Juan Manuel Avalos might dispute being named Merced County Father of the Year, but others will quickly come to his defense and say the award was merited.
The 42-year-old Delhi resident and father of four daughters was named Father of the Year at an annual awards banquet Monday night at El Capitan High School. Thirty fathers and father figures also were honored at the program.
“I just go day by day,” Avalos said. “I don’t know what I am doing. I’m a work in progress. I go with my feelings but love is first and guides me in what we have to do.”
His daughter, Lauren, an eighth-grader in Roxanne Azevedo’s class at Hilmar Middle School, wrote the winning essay among close to 1,000 compositions submitted in this year’s contest, the 14th.
Lauren said her father has a great way of giving her advice when she needs it.
“He’s the one I can go to and count on,” Lauren said. “Yes, he is protective but that’s his job and I understand. He would take a bullet for me. I really couldn’t ask for a better dad. I love him to death and would go crazy without him, literally.”
The essay contest is open to all kindergarten through 12th-grade students in the county and highlights the special role fathers and father figures play in a child’s life.
Paul Lundberg, pastor of Atwater Baptist Church and fatherhood contest coordinator, is gratified by the fatherhood contest’s longevity and importance.
“We need to call attention to exemplary fathering,” Lundberg said. “Fathering wasn’t nearly as prominent in this nation’s thinking as it is now.”
Avalos, a state correctional officer in Stockton, said his main advice for other fathers is to be there. Dads need to work hard to be a good listener. Slow down and pay attention to detail.
“I love them (his four daughters) equally. They all respond differently,” Avalos said. “The biggest challenge is the different personalities.”
Lauren said she initially thought her essay would stay in Azevedo’s classroom. She won the Merced County speech contest four years ago and is coaching her younger sister in that event.
She said her favorite time is having coffee with her dad and that he can make a conversation last forever.
She and her father argue, but it never lasts long, Lauren said. She admits her dad has embarrassed her many times, but he also has made her laugh so hard she has cried. She suspects her father’s growing up with five sisters has something to do with being able to relate to his daughters.
Students are asked to write a 300-word essay titled, “What My Father Means To Me,” and Merced County volunteers read each essay and chose the top three from each grade level. Fathers are given the option of writing a response, which may be submitted along with their child’s essay.
More than 13,000 essays have been written in the previous 13 years of the competition and more than 300 fathers have been honored.
“Our goal for our essay contest is to highlight exemplary fathers and father figures and to help our communities recognize the significance of dads in the lives of their kids,” Lundberg said. Students can write the essay about their father, stepfather, grandfather, or a father figure in their lives.
The fatherhood essay contest was an outgrowth of an appearance at a workshop here by Ken Canfield, who was then director of the National Center for Fathering. Canfield and Jim Sanders, founder-organizer of the Merced Community Action Network,suggested an essay contest be held.