Meet Some of Our Favorite Chicago Area Dads

As Father’s Day approaches, we’re recognizing men who are notable not only for the work they do in their day jobs, but also for the role they play at home as devoted dads. From a former president, to an emergency medicine physician to a college football coach, these  high achievers have thought a lot about what it means to be a good Dad. They share their favorite memories of being a Dad and lessons that their own fathers taught them. They also offer some helpful advice for fellow dads. Here they are in alphabetical order: 

Eddie Bocanegra 

Eddie Bocanegra chicago best dads 2021

Heartland Alliance | Senior Director of READI Chicago 

As a father of seven, Bocanegra has a stake in creating a safer world. He’s senior director of READI Chicago, an evidence-based and trauma-informed program seeking to reduce gun violence and promote safety and opportunity in Chicago.

Bocanegra is a pioneer in the field and brings years of experience in community-based organizations and programs created to address trauma and build resiliency among those most impacted by violence. Prior to joining Heartland Alliance in 2017, he was executive director for the YMCA of Chicago’s Youth Safety and Violence Protection program. He also worked as a violence interrupter for Chicago’s CeaseFire and was featured in the award-winning documentary “The Interrupters.

Spending time with his children, Salome, Meli, Vivi, Belen, Soledad, Eliseo, and Mikaela, doesn’t have to be anything too organized or structured.

“I have a 1968 Chevy Impala convertible, and my kids love going cruising,” he says. “One of my favorite memories is seeing three car seats lined up in back as we drive around listening to Chris Stapleton.”

With ample parenting experience, Bocanegra has advice for other fathers. “Model how to best treat your partner, tell your kids how much you love them and show it through words and affection,” he says. “And understand that, for children, the world is their home and it often feels huge. Do the best you can to make that world a space of love, affirmation and exploration.” 

Adam Carson

Adam Carson best chicago dads 2021

Social entrepreneur 

The midst of a pandemic might not seem like a good time to open a coffee shop, but it was perfect for Adam Carson, who’d spent his career in hospital and health administration and was looking to do something that would have greater impact and maybe even change the perception of a community.

Carson, and his wife, Nydia, opened Drip & Culture Co., a coffee shop and online retailer, six months ago. It is located inside Supermercado Gonzalez, a Waukegan grocery store which the couple took over operating from Nydia’s parents. Carson believes the coffee shop can bring people together and change perceptions about the city.

“Our mission is to create community in Waukegan, and help to rebrand it,” Carson says. “Waukegan gets a bad rap, but we’ve seen there are so many talented people in the community that don’t have a platform to showcase their talent.”

The coffee shop provides a place for artists to display their work and for the community to gather. They might even find a pint-sized server helping out. That would be Carson’s daughter, Gemma, 2. “She loves to serve coffee and hang out,” he said.

He adds that despite a busy schedule as a small business owner, he makes time to spend with her, to be intentional about it and to be emotionally available to her. “I really focus on being present,” he says. 

Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper chicago best dads 2021
Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Grammy-winning Hip Hop Artist 

Born Chancelor Johnathan Bennett in 1994 on Chicago’s South Side, Chance the Rapper has achieved fame as a Grammy-winning musician and as a vocal supporter of public schools.

A graduate of the Chicago Public Schools, the hip hop artist donated $1 million to the school system in 2017. He followed that up with another $2.2 million donation to supports arts programs and facilities in the schools. Those donations fueled the start of his non-profit SocialWorks that empowers youth through the arts and civic engagement.

Today, the website claims $5.1 million in donations which have helped 51 schools. Chance is the father of two young daughters, Kensli, who was 5 in 2020, and Marli, who was 1. He canceled a tour in 2019 to take parental leave after his youngest daughter was born.

He recently spoke with about how he handled the challenges of parenting during the Covid-19 pandemic and in a time of social unrest. “My kids are young. Mainly, we’ve been teaching Kensli to love herself, to understand that her opinion is important, to understand that Black is beautiful and that Black power is her superpower. Marli, I’ve just been trying to teach her how to walk,” he said.

Pat Fitzgerald

Pat Fitzgerald best chicago dads 2021
Photo courtesy of Pro Football Network

Football Coach, Northwestern University

Orland Park native Fitzgerald broke his left leg and missed the 1996 Rose Bowl, but that’s just a blip — admittedly a painful one — on his road to success. The Hall-of-Fame linebacker for the Northwestern Wildcats went on to become coach of the team and is the second-longest tenured Big Ten head coach. He is credited with building the football program into a consistent winner, and has accomplished that while, along with his wife, Stacy, performing the even more important job of raising three sons: Jack, 16, Ryan, 15, and Brendan,12.

Fitzgerald says he wouldn’t be where he is today without the backing of his own father, Pat Fitzgerald, who motivated him in youth football, advised him on choosing a high school, and helped him navigate the challenges of college recruiting.

Fitzgerald told the Chicago Tribune in 2006 that even during his days playing youth football for the Orland Park Pioneers, his father taught him about determination. Fitzgerald recalled one game when “I was playing safety and I ran up into the line and pulled both of my quads. [My dad] asked me if I was hurt and I think I said, `I don’t know.’ He said, `Get up.’ It was my first lesson.”

Felix Huang

Dr. Felix Huang chicago best dads 2021

Emergency Room Physician 

As the father of Juniper (Juno, for short), Huang is the newest dad on our list. He’s a busy emergency medicine physician for Advocate Medical Group in Chicago, but he’s already making memories with his little one who goes by the pronoun they. Just weeks into fatherhood, Huang, and his husband, Josh, are enjoying creating special memories including simply “holding they for the first time,” he says.

Huang has discovered that being a parent is not without its challenges, but he embraces those. “Watching them grow, develop and become more aware and active brings us so much joy,” he says. “It’s also rewarding to be able to satisfy their needs, encourage their curiosity, and surround them with love from our friends and family.”

His advice to prospective parents is to simply enjoy it. “As a father of a newborn, there is no dull moment — while they sleep, feed and look around, they are undergoing the most rapid development and every moment is worth being present,” he says.

When not practicing and teaching medicine, Huang chairs the board for The Inclusive Collective, a college ministry based out of the University of Illinois at Chicago. He also enjoys playing badminton and volleyball on the beach and is excited to introduce Juno to these activities. 

Barack Obama 

Obama chicago best dads 2021
Photo by Pete Souza

Former President of the United States 

There may be no more high profile father than a former president of the United States. Obama, who started his career as a community organizer in Chicago, was our country’s 44th president and its first African American president.

Obama is the father of Sasha, 19, and Malia, 22, who grew under the spotlight of the White House. Obama has spoken frequently about what being a good father means. In a Father’s Day speech at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago in 2008, he said, “Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.” 

Oscar Munoz 

Oscar Munoz chicago best dads 2021

Executive Chairman of United Airlines Holdings

As the executive chairman of the board of directors of a major airline with tens of thousands of employees, and which flies millions of passengers a year, Munoz, who was CEO until 2020, has risen to the heights of the business world.

But the road to success and balancing the demands of being a father to four children hasn’t always been easy. Munoz talked with Dad.CEO, about how he made both his work and being a father a priority. 

“As a Dad who is a CEO, you really have two families, one at work and one at home, and it can be a delicate balance between them,” he said. “It’s something that I spend a lot of time thinking about, and I always make sure that I can make time for my children when they need me. Regardless of what’s going on at work, they know that if they need me they can always talk to me and get ahold of me.” 

He said there may be times when a parent misses a baseball game or recital, but it is important to make sure children understand their father is there for them when needed.

Being a father helped him understand the challenges other parents face, he said.

Munoz suffered a heart attack in 2015 and underwent a heart transplant. He recalled that his children were there to support him during that difficult time. When he was in intensive care, his children dressed in funny costumes, recorded videos of themselves playing music and made parodies. They also brought him good wishes from United employees.

“Just watching them (his children) band together, it’s funny and memorable, but the fact that they all did that of their own volition, as well as how they read those letters from our employees at United every day was simply incredible. It became a true moment of strength, support and perseverance, and family.”

Juan Salgado

Juan Salgado best chicago dads 2021

City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor 

As City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor, Salgado is focused on removing barriers to college access, strengthening program quality, and enhancing student supports to support upward mobility. Overseeing the college system that serves 70,000 students across seven colleges is the latest step in a career devoted to improving education and economic opportunities for residents in low-income communities.

Previously, Salgado was CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino, where he worked to empower residents of Chicago’s Southwest Side through education, citizenship, and skill-building programs that led to sustainable employment and economic stability. Salgado’s work was recognized in 2015 when he was named a MacArthur Fellow.

Besides helping thousands of young people climb the ladder of success, Salgado is father of three children, a girl and two boys, ages 15, 13, and 10.

“I love one-on-one time with each of my children,” he says. “Each one has something special he or she likes to do and that quality time is so important. Watching my daughter’s favorite shows, playing basketball and jumping on the trampoline keep me young in spirit.” 

His advice for other parents? “Cherish every minute — it goes so fast.”  

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AnneMarie Mannion, freelance writer

Annemarie Mannion is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Chicago Tribune. She earned a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and a degree in English Literature from St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. She is especially passionate about covering nonprofits. Whether writing about work to reduce the harmful effects of bright lights on sea turtles or covering volunteers’ efforts to address the health care needs of children in Guatemala, she loves spreading the word about initiatives that have the potential to change the world for the better.