Being a good dad doesn’t require perfection, but connection. It calls for love and care, as well as the initiative to be involved day in and day out. We found five Chicago dads who are both tough and tender, and these magnanimous men engage with their families in remarkable ways.
Natural memory maker
Kids: Justice, 12, Javier Jr., 7, and Julian, 18 months
Javier Guevara fell in love with fishing as a kid in Quito, Ecuador. Today, this Wheaton resident owns and operates Ecuador Fly Fishing Tours with his family. Passionate about conservation and exploration, he shares the joy of the outdoors with his kids, the community and fishing enthusiasts. His company takes travelers to gorgeous remote destinations featuring waterfalls, volcanoes, mountains and creeks to collect memories.
When he’s not hosting tours, he can be found fishing with his family, in Ecuador and around Chicago.
Guevara’s kids appreciate the bonding time, playing in rivers and tossing rocks. One of their favorite spots is the Driftless Area in Wisconsin. “It’s less than three hours away, but in the beautiful country, where you don’t see or hear a car,” he says. “There are no cellphones, but beautiful streams, turkeys and bald eagles.” They also recommend the Milwaukee River in September, where big salmon swim up the lake to spawn.
Guevara believes in getting kids outside as frequently as possible. “Never be afraid of exploring,” he says. “There might not be something that catches your eye right away, but there are so many simple things that are so valuable.”
Important history lessons
Kids: Noelia, 7, twins Liliana and Benjamin, 4, and Abraham, 7 months
Scott Johnson lived on a 100,000-acre cattle ranch in Kanab, Utah, until a volunteer mission brought him to Chicago. After his years as a Northwestern University wrestler, this big guy found the love of his life in a woman with Honduras heritage. When they married and had children, he taught himself, and his now four kids, how to speak Spanish. “I see my in-laws as pioneers,” he says. “They gave up their lives in Honduras for something that was unknown. I would never want those sacrifices to be forgotten in one generation.”
It’s evident that he enjoys teaching his kids life’s important lessons. “Everything I do, the kids are not only welcome to join, but I prefer it,” Johnson says.
When he gets home from work, he enjoys cooking with the kids. “It takes three times as long,” he admits. “But the excitement of making the food translates into excitement for eating it. My role as an adult is to teach my children everything to the point where they don’t need me any more.”
Kids: Yash, 9, Rian, 6, and Jhenna, 4
Hitesh Patel’s sportsmanship shines through every season as he coaches soccer, T-ball, baseball, football, hockey and basketball, to name a few.
He was an instructor at the park district before he started his 15-year career with the Chicago Police Department and is now a sergeant. This dad of three chose to work the night shift so he could spend as much time as possible with his kids, including school pickup and dropoff, as well as manning many after-school activities.
“As a coach, I get to be involved in my kids’ lives, see who their friends are and meet their parents,” Patel says. “As kids get older, they won’t want their parents as involved. I try to enjoy these times and get to know the people that they’ll be hanging out with for the rest of their lives.”
Not only has he protected Chicago streets from gangs, drugs and guns, he volunteers his time to provide security at his kids’ school. “Our most precious gifts are inside that building,” he says.
Kids: Jake, 11, and Austin, 7
Randy Johnson met his wife, Linda, at a Chicago Park District youth circus program when they 11 and 12. After touring with Ringling Bros., Randy has performed in the Triton Troupers Circus, an all-volunteer show at Triton College every spring, with his family for 32 years. Jake, 11, has been a part of the performance since he was in the womb (his mom performs the Spanish web). Austin, 7, had his first major role this year in the 45th anniversary show. He played “Dead or Alive,” a classic clown gag, with his dad.
“You can’t buy an experience like this,” Randy says. “But it comes with a lot of hard work.”
While Randy is proud to pass on his passion for performing, he says the kids got into it for the non-competitive physical activity.
“You have to love a sport to stick to it,” says Randy. “My kids didn’t love some of the sports they tried and practice became drudgery.” Jake and Austin were attracted to circus acts for their gymnastics-like quality without the competitiveness.
Kids: Katelyn, 11, and Carin, 7
Daniel Kmiec’s wife, Valerie, stayed home with their children until her dream of opening a salon came true nearly three years ago. Now Daniel, a machinist at O’Hare International Airport, is his girls’ primary caregiver.
“Both are sweethearts and exact opposites,” he says. “Carin is a girly girl who likes to play with Barbies and she also helps me work on cars. Katelyn is into gaming—chess tournaments and Minecraft.”
Not only does this hands-on dad have a soft spot for his girls, but he likes to plan intricate parties for them, namely, Halloween haunted house parties. He tricks out their garage with black lights and ghouls, packs a buffet table full of hot chocolate and punch with floating fingers and hosts classic kids games, like donuts on a string and bobbing for apples.
“As a kid, I helped my dad dress up a two-flat hallway for Halloween,” he says. “I wanted to carry on that fun family tradition. When the girls suggested we do a haunted house, I was crazy enough to say yes.”
It’s a big project, but he says it does model dedication. “I want to teach them that if you work hard, you can enjoy fun things with your friends,” he says.