Jeffrey Humes holds open a library book and helps 6-year-old Linchay Nottage pronounce the words to Bears! Bears! Bears! With reading glasses sliding down his nose, he patiently explains any new word that appears on the pages.
There is only one word that Humes does not plan to teach Linchay: “step-granddaughter.”
Though Linchay is not Humes’ biological granddaughter — she is the granddaughter of his fiancée, Sophia Joseph — he spoils her with presents, has attended her kindergarten graduation and read Dr. Seuss to her class. Inspired by the strong family values of his childhood home, the 49-year-old contractor is determined to be a positive male role model in Linchay’s life.
“I was raised in a two-parent household,” Humes said. “I know the importance of it.”
It is not the first time, nor the last, that Humes will guide Linchay through a book. Almost every day, Linchay visits her grandparents’ house, where the couple give her math problems and flash cards and help her learn to read.
Humes and his five siblings were raised by a “traditional” father who taught him values. Now he would like to pass those lessons on to Linchay.
As part of the Fatherhood Task Force, Humes also shares his values with Linchay‘s classmates. Twice he has volunteered to read books in her class.
“I think I got more out of it than the kids did,” he said with a laugh.
Humes is also forming a group of positive male role models in the Miami area. In March, Humes attended a conference with Darrell Sheftall, a former youth pastor and fellow father. Although the group is still in its infancy, Sheftall and Humes were planning their first meeting on Father’s Day weekend.
Humes said the group is important to him because of a perception that black men are not involved in their children’s lives. Humes said it was considered normal when he was growing up for a father to be involved in his child’s life. Though he sees fewer father figures today, he also knows there are many hard-working people who don’t get enough credit.
Humes gained sole custody of his two children when they were 7 and 8. His children now live in North Florida, leaving him with plenty of time to devote to Linchay.
“Being a father is a great joy,” Sheftall said. “It is something that I wake up looking forward to and go to bed looking forward to.”
At the end of Bears! Bears! Bears!, Linchay lifted her braided head from her hands, revealing green M&M earrings. When asked what her grandfather tells her most often, she responds without hesitation: “That he loves me.”