All- Star Dad Brings Crowd to Tears

WWD Digital Daily - - In Focus: Sustainabi­lity - BY JEAN E. PALMIERI

For the past 78 years, the Fa­ther’s Day lun­cheon has been an an­nual tra­di­tion for the men’s wear in­dus­try.

This year, man­u­fac­tur­ers and re­tail­ers filled a ball­room at the New York Hil­ton Ho­tel Thurs­day af­ter­noon to honor the re­cip­i­ents of the Fa­ther of the Year Awards: Pro Foot­ball Hall of Famer and Fox Sports NFL an­a­lyst Tony Gon­za­lez, Burling­ton stores chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Tom Kings­bury, and the late Sen. John McCain.

But per­haps the big­gest star of the event was a lesser-known name: Brent John­son.

The Detroit dad was the win­ner of the 2019 Ashok Sani All-Star Dad award spon­sored by Esquire magazine. He was se­lected his nine-year-old son Jack wrote an essay. Jack, though, couldn’t ac­tu­ally write the essay him­self, he had to ask his grand­mother to help be­cause his litany of med­i­cal is­sues — cerebral palsy, blind­ness and a seizure dis­or­der — have left him un­able to see, speak or walk. But his essay left the room sob­bing as it talked about how lucky he was that his fa­ther bathes him, feeds him and loves him, and his par­ents were able to af­ford to buy the wheelchair­ac­ces­si­ble van he needs to get around.

Know­ing other fam­i­lies aren’t as for­tu­nate, Jack wrote that his fa­ther cre­ated a char­ity called Giv­ing Songs to help fam­i­lies with multi-dis­abled chil­dren buy hand­i­capped ac­ces­si­ble cars and the other ne­ces­si­ties they need to help care for their off­spring.

“I can’t make my dad cards or put my arms around him,” his mother said, read­ing from the essay, “but I can nominate him for this award.”

If that wasn’t enough to bring the guests to tears, John­son’s elo­quent ac­cep­tance speech where he not only thanked his wife, mother and in-laws, but also spoke about how when his son was born, he had dreamed of how they’d one day ride mo­tor­cy­cles and play catch. Re­al­iz­ing that would never hap­pen, he in­stead em­braced his son’s love of mu­sic, learned to play gui­tar and founded the char­ity. “You’ve given me my pur­pose,” he said.

Fol­low­ing John­son on the podium was no easy task, but Gon­za­lez rose to the oc­ca­sion by telling sto­ries about his four chil­dren, two with his wife, Oc­to­ber, one from a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship and one adopted daugh­ter. He said his 18-year- old son is a bit of an “air­head” like he was at the age, while his 11-year- old daugh­ter is a free spirit, his nine-year- old is “in­tense, fo­cused and lit­eral.” His four-year- old, who was a “meth baby” adopted from his wife’s half-sis­ter, was a bit chal­leng­ing in the be­gin­ning, but has be­come “the sweet­est girl.”

He said his el­dest son is a mid­dle linebacker in his se­nior year of high school, his 11-year-old is a great ten­nis player and the nine-year-old is drawn to bas­ket­ball. The youngest is “prob­a­bly not go­ing to be an ath­lete, but she’s so in­tel­li­gent, she al­ready speaks two lan­guages,” he said be­fore the event.

Gon­za­lez ad­mit­ted that be­ing a fa­ther is “daunting in the be­gin­ning,” and new par­ents al­ways ques­tion them­selves but his chil­dren have brought a true cu­rios­ity into his life by see­ing things through their eyes, he said.

“I’ve learned more from my chil­dren than I ever did on a foot­ball field,” he said.

Other hon­orees in­cluded McCain, whose daugh­ter, Meghan, recorded an ac­cep­tance video for the post­hu­mous honor, and Kings­bury, who re­fused to speak to re­porters at the low-key press con­fer­ence that al­ways pre­cedes the event and is in­tended to pro­mote the Fa­ther’s Day hol­i­day. Al­though other high-pow­ered Dads in­clud­ing Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, Gen­eral Colin Pow­ell, Govs. Mario Cuomo and Chris Christie, NFL star and talk- show host Michael Stra­han, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Chuck Schumer have all gladly par­tic­i­pated in the past, Kings­bury’s team said he would be tak­ing no ques­tions. So it was even more ironic when he was pre­sented his award by his jour­nal­ist daugh­ter.

The event also hon­ored

NFL star Tony Gon­za­lez, the late Sen. John McCain and Burling­ton’s Tom Kings­bury.

All-Star Dad Brent John­son with his wife Jamie, son Jack and daugh­ter Ava.

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