DeAngelo Jelks wasn't able to be around much during his daughter Victoria's early years.
She was 3 months old when he graduated from the police academy, and once he started working second and third shift as an officer, it was rare for them to be at home and awake at the same time. When they were, he felt he was simply present rather than spending quality time with his family. Working as a chemical officer in the Army Reserve kept him away from home frequently as well.
Just before New Year's, as Jelks was leaving for military duty, Victoria met him at the front door. She started crying and said, "Daddy, I don't want you to go. For my birthday, all I want is for you to get out of the Army."
"It broke my heart," Jelks said.
This led him to start thinking about all of the other fathers who, like him, are in the military or work in emergency services, or who just have really demanding jobs and aren't able to spend as much time with their families as they'd like.
From that sprang the idea for Chattanooga Dads, a nonprofit organization he founded in January offering family-friendly activities to provide busy fathers with opportunities to spend quality time with their families.
"I wanted to give those dads experiences and opportunities where they're not just present, but actually bonding, engaging and having fun together," said Jelks.
Since his daughter inspired the idea for the organization, he felt it was appropriate to make the first event a daddy-daughter dance. It's set for Sunday, Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. at the American Legion at 3329 Ringgold Road.
All fathers and daughters are welcome at the event, which features dancing, food, drinks and photo opportunities.
Tickets are available online through eventbrite.com. Jelks said he tried to keep the ticket price low, at $28 per father-daughter couple.
"I'm trying to make sure no dad is not able to go because of money," he said.
The day and time of the event were also chosen to try to make sure as many dads and daughters, no matter age, could attend.
Other events planned for the future include The Murph, a race involving a 1-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and another 1-mile run. The race, which will be held in Heritage Park on Memorial Day, honors Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, a Navy SEAL who was killed in Afghanistan. Jelks plans to hold weekly training sessions prior to the event.
A family hiking trip is scheduled for April 13, when the group will meet at the Cracker Barrel in East Ridge at 10 a.m. for a group hike, and Jelks is planning a life skills group for parents which will be facilitated by a longtime counselor.
He's also planning a prom for parents — because as a father, he's also emulating for his children how to be a loving husband, he said.
"Local dads should get involved because, a lot of times, we've been trained by society to bring home the bacon and the bread — those gender roles that don't make sense in 2019," said Jelks. "We're working all the time and not engaging with our kids or our spouse as we should be. These [events] are opportunities where dads don't have to think too much, just look at the calendar."
Events will be held all over the Chattanooga area, though never more than 20 minutes from downtown, and most will be free or low-cost to enable as many people who want to attend to do so, he said.
For more information about Chattanooga Dads and future events, or to purchase tickets, visit chattdads.com, facebook.com/chattdads, or search for "Chattanooga Dads" on eventbrite.com.
Email Emily Crisman at email@example.com.