Each week in partnership with the Merced County Office of Education we highlight North Valley leaders and programs specializing in early childhood education.

It’s one part tortilla, two parts soy butter, three parts banana, and a splash of giggles to make a warm and memorable afternoon between fathers and their kids during one of Merced County’s “All Dads Matter” (ADM) program event.

ADM is a county program where no moms are allowed — giving dads and their kids a chance to bond and have fun in an educational setting.

Being Nora and Emma’s dad means everything to Joseph Leal.

“For me being a father is something I have always wanted to do. You can kind of say I’ve waited my whole life for this and I want to be in it as much as i can,” he said.

Quality time with the girls means the world to to him.

“What more important thing is there in life for your kids than to be a father, am I right?” said Leal. 

He found himself singing and chanting along with dozens of other men and their children in one of the many events included in the program.

Program Coordinator Lamar Henderson said this unique program, funded by the Merced County Human Services Agency, offers encouragement, support, and education to father figures which will in return provide healthy family relationships.

“For one, it creates an environment of fun and modeling to dads how to be silly and have fun with their children. I think it’s important to expand those traditional roles of a father as being a provider and disciplinarian and allow us to freely be who we want to be. It’s like men giving men permission to have that intimate close relationship with their children,” he said.

Michelle Joseph with Merced Community College Child Development Services said memories they create during this program will stay with children forever.

“To be able to explore each other and be silly and have rough play and all of those wonderful things a male role model and a father will bring to a children’s life,” she said.

Leal said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“My daughters are my biggest thing in my life. My daughters and my wife are everything to me. I couldn’t even see life without them now that I have them” he said.