A Tale of Two Fathers: Part One
Updated: Jun 18
An Unusual Beginning When my mother, Rhonda, got pregnant with me, she was a 17-year-old student at Kent State University. She was a smart girl, graduating from high school at the age of 16, but was not prepared to live on her own. She fell in love, and started dating my biological father, a scholarship student from Nigeria. It was a whirlwind, and she ended up pregnant. Not willing to give me up, my courageous mother worked as an au pair all through her pregnancy and after I was born, working to provide a good life for us. My biological father offered to marry her, but the reality was that he was a Muslim man whose life would be thousands of miles away from my mother’s family, so she declined. She wanted to make it work in Ohio, where she’d been born and raised. She was working and raising me, and one day while at church, she met the man who would change both of our lives forever: my adoptive father, Andy Diemer. My Second Father Andy was a very young man too, only a couple of years older than Rhonda, but he already knew that he wanted to be a father. Even in his late teens and very early 20s, his greatest desire was to be married and to have a family. And while some people may have raised their eyebrows at this promising young man taking on another man’s son as his own, there was something special about Andy. He never hesitated, not for a second. And to this day, he remains my role model, my support system, my dad. In his own words: “Even though he’s not my blood, he’s 100% my son, and I’m 100% his father.” And it wasn’t just the stigma of raising another man’s child that Andy had to deal with. I was biracial, and in the early 80s, some people’s eyebrows raised so high they practically jumped off their foreheads, to put it lightly. My Father’s Journey But for Andy, the color of my skin was never an issue. He loved my mother, he loved me, and he was thrilled to have me as his oldest son. As we grew up, my father was my hero. We lived in a small house in inner city Cleveland, a tiny 2-bedroom that could barely contain my parents, my siblings, and me. Using his affinity for engineering, my father rigged up a third bed in the kids’ room so we could each have our own-- he attached supports to the corner of the room to rest the bed, a hanging support from the ceiling, and rails around the bed so I wouldn’t roll off in the night. It was in this room, with my one-of-a-kind “hanging bed,” that my father would read us bedtime stories-- a family favorite was Owl at Home, by Arnold Robel, and he would sing us his version of lullabies-- “Yesterday” by the Beatles and “Starry, Starry Night” by Don McClean. He sang us songs he loved, pretty and soft, with gentle melodies, to help us drift off to dreamland. When he first met my mother, he was working in a factory as a machine operator, but as the responsibilities of family continued to grow, he made the choice to go back to school so he could get a better job and give us a better life. He would sit at the kitchen table with his engineering homework, and I sat right there with him, feeling so proud of my dad for all that he was accomplishing. He was my hero.
Graduation day!! How do you like my shirt? Once, when he was playing a game of softball with his fellow engineering students, I insisted on playing with the grownups, even though I was only 8 or 9 years old. Somebody hit a deep fly into the outfield, where I was waiting, but not quite ready for how fast the ball came down. It hit me in the chest and shoulder, knocking me down. My dad was terrified. But what did I do? I got back up. Like I always say: when Ohioans get knocked down, we get back up. My dad was proud of me for shaking it off, and he could see that even at such a young age, I was self-assured, confident, and ready to take on the world. And I know it was because he raised me that way. As I grew older, we all struggled through my teenage years. I know I made it hard on my folks. But we still cherished memories of going to baseball games, and having a steak in the backyard to celebrate Father’s Day. That’s just who he is; no need for anything fancy, just a steak, a beer, and his family hanging out in the backyard. That’s all he needed. The simple pleasures of fatherhood, and knowing he was doing the best he could for his family. Leaving The Nest When I moved halfway across the world to Hawaii, my father stood by me. He found himself a chocolate chip cookie recipe that he couldn’t get enough of, so he made a batch of dough, froze it, and sent it to me. Even from thousands of miles away, I could feel my father’s love while I ate those delicious cookies. When I was in China, we kept in touch through letters, phone calls, and my visits back home. By then, my parents were no longer together, but he was still my father, and always would be. One day, I received a very special package from him while I was in China, burning the candle at both ends, working my butt off running high-class restaurants. It was a copy of Owl at Home, that I still cherish to this day. That’s just who my father is: loving, supportive, caring, and thoughtful. No relationship is perfect, and we had our ups and downs, especially through my rebellious teenage years, but there is one consistent through line in our relationship-- We love each other unconditionally. All Grown Up
Now that I’m older, I can truly appreciate what my father did for me, for all of us. Even through the hard times, he has this to say about being a father: “Being a dad was one of the greatest pleasures of my life… it still is. I took to Matthew right away, and never let go of the commitment I made to being his father. I’m so pleased with my children, and I have truly enjoyed being Matt’s dad. Being a father has given me a feeling of self-worth in life. My children look up to me and love me, and I will love and support them, no matter what.” It’s hard for me to keep from tearing up when I hear my father talk about how much he loves us kids. He’s a true inspiration. When I told my dad I was running for congress, he wasn’t surprised. Ever since I sat around watching him doing his engineering homework, since I insisted on playing softball with the big guys, since I blazed an unusual but successful path through life, he knew that I was going to really do something with the values of self-worth and hard work that I got from him. I plan on treating my constituents like my father treated me: with respect for their wants, needs, and individuality.I will work hard to make sure everyone is able to pursue a life of dignity and self-worth, no matter what path they choose. I want a Northeast Ohio where fathers and their children grow up in abundance of opportunity, and are well-equipped to adapt to our rapidly changing world. I want to make Ohio #futureproof for Every. Single. Family. I hope you enjoyed this story, and I can’t wait to share part 2 with you! Best, Matthew P.S.-- if you want to invest in a #futureproof Ohio with me, would you consider donating to my campaign? $5, $15, $100-- every penny counts, and pushes us towards our goal of making Northeast Ohio an amazing place to raise a family. Check out my home page for more nuanced details about the pillars of my campaign. Read part two here: A Tale of Two Fathers: Part Two