June 13, 2014 at 10:07 AM ET
Demille Cole-Heard didn’t grow up with his dad, but he had a loving father figure support him every step of the way: His grandfather.
After Charles Warthan’s children were grown, he began the child-rearing journey anew by raising his grandson, Cole-Heard. Warthan, 63, always worked at least two custodial jobs, served his country and helped Cole-Heard, 25, follow his passions.
“There is no father figure more deserving than my grandfather, Charles Warthan,” Cole-Heard wrote in a letter he read aloud on TODAY Friday. “He has been right beside me for the past 25 years, sharing his love of music, and now supporting me as I pursue singing and acting myself.”
His continued: “I've been on a long journey, faced with obstacle after obstacle, but my dreams are starting to come true, and it never would have been possible without my grandfather.”
Warthan appeared with his grandson live on TODAY Friday, thinking he was there to support Cole-Heard as he tried out for “The Voice.” But as a special Father’s Day surprise, Cole-Heard honored him for all he has done and helped his grandfather realize his lifelong dream of singing for all the world to hear.
“He has been the man that really showed me how to be a man, and if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be as far as I am today,” Cole-Heard said live on the show. “So I just wanted to publicly thank him and help make one of his dreams come true.”
On the TODAY plaza in front of a large crowd, the two sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Warthan hit the high notes, and the pair ended their duet with a warm embrace as the crowd cheered.
In his letter, Cole-Heard said having his grandfather sing for everyone to hear “would be the culmination of everything he has taught me … that even if it may not come overnight, hard work, love and persistence always pays off.”
TODAY’s Matt Lauer apologized to Warthan for tricking him onto the show. “You sure did,” Warthan said.
But Warthan said the video tribute was great. “It’s very surprising,” he said. “I never thought this would happen.”
TODAY worked with the men’s lifestyle site MadeMan.com to tell this family’s story. In a final surprise, Lauer announced that Warthan, of Ringgold, Georgia, would be singing the national anthem again, this time at a Philadelphia Phillies game.
“Wow, that’s amazing,” Warthan said. “I can do that.”
Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.