I’ve been lucky in that my father has always been an active part of my life. Even though he’s lived across the country and two time zones away since I was 18-years-old, I’ve never felt that distance defined our relationship. During the economic struggles of the early 1980s, he stayed home with me while my mother worked. My earliest memories of him include laying on the shag rug of our living room floor, my head leaning up against his stomach, watching TV, or going bowling with him. At the time, there were no bowling shoes small enough, so I just wore socks. Later, as I got older, we’d lay pennies on the railroad track for fun or he’d take my sister and me to the gas station for candy. My dad was the one who fostered our creativity. We’d scour through the craft aisle of Walmart on our weekends with him — and he’d let us choose which we project we wanted to create. Sometimes it meant puff paint T-shirts, or painting miniature wooden rocking horses; sometimes he’d help us cut plywood into shapes of pumpkins, bats or candy canes to make holiday yard decorations. We rarely watched TV at his place, because we were busy creating — it’s him that I credit with fostering my love of painting, of using my hands. When my husband and I got married, I was the one that brought the tools into the marriage. I was also the one who installed our light fixtures and ceiling fan, who painted half the house. It was my husband who installed the tile backsplash in the kitchen and built a bike shed last year for our kids — because my father taught us how to. Dads are important like that, shaping us in ways we may not realize right away. But there are men out there, who we might not be genetically tied to, but who make just as much of a difference. Since I was 10-years-old, there’s been a man in my life who I’ve simply called by his first name. In the early years, perhaps it took a while for me to warm up to Ron, because he was with my mom and was not my father — I already had a dad. But he never tried to take my dad’s place. Instead, he was just there for my mom, my sister and me. He was there with us on family vacations, whether it was to Europe, to Canada or to the beach. I grew up swimming at the lake at his lakehouse, where I had too many birthday parties to count. I’m thankful for all those times as a teenager that he let me bring my friends over to go out on the WaveRunner or to jump off the dock. As I walked up on the stage at my high school and college graduations, he was there, standing next to my mom. He was there every Christmas, every Thanksgiving. When I got married, he walked my mom down the aisle. When my sister got married a few years later, he walked her down the aisle, alongside our dad. When I was in the hospital in labor with each of my children, my mom was there. Ron was, too. My mom was always the first grandparent to hold my babies, soon after their birth. Ron was always next. I’ve never called Ron “Dad” or “stepdad” and he and my mother never married. But somehow, over time, and especially after my children were born, he became a solidified father figure. Although my kids call him by his first name just as I always have, he is their grandparent. They don’t know anything different, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My dad has been there for me and my family as much as he can be, living so far away. But he is thankful — as am I — that for all those times he couldn’t be there, Ron has been. So happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. Whether you are a father to your biological children or a father figure to someone who is not, know that you make a difference. — Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Alabama. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.