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June 15, 2014

For Franklin, fatherhood a powerful motivator

Having completed another challenging day building Penn State's football program, 42-year-old head coach James Franklin seeks and finds solace in his wife, Fumi, and two young daughters, Shola and Addison.

Each night they talk, sharing the details of their day while looking eye-to-eye, Franklin eager to reconnect with the woman and two girls who form his innermost circle. As he has transitioned to a new job, a new home and a new challenge, Franklin's family has been his refuge, an invaluable component in maintaining his sense of self.

And yet, every conversation ends with the same disappointment.

Rather than hugging his daughters, Franklin watches their faces disappear behind the blinking red "End Call" icon of his phone or iPad.

This is how it had to be. Franklin and his wife didn't want to abruptly pull their daughters out of elementary school at midyear, so Fumi and the girls remained behind in Nashville. Save for a brief retreat to his family's vacation home in Florida, almost all of Franklin's family interactions have been virtual.

"FaceTime and Skype have helped because when I see my daughters and they see me, their faces light up," Franklin said, describing Shola's enthusiasm and Addy's slight disinterest. "When you do it over the phone, it's just not the same.

"My daughter Addy is very independent. My daughter Shola, that's been important with her, the FaceTime and that kind of stuff. But yeah, being apart, we've never done it before. I think in theory we did the right thing, staying to finish up the school year."

Franklin's early recruiting successes have created excitement around the football program, but they have not distracted from his desire to be reunited with his family. He's determined to provide completely for them, and to exemplify the strong characteristics of fatherhood to his players.

Admittedly, his own childhood experience was not ideal.

Son to an abusive, alcoholic father, Franklin has a lifetime of experience learning the destructive behaviors to avoid in his own parenting. Now that he's mentoring a group of 18- to 22-year-old men, many with painful family experiences of their own, his interactions with his own family are a significant component of the educational process he's so eager to share with Penn State football players.

"I didn't have the stereotypical American family," he said. "So those things are probably more important to me. I wanted to make sure that I learned from the mistakes that happened in my family and with my father and didn't become a part of a cycle that typically happens. Usually, you turn into your dad and so on and so forth."

Franklin has completely diverged from that path. And because of that, Father's Day "probably carries a little more weight to me," he said. "I wanted to be successful and do things to make my mom proud, but I also wanted to do things to make sure my wife and my kids never had to worry about the things that we had to worry about growing up.

"I think a lot of people had a much tougher upbringing than I did, but it still affected me. It still had a major effect on me, and I think that's why the relationships in our program with the players are so important to me. That's why I want to be a great dad. I'm not perfect. I'm far from perfect, but I work every single day trying to be the best that I possibly can. I need to get better. Trust me, my wife tells me every single day."

A self-described perfectionist, Franklin focuses every night on how he can be better the next day - not only as a coach but as a father. As he gets ready to steal a few hours of sleep on the pushed-together couches in his office at the Lasch Building or at the nearby Residence Inn - he's waiting impatiently for the July move-in date that will finally reunite him with his family - Franklin imagines how he might better balance his professional and personal lives. So far, that balance has proven elusive. But he has kept one goal in mind.

Beyond the recruiting success, the inevitable wins and losses, and the methods that will drive Franklin to new heights as a college football coach, the one personal achievement that exists above all others can't be measured anytime soon.

"There's a platinum star," he said. "I've had a few silver stars. I've had maybe two gold stars, but the platinum star that I'm really concerned about is that when my daughters get married, that they feel like I've earned a platinum star.

"That's the one that matters the most to me."



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