by Rick Gonzalez
One of the things I am most proud of in my life is fulfilling the role of a father. This is not an easy task in this day and age where everything seems to be upside down. I have been self-employed as an architect since I was 27 years old. My father and I started our architecture firm, REG Architects in 1988 in downtown West Palm Beach, and worked together until he retired. I weathered different storms in my practice. However, through the years, it has grown with a total of 20 staff.
Family as the first priority
I feel blessed to have the kind of flexibility in my work despite the demand that it entails. Even though my work can be very time consuming and stressful, my 4 children have always been my priority. When they were young, I made sure to spend time with them, going to school and sports activities, boating, swimming, hiking, and movies. I fondly remember to this day taking them for confession on a Saturday afternoon and then rewarding them with a hike, ice cream or movies, afterward.
Grown-ups need Fathers too
I have two boys and two girls. My children are now 27, 25, 21, and 19; and are living on their own. Children need their fathers not only when they are young but also when they grow into young adults and beyond. I think this is even more important today than in the past.
My father has always been my role model and mentor in my professional and personal life. I remember he would always find time to talk to us and enjoy the great outdoors of Costa Rica, where I finished high school in the 1970s. My father, a devout Catholic, was a quiet man, filled with faith. He is affectionate, caring, and giving. He always finds time to be with us even up to this day. These are the traits that I would follow, and wanted to impress upon my children.
Life is not perfect
Our life had its difficulties as several years ago, I lost my wife through a divorce and pursued an annulment. We continued to be friends and support each other and our children in new ways. We still have strong relationships with our children, even if the circumstance keep us physically separated from each other.
The Lord has given me the chance to meet my wife, a wonderful woman from Colombia who is a devout Catholic and has been a great spiritual stepmother to my 4 children. She also has helped me become a better person.
In the last 4 years, I made it a point to get together every summer with my children and explore exciting natural and historic places in Florida. This has been very helpful in creating a nurturing relationship with their stepmother and solidifying my relationship with them. We would always find time for Sunday Mass, just like my father did with us when we were young and on vacation. Dads can have a profound influence on their children’s faith and values through consistent and constant communication, and by taking time to listen to what matters in their lives.
For the boys only!
I have also spent time in a natural setting with my 2 boys every year for the last 18 years! We go to North Carolina, usually in the Smokies region. Boys are often introverted creatures when it comes to sharing the details of their lives. I try to provide alone time with each one of them where we can talk, and genuinely listen without distractions. Then we camp, go rafting, hiking, swimming, cook, make outdoor fires, and enjoy each other’s companies.
Several years ago, my brother in law joined us with his boys. The camping that started 18 years ago with my oldest, a cousin and me now include an uncle, 5 cousins and 3 friends. Time has flown by. We were worried that our “for the boys” annual event would not happen this year because of the coronavirus and the protests. But we did some little changes with our plans and it turned out successful. Unlike the previous years where we would go to Mass in two beautiful historic churches in Cherokee and Bryson City, this time, we participated with Masses at our camps through live-streaming.
Young men need their fathers in their lives. So do young women. But I wanted my boys to have a clearer understanding about the significance of fatherhood, and life in general. God allows challenging situations in front of us not to make our lives more difficult, but to make us stronger. I am grateful for my trips with my family over the years.
Fathers can help change the world
Our world may be upside down. We may be filled with different uncertainties in life. But as fathers, we can indeed change this world. We have to believe that we can, and with the grace of God, go do it! The memory of place and memory of family is and always will be very strong, until the day we die. We look back at our fond memories, not what is or was in our bank accounts.
In closing, I hope fathers can keep doing things like my father used to do, and like I now try to do. Even with our imperfections, we teach and impress upon our children the importance of a father who listens. Fatherhood is a gift from God, a privilege and a responsibility. I am not perfect as a father, but I believe that I am a better person because I take being a dad with a strong sense of friendship and responsibility.