You know the old saying: Behind every good man is a great woman. There really is no better couple that exemplifies this than Tony and Marilyn Vecchio.
There is no doubt Marilyn, the brains and brawn behind Big Bear Valley’s Mothers on Mountain Project, inspires us every year. She has helped countless parents survive parenthood, constantly improving on the offerings of the First 5-funded M.O.M. Project, part of the Bear Valley Community Health Care District.
What some may not know is that during the last three years, the D.A.D. Project started from a Daddy and Me class Tony facilitated. While it was Marilyn who came up with the idea after attending a workshop in Florida, it was her husband, Tony, who ran with it and gave it the male point of view that holds it together.
In 2008, Marilyn and Tony started the 12-week Nurturing Fathers class, a curriculum-based program for dads and granddads, which helps good dads become great dads. After the first set of classes finished, Tony put together a D.A.D. Project advisory board that included some dads from the first run of classes to granddads and others who were very passionate about the program.
The group started setting up tables at community events and spreading the word about the joys of fatherhood and friendship. For Father’s Day, the Vecchios’ church, Community Church by the Lake, honored Tony as, no surprise, Father of the Year. All the board members showed up to help celebrate the man who helped change their lives.
“When you see these lights turn on in these dads, it’s really exciting,” Tony said about the Nurturing Fathers participants. “I’ve just had the greatest time. I see them around town and now we’re like best friends. And what we have in common is that we love being dads.”
“Tony is the maven,” said board member Kurt Lofland, a father with grown children. “He is the catalyst.” Lofland said he is impressed with Tony’s enigmatic handling of the classroom environment. He is humble, nonthreatening and nonjudgmental, which makes it a comfortable place for dads to open up, he said.
“He’s like a rock for these young dads,” said Mickey Skinner, a grandfather and great grandfather who teaches and learns as part of the group. “He tells it like it is. He doesn’t sugarcoat it. But he’s so laid-back he makes everyone feel comfortable and safe. He gives input just like part of the group. Some guys don’t have anywhere else to turn.”
“Tony just makes you feel like you can open up, no holds barred,” said Michael George, another Nurturing Fathers graduate and board member who says his experience with the group has made him a better dad. “This class needs to spread like a bad disease.”