Several local men were celebrated for being great fathers this past week.
Elijah Langford’s Demcats treated 14 dads to dinner at The Knife & Fork Inn and presented them with other goodies to honor their contributions to their children’s lives.
“Most of these fathers are single, some are raising young girls, some have lost their significant other, some have sustained traumatic injuries, some are raising children that aren’t biologically theirs,” Langford said. “But none of these circumstances has prevented them from being a great dad.”
The dinner, he said, also helped “to dispel the myth that minority fathers are absent.”
That definitely wasn’t the case for Luis Matos.
The Atlantic City man was widowed in 2011, when his wife died from breast cancer. The couple had three young children at the time: two girls ages 9 and 5, and a 3-year-old boy.
His wife was home on hospice. The children had just arrived home when their mom, who could no longer speak, smiled at them and slipped away, he recalled. The girls clung to her, not wanting her to go.
“I think she held on to see them,” he said.
Matos lost his job because he could no longer work the grave shift, and was left to stay home with his children, working odd jobs to help support them.
“It was a struggle,” he said. “But I thank God for each day.”
He sat his older daughter down at 12 to explain to her the changes that would happen as she hit puberty. She then helped when it was her younger sister’s turn.
“I can’t be your mom, but I’m trying to do the best that I can,” Matos would tell them. “The most I can do is be a super dad for you.”
He seems to have accomplished that.
Langford, who has known Matos for about seven years, said it was Luis’ son David who helped inspire Thursday’s dinner.
He was a substitute teacher in David’s class when the students were asked to write about their hero.
“Of course, his hero was his dad,” Langford said.
It would be a few years until the dinner came to fruition.
In that time, Langford saw Matos father his children firsthand.
“I watched him day in and day out, regardless of the weather, walk his kids to school and make sure he was 15 minutes early to pick them up,” he recalled. “I watched how excited his children were and how their faces lit up at dismissal when they would see him. Their bond is so amazing to see that I would look forward to witnessing it each day.”
The day also was a fitting one for Langford. It was exactly 40 years since his parents were set to have their first child. The baby was stillborn.
“So this was also a tribute to him,” Langford said of his own father, former Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford.
Matos said the dinner helped him find other single dads like himself, with similar experiences.
“They seem like they’re genuine guys as well,” he said. “I took a lot of their phone numbers, so maybe we’ll get together. I love getting together doing positive things.
“God puts people in your path for a reason,” he added.
In addition to the meal, each dad received a gift bag that included a robe, a $50 Wawa gift card and a Bluetooth speaker.
The other honorees were: Iban-Taiwan Morgan, Calvin Washington, Jerell Porter, Jerel Harris, Trevor Boyd, Craig Newsome, Abur Williams, Antar Gray, Giovanni Battista, Anthony Procaccini, Eli Lopez, Carlos Marquez and Lamont White.
All are Atlantic City natives. Washington now lives in Egg Harbor City. Harris lives in Egg Harbor Township; Williams in Buena, and Marquez is in Mays Landing.