SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Nine-year-old Jaiya is like many kids, she enjoys playing video games, playing at the park, and going to the beach with her family. However, one of the things that makes her unique is her dad, who is a real life hero.

His name is Officer Jonathan Penn and he is a police officer with the Savannah Police Department. However, it doesn’t stop there. He is also a current United States Army reservist and an accomplished former active duty service member who deployed four times — twice to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.

Officer Jonathan Penn and his daughter Jaiya. Photo provided.

When asked why he chose to serve the people of Savannah and across the country he said, “I did it for children. For the kids, I love children, that’s my strongest and weakest point. I also did it because in my family, we have law enforcement and military. It kind of runs in the blood, so I followed family tradition.”

Penn has a history of showing unselfish concern for others, and when Jaiya was asked how he is a hero to her she said, “He stands up for me.”

Not only has he stood up up for Jaiya and all Americans, he has also has a history of persevering through tough times.

Growing up in Monroeville, Alabama, Penn and his dad were not particularly close and were together every once in a while.

“I was closer with my uncle, until he passed. He was a father like figure in my life. He kept me out of trouble, for the most part, and showed me how to do things up until I was 15. He passed away right before I turned 16 years old.” he said.

That uncle’s name was Matt, with whom Penn shared many special moments with.

“Just spending time with him and teaching me life lessons, making sure I stayed a young man and didn’t become anything else. Just sitting down talking to me everyday and him encouraging me to be a better person than I was the day before and to follow in good footsteps.”

Communication was an important part of Penn and his uncle’s relationship and he has continued that tradition with his own kids, Zionna, Oree, Blake and of course, Jaiya.

The Penn family. Photo provided.

“We talk a lot, we hang out a lot. I ask them what’s going on in their lives, how they’re doing and for the most part, they’re good at letting me know,” he said.

Penn also enjoys doing activities with his kids like watching tv, having some healthy competition go karting or playing sports in their backyard and when he is washing the car, he enjoys having them lend a helping hand. He and Jaiya also relish in family time at the beach.  

“When we are at the beach our entire family is there. Sometimes we go for a run and we collect sea shells,” said Jaiya.

A funny moment between Jaiya and her dad happened recently when they visited Forsyth Park. “There were pieces of equipment she wanted to play on. She didn’t know how to do it so I had to teach her and swung her really fast and she almost fell off,” chuckled Penn. 

Research has shown how father involvement improves child well-being. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center, an analysis of over 100 studies on parent-child relationships found that having a loving and nurturing father was as important for a child’s happiness, well-being, and social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother.

Some studies even indicated father-love as a stronger contributor to some important positive child well-being outcomes, especially when it comes to the areas like cognitive abilities and achievement motivation.

“In my early twenties, I was definitely not trying to be a father. I wanted to make sure I was ready mentally and spiritually before I became a father. I definitely wanted to be a father but I knew I had to be mature before I could do that because I knew that being a father is one of the greatest responsibilities you can have in the world. So I took my time with it and thought it through,” said Penn.

He continued, “I also looked at all the men in my family, good and bad, and took from them and what the bad ones did, I said I wasn’t not going to do and what the good ones did, I said I would do. I stuck to my guns on that one.”

Penn also stuck to his wife Melissa, whom he married in 2009. “We met in 2007 at a party. My friend was having a party, and her friend was having a party at the same place. We met there and we’ve been together ever since.” he said.

As the Penn family celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, Jaiya said that if she could tell her dad anything, it would be “Never give up.” As for if she might follow in her dad’s footsteps and serve the country in the military or as a police officer some day, she said, “Maybe”.

When it comes to the legacy Penn would like to leave for his children, it would be, “To always work hard. To always believe in yourself. To always strive to be a good person, no matter what. Be strong willed. Never give up. There’s always a win in anything, even if you take a failure, there’s always a win in that. As far as them remembering me, remember me as a person who always tried his best to give them their best and to pull the best out of them.”

For those young men who will not be celebrating Fathers Day this year, perhaps due to an estranged father or a passing, Penn said, “Look to someone that’s positive in your neighborhood or that’s around you.  There’s plenty of knowledge and wisdom to go around. It’s there in front of you, you have to seek it, Just because your father isn’t there or you don’t know who he is or where he is, or he might have passed, think of what he might have wanted you to do and do it better than that.”