Winnetka Dads find time to stay connected
Tom Geraghty of the Threshers throw pitches for batting pratice.| Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 15, 2012 6:32AM
Winnetka fathers find many ways to be involved in their youngster’s lives.
For Stuart Lissner, coaching for the Kenilworth-Winnetka Baseball Association for the past 10 years has been gratifying on multiple levels.
“You learn how to work with other people, how to rely on other people, how to step up when it is your turn to help the team,” said Lissner, who has coached his own sons and scores of teammates during his 10 years as a volunteer with the league.
“There is a great sense of camaraderie in baseball because you need nine people to cover all the positions,” he said. “There is no way to succeed without everyone working together. You never know when it is your turn.”
That said, Lissner finds the best time for catching up with his own sons is over a more casual game of catch.
“Baseball has a lot of rules,” he noted. “When you are just playing catch with your son, it is just the two of you having fun and talking. That is the best opportunity to get to know each other and share experiences.”
As some Winnetka fathers pointed out heading into Father’s Day Sunday, sports have a way of building character and a resilience for handling whatever curveballs life throws one’s way.
“By teaching them baseball skills, they’re learning about winning and losing as well,” said Mark Myers, president of the league that involves about 700 families in Winnetka, Northfield, Kenilworth and Glencoe. Moreover, the outlet gives fathers who are working most of the time a chance to do something with their sons.
Fathers who feel a tinge of guilt that they aren’t more involved might take solace from the reflections of Tom Gullen, director of facilities with the Winnetka Park District and a coach with the Winnetka Hockey Club.
As a kid who played baseball and hockey at Jewett Park while growing up in Deerfield, Gullen wondered why his father would sit far away from the other parents, smoking a pipe and reading a newspaper. When Gullen asked his father why he didn’t sit with the other parents, his response was, “You’ll see.”
When Gullen was cut from the traveling baseball team for 12-year-olds and came home screaming over the injustice, Dad was equally nonchalant. “You don’t like it, then quit,” was the response.
When Gullen’s hockey career ended senior year of high school, his Dad came down to the basement to do some laundry while Gullen was packing away some equipment. “You know Tommy,” prefaced the late Bob Gullen, “You never loved playing on hockey teams as much as you loved playing at Jewett Park.”
“My Dad, in less then 20 words, pretty much told me everything a parent should do with their kid’s athletic careers: Be seen but not heard, stay out of the way of the coaches, even if you know they’re wrong, and play the game for the love of the game,” wrote Gullen in park district piece entitled, “Our Parents Were Revolutionaries: We Just Never Knew It!”
“I think our parents generation was more willing to let us fail, and they didn’t see that as a bad thing,” said Gullen this week. “They viewed failure and adversity as a learning tool and something you could benefit from.” Gullen has strived for that approach with his two daughters in their pursuits of golf and theater, respectively. “You are not going to win every game and tournament,” said Gullen. “You are not going to get every part.”
Of course, Winnetka fathers find many ways to support their children’s development other than sports. Nick Vagra is a leader of the Hubbard Woods-area Cub Scout Pack 21 and also participates in the YMCA Adventure Guides outings with his two daughters. “If I don’t have a Cub Scout campout, I’m at an Adventure Night camp with my daughters,” said Vagra, the father of 10-year-old twins Andrew and Nicole and 8-year-old Kaitlin. “It’s an opportunity to slow down and spend quality time with your kids, but in an environment that provides more of a wholesome, community-oriented approach.”
Vagra expects that his children’s evolving interests will dictate his future involvements as a parent volunteer.
“Unless it is skydiving,” Vagra quipped, adding, “I’m not going there.”