If 2020 were a normal year, Derek Falvey knows exactly where he would have been on Sunday for Father’s Day: Target Field.
The Twins would be wrapping up a four-game series with the Yankees, and Falvey, the organization’s president of baseball operations, would be putting in a long day at the ballpark.
This is not, of course, a normal year. And Falvey is pretty sure where he will be instead on Sunday: Exploring a Twin Cities park or trail and having a picnic with wife Meghan, son Jack (4) and daughter Brynn (1).
Coronavirus has put a lot of what we take for granted on pause, including major U.S. sports since the middle of March. While it’s hard to find silver linings in the midst of a global health pandemic, Falvey is just one of several highly visible Minnesota sports figures determined to make the most of another aspect of their lives during this unique, challenging time: being a dad to children still in their formative years.
Players, coaches and sports executives normally wired for the long hours demanded by their hypercompetitive careers have scaled back both intentionally and out of necessity to achieve a better work-life balance — sometimes, quite literally, as their kids suddenly burst into the room during Zoom calls.
The consensus among them: Even as dedicated dads before, they have seen these past few months as an opportunity to grow.
“I think the best way to phrase it is that I’m a more present dad,” said Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who along with wife Jordan has twin 3-year-old daughters, Andersyn and Finley, and 1-year-old son Henry. “It’s an incredibly unique opportunity to spend the amount of time together that we’ll never have again. For my wife and I, for the kids. We’ll never be in this same situation again.”
Making the most of this time
Former Gophers and NFL receiver Ron Johnson and his wife, Shani Marks Johnson — a former Gophers track and field star who competed in the triple jump at the 2008 Beijing Olympics — pride themselves on having a close family and involved parents to Kamryn, 9, and Quinn, 5.
They perhaps made the stay-at-home transition as seamless as possible, with Marks Johnson using her skills as a substitute teacher to educate the girls while Johnson toggled between Zoom calls and family time at their Chanhassen home.
The closeness combined with extra time together in recent months has allowed them to help foster the charitable and entrepreneurial spirit of Kamryn, who along with a group of friends has gained nationwide attention for starting Bracelets for Unity and Justice — an endeavor that has raised nearly $100,000 for relief efforts in Minneapolis in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
“It’s been great for our neighborhood and families in our neighborhood to be able to learn and have the ability to come talk to us and strike up a conversation about everything that’s been going on,” said Johnson, who was out Thursday in Plymouth with Kamryn helping sell the handmade bracelets.
That spirit is echoed by Gersson Rosas, Timberwolves president of basketball operations.
The Wolves’ season ended abruptly March 11 when the NBA shut down. It was barely a month after Rosas had made a flurry of trades to reshape the roster, and it was less than a year into his tenure with the organization. But instead of worrying about what was lost, Rosas set about trying to determine what could be gained.
Some of it revolved around new processes to keep the Wolves moving forward. But much of it had to do with what Rosas called “the most rewarding part of this time period”: slowing down, putting down stronger roots in Minnesota and getting to see the daily, up-close development of his twin 4-year-olds, Grayson and Giana.
Rosas realized how much time he typically spends on the road when Grayson complained that Dad is always “in his spot” now when he tries to sneak into his parents’ bed at night.
“I constantly push our organization and staff — whether we’re talking about COVID, the tragedy of George Floyd or anything else — to turn negatives into positives and find silver linings,” Rosas said. “If I’m preaching that to our staff, I have to own it at home, too.”
He’s watched his son get interested in sports and heard his daughter ask questions about his job. Rosas has appreciated how effortlessly his wife, Susana, handles many of the tasks that are now divided more equally.
A survey in the midst of the pandemic of 1,060 parents revealed that nearly half of all dads reported spending more time on housework and taking care of young children than they did previously. Past research also suggests that at least some of that shift in responsibility could become permanent.
“Knowing I have a regular responsibility to help, even with meetings, work, everything going on, you really put into perspective what’s valuable,” Rosas said. “I’ll take this experience as something that changed my relationship with my kids.”
He and Ryan Saunders talk about fatherhood often, with Rosas providing counsel to Saunders — who became a dad last June, right around the time Rosas removed the interim label and hired him as Wolves head coach.
Saunders is on morning duty with his son, Lucas, who just turned 1 and is an early riser like his dad. They go for a walk in the morning, and they play basketball on a newly installed driveway hoop in the evening as Saunders and his wife, Hayley, the managing editor and associate publisher at Artful Living Magazine, juggle their work responsibilities.
Saunders misses coaching, game-planning and the thrill that comes from competition. But he didn’t miss some pretty big milestones.
“He’s used to having two parents home now,” Saunders said. “The fact that I’m getting to spend time with Lucas, being home for his first steps, for his first words, is pretty special.”
All you can do is laugh
Richard Pitino’s Gophers men’s basketball team was in the midst of the Big Ten tournament when play was halted and the season was ultimately canceled.
He went from hoping his team could string enough wins together to grab an NCAA tournament bid to trying to figure out how to communicate with his returning players and recruit in the midst of a pandemic — all while sharing with his wife, Jill, distance learning duties and other new responsibilities for Ava (9), Jack (6) and Zoe (3).
It hasn’t all been perfect, but even the imperfections — Pitino’s family bought him Father’s Day balloons last Sunday, mistakenly thinking that was his big day — make you smile.
Pitino estimates that at least one of his kids has made an impromptu appearance on a video call “75 percent of the time,” and that he’s found that “whenever I get a phone call, the children just gravitate toward my voice.” He jokes that if he has a really important video call, he’ll at least make sure all the kids are wearing clothes.
But he also takes his role as a dad seriously.
“If you’re lazy as a father, your kids are going to be lazy. If you’re not on top of their habits, it’s going to affect their personality and development. So you’d better be invested,” Pitino said. “We’re all they have right now. Their health, their safety, their maturity, all of it is in your hands, your wife’s hands. It’s been fun, but it’s been eye-opening.”
Rudolph can relate to the “video bombs.” It’s been a regular occurrence from his three kids — both during the Vikings’ virtual offseason program and as he’s started taking online summer classes at Notre Dame.
“ ‘Daddy, why are you in school?’ ” Rudolph said, imitating his daughters. “They want to walk up and see the professor lecture. Henry would walk up during virtual meetings and just pop in. If it was a regular offseason, I’d be at work all day and not see that. It’s fun to see the chaos.”
Shortly after spring training was halted, and before everyone became Zoom experts, Falvey recalls being on a video call with executives from every other team in baseball and trying to navigate the mute button and turning his screen off after his son walked into the room and his daughter woke up from a nap.
“I thought, ‘This is a little different,’ ” Falvey said. “I know I have a lot of balls to juggle from time to time at work, but to have the kids and call going at the same time was something I hadn’t expected.”
Now it’s just the new reality. A Twins season that would be close to half over hasn’t even started, and a home run counter that reached an MLB-record 307 last season is stuck on zero Bombas.
There’s nothing Falvey can do about that. He could check in with fellow executives (or scroll Twitter, as he often does) to find out the latest on baseball’s return-to-play status. He could imagine what a packed Target Field might have looked like this weekend for a huge series against the Yankees.
Or, like so many of his peers in sports, he can find joy in being a dad.
“I try to have balance, but I know our jobs are difficult and we’re usually going full speed ahead,” Falvey said. “But I feel like I’ve deepened my relationship with my kids and my wife during the course of this time in a way that I will always appreciate. There’s uniqueness and challenges in this time, but that part I wouldn’t trade for anything.”