On this Father's Day, Bryan Kehl gives thanks for his dad. Not the dad that split with Kehl's birth mother before he was born, then left for the NFL.
The father Kehl is celebrating is his other dad. His real dad. The one that adopted him when he was two days old. The one that took buckets of baseballs to the park and pitched to his 10-year-old son until his arm gave out. The one that attended all his games.
The one who stayed up nights when his son was sick or scared or simply wanted someone at his side.
The dad who didn't finish college, but earned a Ph.D. in parenting.
The dad who loved him like his own, because in all the ways that count, he was.
That's the thing about fatherhood. There's the biological stuff, which may or may not matter, and there's the honest-to-carpool-and-camp-out thing. His real dad taught him the eight W's: Work Will Win When Wishy-Washy Wishing Won't.
That's not in the parenting books because Gary Kehl made it up.
"He's the type of dad who didn't just tell us," says Kehl. "We watched him do it as well."
Bryan Kehl is in New York today, following the Giants' mini-camp. He and other rookies will be there for about another week. The former BYU linebacker was drafted in the fourth round by the Super Bowl champions.
You might say football is in his blood. His biological father, whose identity neither Bryan nor Gary and Nancy Kehl knows, is said to have played college football at either Utah or USU a quarter-century ago. When the player's girlfriend became pregnant at 21, she gave Bryan up for adoption.
Gary and Nancy made Bryan part of a family that eventually included three biological children and six adopted children. Some of the kids were white, like the parents, and some were biracial, like Bryan. Didn't matter a bit to Gary and Nancy. They were interested in kids, not colors.
And their son felt it every day of his life.
His parents loved them all equally, unequivocally, teaching them about religion and respect and integrity. "They treated us all the same," says Bryan.
So when Bryan says he's the product of his parents, he means it.
Not the parents who made him, but the ones who made him what he is.
"I never knew what it was like not to have a father. All I've tried to accomplish scholastically, athletically, spiritually and every other way I owe to my parents," says Kehl.
That's not to say Kehl harbors ill will toward his biological parents. In fact, he says he's grateful his birth mother put him up for adoption. "Every kid deserves a father and a mother.
"I'm grateful she had the courage to make the tough decision and put me up (for adoption) so I could have a complete family."
Kehl says he wants to one day meet his biological parents, only because he's curious what characteristics they share.
Gary used to tease his children that they didn't get their talent genes until they were sealed to the parents in an LDS temple. (Bryan's brothers Brandon and Ed played football at BYU and a sister is pursuing a career as a professional singer.)
Bryan once found adoption papers in a file cabinet at home that gave a few sketchy details, including a notation that two placement areas to be avoided were Rose Park and Logan.
"So it was just kind of logical that my biological dad was from one of those places," he says.
A social worker told the Kehls their adopted son had a football father.
Meanwhile, Brian's everyday dad did the important dad stuff. He pulled his family through, sometimes struggling, other times prospering. He was a salesman and started a dry cleaning business, a flooring business and a clothing business, before settling in as a partner in a medical parts company.
"He's done very well, and just built that up on principles of thrift and hard work," Kehl says.
Gary Kehl passed that on to all nine of his kids. He would say that children live up to the parents' highest expectations or down to their lowest projections. So he aimed high.
Bryan wasn't the best player on his high school team until he was a senior; wasn't the highest recruited player to BYU. He was there for the Cougars' first losing season in 29 years. When he returned from his LDS mission to Toronto, Bronco Mendenhall had replaced Gary Crowton as coach and the Cougars were on their way back.
Using his father's work principles, Kehl became a first-team, all-conference selection. Through his years in high school, college and even the 5 a.m. mission workouts, he got stronger and faster and better.
"I always worked hard because of those principles my dad taught," says Kehl.
Not the dad that was never there.
The real dad.
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