This Father’s Day, I wanted to do something special to celebrate the Smile On Me girls and their dads. I’ve had the privilege of working with so many amazing girls over the years—but this one member, in particular, has always made such a great impact on my life.

I met Sukanya when she was entering the 6th grade (she’s now in 10th grade, where does the time go?) I knew right away that she was one of those girls who would always make room for others and welcome everyone. As I got to know her, I quickly realized how most of her values stemmed from her relationship with her father. Studies show that a dad’s involvement in his daughter’s life is a crucial ingredient in the development of a young woman’s self-esteem—I believe it’s one of the most influential relationships a girl can have growing up. 

Often times when I have meetings with parents, Rik is the only Father in attendance. He is so passionate about being involved in his daughter’s life—not just teaching her but learning from her and dedicating his time to developing their ever-evolving relationship. He is the REAL definition of #GirlDad!

To all the dad’s out there, we celebrate you today. Thank you for raising up these incredible girls who are unafraid of disrupting the status quo and impacting the world.

Questions for Hendrik from Sukanya:

What surprised you the most about being a dad?
How much it meant to me. How much I love being a Dad. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.

What is your favorite memory with me?
So many. Going to the circus and Suki meeting the clowns and the princesses. Governor’s Island. Helping Sukanya prepare for her first standardized test – and her passing the test.

What’s the most challenging thing you have faced as a father?
Realizing that she’s growing up, and my job is…changing.

How do you celebrate Father’s Day?
Quietly. Grateful, like every day. Planning on creating a legacy for my girls.

Single dads don’t stop…. how do you find balance for your family?
Staying busy. Hardest thing for me was finding myself again when Suki moved to her Mom’s house. Finding what motivates me for me.

Best part of having a day to celebrate YOU?
Gratitude. Thankful for my girls, who Made me a Father. Getting to see my oldest, who’s busy with her life – she’s so like me!

Best advice for other fathers out there.
Give them Everything: no I don’t mean material things. I mean your time. Your energy. Your experiences. Your stories. Exhaust yourself by pouring yourself into your kids. There’s no greater reward in this world than having an amazing child, daughter or son.

Questions for Sukanya from Hendrik:

What is your favorite memory with me?
My favorite memory with you is when you would take me to soccer practice. We would hop on the bus and go to the parade grounds on Saturday afternoon. Afterwards we would kick around the ball and I would have the time of my life. And when we would go to the park with the ball and you would teach me new moves.

What do you most like to do with me?
My favorite thing to do with you is walking around the city on weekends. We usually watch a movie first and then just walk around. We try different restaurants, pop into comic shops, and even regular stores too. But I love exploring Manhattan with you.

What advice would you give your dad to be the best father he can be?
All I can say for fathers in general to connect with your children. My dad and I both like video games, among other things so we connect over that. It really helps us to stay connected. Especially during these tough times.

Learn more about #AerieREAL Role Model Dre Thomas‘ organization, Smile On Me, here!

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