Deleena Simon's story of her relationship with her father won her a top spot in the Twins' Father of the Year essay contest.
By Allison Wickler
If someone asked you what your dad means to you, what would you say?
Could you say it all in just a few hundred words?
Sixth grader Deleena Simon expressed her thoughts so well that she's one of 60 students the Minnesota Twins recognized as top writers in this year's Father-of-the-Year essay contest, which yielded more than 4,100 entries from kids across the state.
Though Deleena—who attends Falcon Ridge Middle School and lives in Eagan—said she didn't expect any response to her contest submission, she's runner up among sixth graders for her essay highlighting the ways her dad has taken care of her.
"The tough part was figuring out how to fit it into 300 words," Deleena said.
But she managed to fit in a lot about their story, which goes back further than her own memory.
When Deleena was a year-and-a-half old, her mother died of breast cancer. The night before she died, she told Deleena's dad, Simon Teklehaimanot, to take good care of Deleena, the essay reads.
"I think so far he has done a great job almost 10 years later," Deleena wrote, even though she admits she was a "very demanding child" and "wasn't exactly the easiest child to raise."
From carrying her up the stairs when she was tired as a toddler, to staying up with her all night after she'd gotten sick at a wedding, Deleena's dad has always cared for her, she wrote.
And over time, their relationship has grown beyond the parent-child dynamic.
"We're more than just father and daughter," Deleena said in an interview. "We kind of treat each other like best friends."
"We've been buddies for years," he said. He still has the "best friends" sticker Deleena put in his car when she was younger.
Teklehaimanot, who owns a tobacco shop in Savage, said he actually didn't know Deleena was submitting her essay to the Twins' contest. He thought it was for school—which was partially correct. Deleena's English teacher, Kristine Wyandt, originally assigned the essay as an extra-credit opportunity.
"I think [Deleena is] the perfect candidtate to highlight because she’s such a great kid," Wyandt said; she added that Deleena is an avid reader and bright kid who thinks at a high level. Wyandt also said it's obvious that Teklehaimanot has been a supportive dad.
Teklehaimanot is from the African country of Eritrea, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1989. In Eritrea, he said, people didn't have what everyone has here. He keeps in mind not to take things for granted as he provides for Deleena and his other two daughters.
That said, Deleena has been able to participate in many activities, including soccer, basketball and several dance classes.
On June 16—the day before Father's Day—all the fathers and students who won or were runners up in the essay contest are invited to a ceremony at the Illusion Theater in downtown Minneapolis, then at the Twins game that day the father of the year winner will be announced.
Deleena, no doubt, will be pulling for her dad. As she wrote in her essay: "My father means the world to me."