My Most Important Subject

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Since September 2011, I’ve written a monthly column sharing the joys and challenges of parenting from the perspective of a stay-at-home dad. My daughter, Jessie, who just turned 13, gave me all the stories — some funny, others tender and a few I could have done without.

I can still remember my sneakers sticking to the kitchen floor as Jessie and I cleaned up strawberry juice and broken glass from the far reaches of our kitchen. My happy, dancing girl had enjoyed strawberry shortcake, then twirled with her dish on the way to get seconds. Coming out of a spin, she accidentally crashed her plate against the refrigerator, sending shards of glass and sticky red syrup everywhere.

After more than six years of monthly columns and Jessie now a teenager, I think it’s the right time to end this column. So, whether you’re a longtime follower or a first-time reader, thank you for welcoming my family into your home. I hope our stories brightened your days. Special thanks go to all the publishers and editors who printed them, and to my own team who helped polish my work before I sent it out — my wife, our daughter and my former supervisor at the University of Florida, who served as the final quality controller.

I’ll continue to write. In fact, Jessie and I have been working on a new co-authored column I’m eager to reveal. Please look for it in the months to come.

But, for this, my final solo column, I wanted to leave readers with a memorable message. Each month, I complete the draft of my column, then give it to Jessie for her feedback. I think she’s going to be a college professor like her mother. She loves to break out her red pen and mark up my copy. Of course, she feels compelled to assign a grade. 

If you think Jessie shows her father some leniency because he’s cared for all her wants and needs these past 13 years, you’d be mistaken. There’s no such thing as bonus points in Jessie’s grading. She’s tough! I’ve learned not to write anything about boys because I’m usually penalized a full letter grade. If you don’t believe me, here’s a sample of grades from the first drafts of a few recent columns, listed in ascending order: 27, 50, 62, 69.97, 82.5 and 90.1253.

Writers need honest critique and I get it from Jessie. Though her grades and comments aren’t always what I like, they make me work harder to become a better writer, and many times I’ve incorporated her useful edits.

But, as I look back, these grades were only for my writing, not my parenting. I’m not going to ask Jessie to grade my first 13 years as her father. I’d like to think I’d get many A’s and positive comments. At the same time, I made some mistakes — especially in the subjects of “patience” and “listening.” Involved parenting is challenging work.

So, as I conclude my final monthly column, I remember Jessie’s words: “You can do better.” Not just when I’m sitting behind my laptop (though I’ll certainly give it my best), but more importantly as a father and role model for Jessie. I want to earn an A in my most important subject — parenting.

And when I miss the mark, perhaps Jessie will offer extra credit or round up my score. 

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and writer. Follow him at


Categories: Dads, Parenting