SALT LAKE CITY — The fourth annual Daddy-Daughter Ball attracts all types of dads from all age ranges and ethnicities, but they are connected in one way:
They all share an unconditional love for their daughters and families.
William Albert Smith's job at the University of Utah includes such titles as associate dean for Diversity, Access and Equity and faculty athletics representative. However, his day job ends at 5 p.m. and that is when he begins his full-time job as father and and family man.
The 48-year-old Smith, a Chicago native whose parents were divorced when he was young, was raised by his mom and mentored by his grandfather. His dad was a bodyguard for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and was always away from home working.
Smith said he decided that he would not make that same sacrifice with his children.
"She (his daughter) controls my calendar," said Smith with a smile. "I try to end my day by 5 o'clock so I can do my night job, which is to attend to her and her brothers."
He plans on attending the daddy-daughter ball Friday night with his daughter — 12-year-old Sakara Abena Bakenra — for the second straight year.
The ball is hosted by the Fathers and Families Coalition of Utah, which promotes healthy relationships between dads and their families. The coalition is expecting more than 50 daddy-daughter couples for the event held at the Dual Immersion Academy in Salt Lake City.
It's activities like these that Smith said he had long hoped for.
"I dreamed about having a daughter all my adult life. I knew how special that relationship is and so I definitely wanted a girl," Smith said. "I knew what I was going to do with my daughter, if I ever had one. She came last out of my four children, so that is even a more special place because I can spoil her just a little bit more and get away with it."
Smith said he doesn't take the little things for granted because he knows the importance of events like the dance.
"(The ball is) just another opportunity to spend more quality time with my daughter. I believe that as much quality time as you can spend with your kids, particularly with a father and his daughter, it helps with pro-social development, it helps with your relationship," he said.
Sakara, a top student at her middle school, plays competitive soccer and basketball and also runs track. She and her older brother competed in the Junior Olympics last year. She does not like to wear dresses.
"This is at least one time out of the year that she promised me she will wear a dress," he said. "The first time it was a little difficult to get her in it (the dress), but she enjoyed it."
Sakara said she decided to let her dad take her to the ball, "because I thought at would make him happy."
Smith said he believes each parent is given the opportunity to make an impact in their children's lives.
"If you miss that opportunity, sometimes you don't get a second chance," he said. "You never know because tomorrow is not promised."
Juan Mercado, 38, took the first opportunity he had to provide a quality life for his family.
He came from a family that included 12 siblings, but left his native state of Durango, Mexico, at age 17 and found himself in Los Angeles. He met his wife and they decided that Los Angeles was no place to raise a family, so they started looking at other states.
The Mercado family settled in Salt Lake City, with the father leaving a promising job in L.A. as a manager for a junk yard company and entering business for himself in construction. The work was hard but the hours flexible — hours that he could now spend with his family, including daughter Ashley.
"I am very proud of her because she is always very active (in school)," Mercado said.
Ashley, 12, enjoys studying math and science and is proud to have a caring father.
"It is great because I feel like he really cares about me," she said. "They (her parents) will always be there for you, but I see other parents who don't care and then their kids are just doing bad stuff."
Mercado believes one of the responsibilities of parents is to motivate their kids so they can look for positive activities and leave the negative ones behind.
"Life is very difficult and we need to work hard," Mercado said. "Of course school is a principal piece that is going to give (my kids) a future that they deserve."
Mercado's family implemented those values at a young age. But because of financial struggles, they could not provide much more. He said his values center around working hard in school, at home and in church.
"These are basic fundamentals that were taught to me," he said. "I want to continue touching those good points and avoid the bad ones."
Isaac Alejandro Giron, 27, did not avoid those bad points early in his life.
Giron wants to be the positive father that he never had. Growing up in Los Angeles, he was consumed with life as part of the Central American gang the Mara Salvatrucha.
The Guatemalan-Salvadoran descendant moved to Salt Lake City with his family during his early teens and continued his negative path into gang life. He was arrested for assault, theft and criminal mischief and spent time in juvenile detention.
But that all changed once his wife-to-be came into the picture. He met Flor Olivo-Gironwhen they were both 23.
"I was blessed with the fact that my wife already had two kids," Giron said.
The couple later decided soon after to have a third baby. He changed his outlook in life and with that came a desire to make his newfound family proud.
"I promised her everything and I took that vow with them, too, my kids," he said. "It completely changed my idea of what it is to even be alive right now."
His motivation to be an ideal parent starts and ends with his wife and children.
"I want her to be proud of me, I want her to know that I am there. And I want her to be able to rely on me.
"She chose me to be a parent to her kids and that is a big deal," he said. "It is tough for a woman to decide I am going to bring this guy in, that I don't know anything about, and I am going to have him be a parent to my kids."
Giron at first did not want to have children because he thought that he could not handle the responsibility. "I figured if you are going to be a bad parent, you might as well not be a parent," he said.
However, that all changed and he said he now consciously thinks about parenting and his approach to raising his kids.
"You are being so nice, he punish(es) us so nice," 7-year-old Natalia quipped as she stood next to her dad.
The two will be attending the ball for their second time. Even though the daddy-daughter couple doesn't like to dance, that won't stop them from spending quality time together.
"It feels boring because they just dance. And you don't even know how to dance salsa," Natalia teased, turning to her father.
Giron is finishing his degree in economics at the University of Utah and plans to continue into graduate school. He thanks his family for the opportunity to continue to learn.
"They gave me the motivation to fulfill my dreams, so I can help them with theirs," he said.
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