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CINCINNATI - Every year millions of families celebrate Father's Day, but this year's holiday has a different meaning for two men in the Tri-State.
Though their journeys echo familiar tales of most first-time parents, new dads Dustin Miller of North Avondale and Norwood resident Matt Castleman shared what their new roles as fathers means to them as they celebrate their first Father's Day this weekend.
Even though North Avondale resident Dustin Miller had been married to his high school sweetheart for eight years, he wasn't prepared to hear the words "I'm pregnant" so soon.
The news came soon after Miller quit his job at Whole Foods Market in Rookwood to start his own business, a dream he had since high school.
"It wasn't that we didn't want to have children, there was just never a great time to have children. We wanted to own businesses and go back to school, fix up houses and all that stuff doesn't translate well to having a little one around," said the 30-year-old coffee shop owner.
Miller and his wife, Tiffany, 32, had their first date in 1998 at a high school homecoming dance in Sugarcreek Village, Ohio --- a town in Amish country in the eastern part of the Buckeye State.
The story of how the pair met is fairytale in nature: They fell in love in high school, disconnected for a stint and years later were engaged in a foreign country.
"We weren't even dating then. She was living in Germany and had always wanted to go to Ireland so I took her to Northern Ireland where I proposed. She said yes, but I thought she was going to back out of it because she didn't tell her mom right away," Miller recalled.
Miller and his son Solomon
His now wife eventually did tell her parents and the two married in 2005. They moved to Virginia where Miller received his Master of Divinity before settling in Cincinnati.
"We had eight years of marriage before we had Solomon (their son) so we did OK. It wasn't a scary thing, it was like, 'Oh awesome, this is happening now.'"
Miller first heard of his wife's pregnancy when he went went home to change his shoes before going out with friends one night.
"I found out about Solomon the day after I quit my job... I was going out and came home to change my shoes. I thinking 'I hope this works,' because Collective Espresso had been a long-time dream, but then everything lined up."
Their first child, Solomon Cooper Miller, was born a healthy baby boy on April 5 of this year. For Miller and his wife, their unplanned newborn has integrated into their lives with surprising ease.
"There was no real anxiety over it besides the, 'Oh, how do I not mess up this kid?' The general parent anxiety," he said. "I don't feel stressed around him."
Miller said he never witnessed the "ins and outs" of parenthood and was rarely around babies. Now two months into his role as a father, Miller is most excited about the series of "firsts" he will get to experience with his son in the years to come.
"You're always observing everything around you because there's a first for everything, like a first smile. A week and a half ago I caught him smiling for the first time and that was so special."
Miller and Solomon
But aside from the fun side of parenthood Miller says he's aware of the challenges ahead.
"Fatherhood to me now is an act of steady presence. I think about how I thought about my dad and I'm sure that's something every parent does, both trying to emulate the good traits and to minimize the negative traits. It's this daily 'figure it out as you go.'"
Miller said he wasn't close with his own father until his college years, but is since more understanding of him.
"My dad and I are spitting images personality-wise of each other, but now he's one of my best friends. I hope Solomon is a free enough thinker to challenge me. I challenged my dad, but it took me a while to get to a place where I could be like, 'Hey what do you think of this?' I hope it doesn't have to wait until college."
For his first Father's Day, Miller says he plans to work. Though a long time in the works with a childhood friend, Collective Espresso opened just six months ago in Over-the-Rhine. Miller said he doesn't mind keeping the celebration minimal.
"Of course I'm proud, but I feel like I don't do any of the work. (Tiffany's) home all the time and carried the baby for nine months. I'm looking forward to more responsibly as he grows... to teach him how to be a good man."
Next page: A whirlwind
Matt Castleman had big dreams while attending Northern Kentucky University; He was going to be a Broadway star.
The musical theater major thought his life would take a different direction, but when he met his college sweetheart Catie in his junior year, plans began to change.
"I learned that it's not all about me," said the West Side native.
Catie, originally from Louisville, has been in the Army Reserve since the age of 18. A short while into their relationship she was deployed to Iraq where she served nine months as a supply specialist.
Castleman, his wife Catie, and daughter Karis
Without haste, the two wrangled a speedy marriage before they parted ways in 2010. While Catie headed overseas, Castleman moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting.
"We wanted to make things official before she went to Iraq," he said.
Catie returned to the Tri-State in the fall of 2011 and Castleman soon followed.
That's when everything started to fall into place for the couple. That December they finally had a formal wedding ceremony and Castleman landed a job as an experience producer and stage manager at Crossroads Church. The pair later went on to buy a house in Norwood.
Although married, Castleman, now 25 years old, said the decision to have children didn't come with ease.
"That was a long process of rigging out what you wanted in life and wanted to do and for a long time it was me figuring out myself," he said. "I was pretty selfish and based on my undergrad major the plan was to go to Broadway, do musicals and that was it. I met her and then I started to like this whole family idea."
Castleman said after talking with friends about their kids and discussing how they had grown from having children, he decided that's what he wanted in life.
"I said, 'Yea, I want in on that.' My wife was ecstatic."
When his wife missed her first period they rushed to the store to grab a box of tampons and a pregnancy test with the intention of returning one of them.
"It was a whirlwind.... She took the test and within 10 seconds the double lines appeared. She came out and showed it to me and we both cried and I said, 'But it says you're supposed to wait five minutes.' We prayed for five minutes and then finally opened our eyes. It felt like it was the longest five minutes of our lives, but it was still there."
Castleman and his daughter Karis
And so their new empty home began to quickly fill: At first with two rescue dogs and months later a healthy baby daughter: Karis Sophia Castleman was born on May 15, 2013.
The faith-driven couple wanted to give their child a name with meaning.
"We didn't look at names first, looked at meanings of names and found "graceful." Karis is Greek for graceful, and Sophia means wisdom."
Now a month later, Karis' presence in Castleman's life has been more overwhelming, but in the best possible way.
"It's the coolest moment when I get home from work, and (Catie) just lays (the baby's) belly on my chest and her head on the side. It's the sweetest, perfect moment of the day. Just me and my daughter."
Aside from the precious moments, Castleman says he's aware of the sobering responsibility to care for another human being, let alone a daughter.
Among his biggest concerns, "guys, obviously. I know how I was and am. I know my default will be to be too controlling with her, but the truth is I can't control all of those external factors. I can build into her how to respond to that. Oh, and no dating until 18...20...40."
Though Catie, 23, only has one year left in the service, Castleman says there's still a possibility she could be deployed again. Her unit is currently training for another mission.
"She didn't want to quit because she was pregnant. She wanted to finish something that she started. She used this military training to challenge herself to finish. I know that ethic will carry forward to how we raise Karis. Work hard, play hard finish what you start."
For his first Father's Day celebration Castleman says he intends to spend it with his own father. As a parent of four weeks, he says he's now more understanding of his parents.
"I tell my parents I'm sorry everyday. I have a better perspective of how much energy it took. I try to repair my mom and dad with beer every time I see them."
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