Jolly good fellows: Meet four of Charlottesville’s best dads

C-VILLE KIDS

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Tommy Meriwether and Savannah. Photo: Cramer Photo Tommy Meriwether and Savannah. Photo: Cramer Photo

We asked you to nominate the coolest dads around these parts and, boy, did you come through. We heard from wives, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, all bragging about the best dad they know. It wasn’t a contest, but we thought these next four men stood out—from a single father raising his 6-year-old while still attending college to a firefighter who keeps a cool head when parenting. If their kids are anything like they are, the future looks bright.

The young dad

Tommy Meriwether balances life, learning, and raising a little girl

At age 27, Tommy Meriwether has a My Little Pony app on his phone and a light-up princess wand on his coffee table. His refrigerator is covered in crayon artwork and handwritten letters, and he gladly skips Monday evening happy hour to watch Disney movies at home. A UVA graduate, mechanical engineer, and avid rock climber, Meriwether devotes weekdays to his 6-year-old daughter, Savannah. He still manages to make time for friends and the occasional concert Downtown, but he said being a dad always comes first.

“I definitely wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Meriwether said.

Meriwether was a rising fourth year at UVA when Savannah came along, and the idea of having a child when he hadn’t even finished college yet was, naturally, daunting. But as far as he’s concerned, the toughest part is behind him. Balancing school, work, and a newborn was no easy task, but he said he and Savannah’s mom (who lives in Northern Virginia) were lucky enough to have friends and nearby relatives who helped out and babysat along the way.

“We’ve always found ways to make it work,” he said.

Meriwether was involved with sports as a kid and college student, and he said one of the coolest things about being a dad is watching Savannah grow into her athleticism and coordination and develop a similar passion for running around outside. Plus, he always has someone to play with.

“I’m happy I had her at such a young age because we can do all these extracurriculars together,” he said.

With the exception of Monday movie nights, Meriwether and his daughter spend most evenings running from one activity to another. When they’re not rock climbing or swimming, they’re painting side-by-side at their kitchen easels or practicing German vocabulary words.

An active member of the UVA Outdoors Club, Meriwether manages to find time for weekend climbing competitions all over the East Coast. Nearly 7-year-old Savannah may not yet be ready to compete like her dad, but he said he’d love to give her a chance to try her hand at outdoor climbing and camping this summer.

Rocky Top climbing gym is a regular hangout for them, but Meriwether said he tries not to put any pressure on Savannah to like the same things he does.

“I only put the climbing harness on her if she asks me to,” he said. “I don’t want to force her into climbing. I’d rather her develop the interest on her own.”

He’s thrilled to share his love for adventures with his daughter, but as Savannah gets older, he said he’s excited to watch her discover her own passions, and he expects that ballet, gymnastics, or cheerleading may be in their future. Some of his own hobbies may have fallen to the wayside, but Meriwether says the sacrifice isn’t even worth mentioning.

Like any other college guy, Meriwether’s weeknights used to be open for his own sports, dinners out, or concerts with friends. Now, with a daughter whose musical interests include Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, Meriwether rarely makes his way downtown for the shows he used to frequent as an undergrad. When asked if he misses the freedom to attend Shadow Delay or Birdlips shows until 2am, he shrugged and said it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

“I’m more selective now, and accepting of when I can’t make it to a show,” he said.

As for the future, Meriwether is as fearless as his daughter on a climbing wall. Tough questions that fathers tend to defer to Mom haven’t come up yet, and Meriwether said he’s not terribly worried about it.

“We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it,” he said with a laugh.

For now, Meriwether said his biggest challenge is seeing eye-to-eye with Savannah on fashion.

“Sometimes if she finds a pair of shoes I’m not sure about, I’ll tell her to see if her mom will buy them for her,” he said.—Laura Ingles

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