- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Nigel Walker wants to be a good dad.

And because he grew up without one, he’s traveling to all seven continents in a year to understand the role fathers play across cultures and families. Along the way, he’ll log video interviews and blog entries that could serve as guideposts when he starts a family of his own.

His work will be supported by Vanderbilt University’s Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship, which sends one or two graduating seniors on a year of global study. Each project is rooted in one question: What are you passionate about?

Global trip also a deeply personal journey

For Walker, the answer was immediate - and deeply personal. The Atlanta native’s father was “out of the picture” by the time he was born, and died when he was 10.

He grew up with his mother, grandmother and sister. He is quick to credit them with nurturing his successes and says his mom’s sacrifices set the stage for an “awesome, joyous” life.

But he remains fascinated by fatherhood, a concept he never experienced in the traditional sense.

He hopes studying different fathers - and the impact they have on their families - will offer some sort of catharsis.

“I never will have the opportunity to get to know him,” Walker said. “But I think I’m going to continue to learn more about what he was going through . that will help me understand the situation a little more.”

He’s not taking a ‘woe is me’ approach to his research

Walker is adamant that his work won’t be rooted in a “woe is me” perspective. Looking ahead to starting his trip this month, and leaving the country for the first time for trips to Chile, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates, among others, he is giddy.

“I just have a great time talking to people about” what fatherhood means to them, he said earlier this month in an interview. “I’m very excited to see how colorful that definition is even though I’ll be asking the exact same question.

“It’s an excellent opportunity to have an authentic conversation that’s right next to asking somebody, ‘Who are you?’ “

Walker sees his project as a celebration of families and fatherhood that will lift up positive role models from different cultures - including father figures and mothers like his.

Walker plans to include interviews with people who grew up with and without fathers. His theory is that every father teaches his children a lesson. He learned one from his.

“My dad really wasn’t there for my piano recitals or football games,” he said, reflecting on “snapshot moments” throughout his life. “I learned a lesson over and over: to show up.

“I learned a lesson from him, yeah, the hard way, but I’m really thankful for that.”

He’s applied that lesson with friends and with kids at the elementary school where his mom works. The trip, and interviews with families around the world, offers a chance to compound those lessons with insights from other families.

A year of international research is an investment in the future for Walker

Walker earned his degree in engineering science, and he ultimately wants to apply his academic experience in the business world.

He also was accepted to Teach for America and is looking forward to coming back to Atlanta to spend time working with young people in the classroom.

It wasn’t easy to pause those ambitions for a year, but he casts it as an investment in his future that could make him a better leader, teacher and, someday, dad.

“This is something that is meaningful, that is going to help me be an even stronger and more capable role model,” he said. “I’m seeing this as an opportunity to really look at families and see what I want my family to look like.”

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Information from: The Tennessean, https://www.tennessean.com


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