Life has not been easy for Ronnie Barger at times.
Growing up, his parents struggled with drugs and alcohol, and he was in a foster home but didn’t always have food to eat or electricity.
Once he became a father, he said he promised his kids wouldn’t grow up the way he did.
At one time, he was a single father working two jobs and going to college.
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Later on, he experienced some struggles and got up to weighing more than 400 pounds, and he decided to turn his life around and try P90X. After a week, though, he said he couldn’t move and wanted to quit.
But one morning, he got up and found three of his kids — ages 2, 4 and 5 at the time — doing the exercises.
"I said, ‘Well, if they can do it, Dad can do it,’" Barger said. "They are my motivation."
Now a father of six kids, he said they still motivate him to make the most out of life as he works two jobs to provide for them.
"I work third shift and I work two jobs, and my wife works, as well, and there are some days where I’m just like, ‘Man, this is too much. I can’t take it,’" he said. "Then I get home and I see them with something that I bought that I wouldn’t be able to afford. That’s it. That’s all the motivation you need. It’s kind of hard to have a bad day when you see those smiling faces."
On the morning of Sept. 18, he accompanied two of his children, Pheonix, 10, and Isaak, 5, to the first All Pro Dad meeting at Emerson Elementary School in Seymour.
While Barger felt bad for arriving late, team captain Buddy Fletcher was glad to see he took the effort to be there. Barger got off work from his third-shift job at 7:30 a.m. and went by his house to change clothes and pick up his two boys to go to the meeting. After that, he headed to his second job.
"I am a pro dad, if you would say," Barger said. "Anything to do with my kids, I’m in it. … I love doing everything with my kids."
During the meeting, he enjoyed doughnuts and orange juice with his boys, stood up and shared what made him proud of his sons and watched a short video with a lesson on self-control. His kids and others also had a chance to win prizes during a raffle of items donated by the parent-teacher organization and local sponsors.
"Being able to talk to these same kind of dads that have the same sort of thoughts and bounce ideas off of, it’s really enlightening that there are so many dads that feel that way about their children," Barger said. "It’s one thing to say that sort of thing, but it’s another thing to do it."
All Pro Dad was founded in 1997 in Tampa, Florida, by Mark Merrill and Tony Dungy, former head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts.
Affiliated with Family First, a national nonprofit educational and charitable organization, All Pro Dad is designed to promote the active involvement of fathers in the lives of their young children.
It focuses on elementary and middle schools and features breakfast one day a month when dads have an opportunity to spend quality time with their child.
The first chapter was in Indiana and has since expanded across the country. Today, there are 1,411 chapters in 44 states. The chapter at Emerson is among 92 in Indiana.
Fletcher first heard about All Pro Dad when a flier came home from his children’s school, Stalker Elementary School in Bedford. Before he became involved, he said he wasn’t able to spend much time with his kids because he had to leave early for work in Indianapolis and got home late.
"The kids were all pumped up about it," he said of the All Pro Dad meetings. "They looked forward to that every month, and I did, too. I would make sure that I went in to work a little late that day so I could be at the All Pro Dad with them."
A year and a half ago, he and his wife, Amy, and their children moved to Seymour. It didn’t work out to get an All Pro Dad chapter started at Emerson last year, but they made sure to get it going this school year.
They were pleasantly surprised to have 41 dads and 61 kids attend the first meeting, which was conducted in the school’s gymnasium.
"Phenomenal," Fletcher said. "It speaks a lot about, first of all, the community and volumes about Emerson Elementary. This is an awesome school, and Seymour is a giving community. It’s so unlike any other community I’ve been involved in that it’s close-knit and these kinds of things matter to people."
Meetings will continue at 7:30 a.m. on third Wednesday of each month. The next meeting is Oct. 16. Dads who want to attend with their children should RSVP online at allprodadsday.com/chapters/11489. Other father figures, including stepdads, foster parents, grandparents, etc., may attend.
Each time, dads and their children will enjoy breakfast, participate in a fun, memory-making event and have a short lesson.
"Life is busy, as we all know," Fletcher said. "We don’t always have the time that we want to spend with our kids, and so this is just an hour or so that we can just focus on them."
The meetings also allow Fletcher to spend time with his three girls, who attend Emerson.
"I’m just proud to be their dad," he said. "I’m just so happy to be a dad."
At the end of the first meeting, Fletcher encouraged everyone to spread the word so more dads and their kids could attend the next meeting and get involved.
"Thank you so much for being here," Fletcher told the dads. "Thanks for taking the time with your kids. Enjoy your day."
As Barger made his way out of the gym, Fletcher told him to go home and get some rest. Barger said he was going home to take a shower before working a six-hour shift at his second job.
He then assured Fletcher he would be at the next meeting, which falls a day after his birthday.
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The next Emerson Elementary All Pro Dad meeting will be at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 16 in the gymnasium at the school, 500 Emerson Drive, Seymour.
Children who go to the school and their dads are invited to attend. RSVP online at allprodadsday.com/chapters/11489.
Meetings will continue at 7:30 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month.