Father’s Day: These spelling bee helpers love being D-A-D-S

Torrance resident David Lau and his children Timothy and Jennifer, who both advanced to THE national spelling bee in separate years. (Photo BY Robert Casillas, Daily Breeze/SCNG)
Torrance resident David Lau and his children Timothy and Jennifer, who both advanced to THE national spelling bee in separate years. (Photo BY Robert Casillas, Daily Breeze/SCNG)
Happy Randhawa gives 11-year-old daughter, Aisha, a high five as the two work on their nightly spelling practice at their Corona home on Thursday, June 15, 2017. Happy spends countless hours preparing Aisha for next year’s spelling bee contest. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Happy Randhawa gives 11-year-old daughter, Aisha, a high five as the two work on their nightly spelling practice at their Corona home on Thursday, June 15, 2017. Happy spends countless hours preparing Aisha for next year’s spelling bee contest. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Torrance dad David Lau has at least two things in common with Happy Randhawa out in Corona and Yusheng Chen in Chino Hills.

All three are devoted to their children’s education. And, boy, can their kids spell.

Their commitment has helped their children excel in school and taken the dads on trips — sometimes more than once — to the nation’s capital as their kids battle it out against the country’s top spellers.

But it’s the time spent with their kids — not chasing the spelling bee crown — that’s most valuable to these fathers.

“This is absolutely the most important job I can have,” Randhawa, 43, said of being a father.

All three of them helped and supported their children as they moved through competitions to reach this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee in late May.

Jennifer Lau, 14, finished 41st, Daniel Chen, 14, was 23rd, and Aisha Randhawa, 11, came in 35th at the event held outside Washington, D.C.

“Being a dad is the hardest job but is the greatest honor and privilege a man could have,” said David Lau, a 51-year-old minister at Bread of Life Church in Torrance.

Happy Randhawa encourages other dads to invest in their kids’ learning. He points out that studies show that having both parents involved leads to less poverty, higher levels of education and other positive outcomes.

The leader of a group that promotes involved fathers agrees.

“When men engage themselves in their kids’ education, whether it’s at home coaching them academically on a spelling bee or something like that, it serves to further reinforce the work that teachers are doing,” said Eric Snow, president and co-founder of Watch D.O.G.S., which stands for Dads of Great Students.

The nonprofit founded in 1998 in Arkansas aims to get fathers to volunteer on school campuses. It has programs in more than 300 schools in California.

Children spend more time working on a math or spelling problem if their father is doing it with them, he said.

“The kids are wanting that attention and wanting that connection,” Snow said. “It’s important for the guys to make time to do that.”

Here’s a look at what makes these dads special:

David Lau

Lau said he put his golf passion on hold and doesn’t watch much TV so he can instead hang out with Jennifer and his 17-year-old son, Timothy. His son also made it to the national spelling bee, finishing 13th in 2014.

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“You’ve got to prioritize your time,” he said. “The time your kids are living with you under your roof is pretty limited. The other things can wait.”

Lau, who has a background in electrical engineering, uses his math expertise to teach them the underlying concepts of algebra and geometry.

“It’s not just doing well academically, but having a well-rounded knowledge of all subjects,” he said.

To lighten the mood or relieve stress, Lau said he tells corny jokes that often elicit groans from his kids. He occasionally breaks out in song and dance or acts out scenes from their favorite movie, “Star Wars,” to try to make them laugh.

Yusheng Chen

Chen, 50, a part-time Christian minister who is studying theology, said he tries to set the example for his two sons.

He regularly checks out library books and videos to learn new skills such as plumbing and drywall installation.

“The most important thing will be to glorify God,” said Chen, who was born in Taiwan and came to the United States in 1991 to pursue a doctorate in molecular medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.

After graduating, he secured a faculty position at the University of Chicago doing research and teaching statistical genetics and advanced molecular neuroscience.

He said he gave up that career when God called him to become a minister.

“The one thing I want to teach my kids is it’s never too late or you’re never too old to learn,” said Chen, whose other son, Samuel, is 12.

Happy Randhawa

Happy Randhawa has high expectations for his four kids. But he also knows when to let them have fun.

Aisha unwinds from her homework and daily spelling bee preparation by playing basketball and golf with her dad.

“I feel like he puts in so much effort to help me,” Aisha said. “I’m so grateful for all the time he puts in every evening. He makes sure I’m doing OK and if I ever need anything. I love him so much.”

Randhawa tells a story about his late father.

Ajit Randhawa came to the United States from India in 1969 and worked as a microbiology researcher at Loma Linda University. He later opened veterinary clinics in Beaumont and Hemet.

The father liked to garden in his spare time and asked his kids to help. When his son complained about tilling the soil, Ajit Randhawa would give him a choice.

“He would say, ‘Is it easier to study or is it easier to dig this dirt up?’ ” Randhawa recalls his dad telling him. “When I said, it’s easier to study, he said, ‘Good. Then go do that.’ ”

Many years later, Randhawa is passing on the same lessons to his daughters Aisha and Lara, 8, and his 6-year-old twin boys, Avi and Arav.

After becoming a doctor, Randhawa furthered his studies and wanted to become a researcher specializing in diabetes and growth-related disorders in children.

But he abandoned that dream and decided to work in a pediatric practice so he could spend time raising Aisha with his wife, Sundeep, who is also a doctor.

“When you get home from work, your job is not over,” he said. “You have a second job. And that is to sit down with your children and see what they’re doing with their schooling.”

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