Single moms are the stuff of legends -- and for cause. Those women who raise families while working to put food on the table are true heroines. And then, of course, there are the moms who gain Wonder Women status when they also manage to enroll in college courses to increase their earning power, and provide a sound future for their children. However, it is important to recognize there are some pretty sensational single dads out there, and what better time than Father’s Day to send these often unsung heroes a shout out.
Take Wil Smith and his daughter Olivia. Their story, which the two recorded for StoryCorps and was recently broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition, is truly inspirational. In 1996, at the age of 27 and a Navy veteran, Wil enrolled in Maine’s prestigious Bowdoin College with an unusual companion -- his one year old daughter, Olivia.
"I wasn't planning on having you as my roommate," this single dad tells his daughter in their StoryCorps interview. "I actually thought that if Bowdoin College knew I had you, they wouldn't let me come to college. So, I hadn't mentioned it to anyone."
Combining single fatherhood and academics was tough enough, but there were financial strains as well. Even with his veterans benefits, Wil needed to find work to provide for himself and little Olivia. He found a job on the night time cleaning crew at a local office supply store -- and often his tiny daughter went along with him. He would tuck her in a closet and go to work. As Wil tells it, whenever he felt overwhelmed, it was the sight of a sleeping Olivia that gave him the strength to keeping going.
But there were times when Wil needed to drill down on his coursework, and he needed some help dealing with a high-energy toddler -- and this assistance came from an usual source.
"My basketball teammates were my first baby-sitters," he says. "I just remember coming from class, and there were four giant guys — and then there was this 18-month-old who was tearing up the room."
Not only did the Bowdoin community come to embrace Olivia, at her Dad’s 2000 graduation, the dean called both of their names when he presented Wil with his diploma.
"My graduation day from Bowdoin is a day I'll never forget," he says. "You know, all of my classmates, they stood up and gave me the only standing ovation."
Wil served as Bowdoin’s associate dean of multicultural students programs for ten years, before accepting the post of dean of community and multicultural affairs at Berkshire School in Massachusetts. However, now the father-daughter team is facing a new challenge. Wil was recently diagnosed and is undergoing treatment for stage three colon cancer.
"I really admire your strength," Olivia tell him. "And I love you."
"I draw my strength from you," Wil responds. "I always have, and I still do."
For Wil and Olivia Smith, this will be a very special Father’s Day indeed.