served in the Peace Corps. That captivated him – to the extent that he didn’t even contact the other two suggested women.
They met and really hit it off as they got to know each other. They share a similar vision of giving of themselves to help children around the world. Six years ago, their dream of spending their lives together became a reality as they got married. They settled in Michigan, Deb’s home state. Each of them had a vision of a life of selfless service to others and now as a team, they were ready to do it together.
Chris worked with a social services organization in Michigan. He worked closely with those known as “the lost boys of Sudan” – boys who lived in refugee camps after fleeing for their lives in that war torn African country. The boys came to the United States through a charitable program.
He started a book club in his town to feature books about Africa. At a book reading, he met a man from Uganda who lives in Michigan and works at Michigan State University. Chris was intrigued when the man told him that he grew up in that country and wanted to make a difference for children so he started a school for orphans.
Chris in Uganda with students from school for orphans
Chris and Deb wanted to get involved and that’s just what they did. Two years ago, Chris made a solo trip to that school in Uganda and met the school officials and students. That year, the couple learned that they were expecting their first child. They both traveled to Uganda during the 6th month of the pregnancy to do some work at the school and in the community.
Chris shares how profound and life-changing the experience was. He was able to see these orphaned children going through the first graduation in the history of the school. He was able to share his special touch with them – helping to calm their fears in the process.
He also shared that there were heartbreaking experiences during his visit. He saw widespread poverty. He visited children whose fathers abandoned them and their mothers were dying of AIDS. Their lives now hang in the balance as they have to face the world without the presence of either parent. He and Deb sponsor some children in that country by contributing on a regular basis to their education. The secondary school system can be quite costly so they have taken on the cause to help educate these kids from a financial standpoint and also by visiting with them when they travel to Uganda.
The couple returned from Africa and just under two years ago, Tessa was born to them. Chris shares how he was excited about the birth but then the excitement quickly turned to fear. He did not know how to be a dad. He didn’t have a good example growing up so he was concerned that he would not be effective in the role. He says, “Parenting brought up anxiety about the troubles I experienced as a child.”
He and his wife decided that he would work from home so he is a stay at home dad. He didn’t know any others like him in his community so he went on the internet to learn how he could connect with other stay at home dads. It was then that he learned the power of social media to not only connect with people but also to share life philosophies. He decided to start a blog because, as he says, “I see the blog as a platform to do good things.”
Chris and John Cave Osborne (author of Tales From the Trips) at Modern Media Man Summit
Through Book Dads, he and others read children’s books and write reviews on them. That way, parents can learn about the books they buy for their kids before buying them. I am one of his book reviewers, by the way. Chris is a real professional to deal with and is just a good person.
Tessa is his world – along with Deb. He is very attentive to her in every way and he just wants her to grow up to have the same kind of compassion that he and his wife have. Though he has a degree in literature, he wasn't inspired to write after graduation. So for years, he did not utilize those skills. Tessa's birth sparked a renaissance in his writing and now he's a true professional at it.
He says, “I have always wondered what my legacy will be. Now that Tessa is here, I realize that fatherhood is such a unique opportunity to do something great. Some people don’t take advantage of that opportunity but I want to make the most of it. When I die, regardless of anything I may have ever done, the only thing I want people to know is that I was a good father.”
I honestly tell you that as I interviewed Chris for this article, I had tears in my eyes. And even as I have typed this, I’ve had goose bumps thinking about his inspiring journey. I am so touched, thrilled and overjoyed to even know someone like Chris Singer – so good-natured, such a humanitarian, such a wonderful human being.
Chris and Rodrick in Florida
My family and I had the awesome privilege of meeting the Singers as they visited South Florida just last week. And they are quite an impressive family. My wife was pleased to know that Chris had been asked to do some video work on a project in her home country of Haiti, but his trip was cancelled due to some unrest in the capital city, Port Au-Prince. He’s just the type of person you meet and you know that your life will forever be enhanced as a result of meeting him.
Please join me in celebrating the mission of one who I believe is a great man. He lives in a country where wealth and privilege are treated by many as their inherent right. Yet his greatest passion is eradicating poverty and hopelessness around the world.
His childhood was not the glamorous life that many have yet taken for granted. He had a difficult path to take but what a journey it’s been. One of the quotes that I have written is, “That which I thought was the death of me became the key to my victory.” That can be said of him. He channeled the negativity of his past to propel him to be an exceptional man – a loving husband and father and great humanitarian. For that, he ought to be applauded.
As always, if you would like to nominate someone – anyone – for our Upbeat Dad of the Week, please do so by sending an email to: email@example.com. Be sure to tune in next week Friday – and every Friday - for our Upbeat Dad of the Week.
Thanks for reading about Chris’ story. And I hope that, like him, you will use your gifts to enhance the lives of others within your sphere of influence.