Fathers Know Best
By Virginia Butterfield
THIS MONTH, six San Diego fathers will receive Father of the Year awards for the active role they play in parenting, successfully balancing fatherhood with the demands of work and career. For its third annual San Diego presentation, the Father’s Day Council of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation selected the dads profiled here. They will be honored June 12 in a ceremony at the Marriott Hotel & Marina. Honored in previous years were such visible leaders as County Supervisor Ron Roberts, Children’s Hospital CEO Blair Sadler and San Diego City Manager Jack McGrory.
Money raised by the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation goes to diabetes research at centers around the world. This year, JDF International has awarded $23.6 million to diabetes research, bringing its cumulative support to $180 million. Juvenile diabetes (also called Type I diabetes), the more severe form of diabetes, can appear at any age, although it is most commonly diagnosed from infancy to the late thirties.
In addition to juggling the affairs of the second-largest university in California, SDSU President Thomas B. Day has had the pleasure of seeing six of his nine children admitted to his own halls of learning. How did the kids react to being related to the top man? “Everybody was different,” says Day. “Some made it clear that Dad was the president, but some denied me three times before the cock crowed.”
Most chose to live at home while in college, all earning their own tuition fees (waiting tables, short-order cooking). Day found it interesting to hear their opinions of the university at the dinner table.
Nine is a formidable number. How did he and Anne manage it? “Generally, you don’t; they manage you. The saying is: ‘You always must have one too many’—because if somebody stays overnight at a friend’s, the house is so peaceful.”
Day, who retires this month, has been concerned about the low scores received by new students on placement tests, particularly in elementary math and English. SDSU is mandated to take the upper third who graduate from California high schools, yet in the tests, says Day, half flunk. He has been working closely with local districts, “trying to find out where the disconnection is.” Tightening up—giving students only two semesters to measure up—may help. Having carried the warning personally into the 12 districts, he feels that “at least we now have their attention.”
UCSD’s Kurt Benirschke, who switched the focus of his career from human medicine (pathology) to animal reproduction (director of research, San Diego Zoo), is the father of three: former Chargers star Rolf, Steve in Seattle and Ingrid in New York. “A very nice family, and we’ve had a very nice life,” says Dad Benirschke.
The young Benirschkes grew up in the small Massachusetts town of Dartmouth, “a supportive situation,” says their father. Later, Rolf played soccer at La Jolla High. “We never had a TV until Rolf started playing [professional] football. The neighbors felt bad for the children.” What did the kids do to amuse themselves? “Reading, skiing, ice skating, tennis, community projects—and animals. They were never, ever bored. Believe me!”
“Dad has been a great father,” says Rolf. “He treated people the same, whether it was a dean or a janitor—with respect. He included us in the company of adults, which is how we learned to behave. He was a stickler for education, and hard work, and honesty. Not that he preached—it was just a reflection of his own life. More is caught than taught. He’s always been very stimulating to be around.”
Before primate research became such an organized science, Dr. Benirschke kept monkeys in the house. “They took over the whole cellar,” says Rolf, who still accompanies his father on expeditions—catching armadillos in Texas, for instance, or raising peccaries on their farm in Paraguay.
How did Kurt Benirschke happen to be nominated for Father of the Year? “Rolf must have talked to them,” says the good doctor. “Besides, I’m a really nice guy.”
Former San Diego Councilman William Jones grew up in the Skyline and Encanto neighborhoods. Now he heads up CityLink, a real estate company hoping to rescue another low-income neighborhood, City Heights, from poverty, crime and urban blight. But he’s care-ful not to tout his plan too much. “People who live in areas like City Heights so often have big dreams,” he says.
Not that big dreams are wrong. When he was deputy mayor of San Diego in 1987, Jones founded Project I Believe, a privately funded scholarship program for disadvantaged kids. To date, 31 of those children have made their way to such highly rated colleges as UCSD and Stanford.
In 1981, Jones got an early taste of fatherhood at its most demanding when he took on the role of single parent of his 8-year-old daughter. He is now married to Cheryl Sueing and is the father of three more, including a new baby.
Jones considers fatherhood one of the most important responsibilities any man can perform. “But it’s a heart-wrenching experience,” he says. “At the moment I have a teenager who is driving, a 10-year-old and a 5-month-old baby. It’s three very different experiences—simultaneously. But it’s fun, rewarding, hard work—and a labor of love.”
Ralph Pesqueira is on a mission to improve the quality of education for youngsters today. Although he attended local public schools, he chose to put his three daughters into private schools. Does he think kids are shortchanged at present in the K-12 public school system? “Think? I know it!” he storms. He blames the “touchy-feely get-along-with-everybody” modern focus for the neglect of basics, like reading and math. “If my 3- and 5-year-old granddaughters can read so well, why do we get high school graduates who can’t read at all?”
And Pesqueira is in a position to make a change. He has just been reappointed by the governor to a second term as trustee of the 22-campus California State University system. “People now know I’m frustrated,” he says. “If I’m passionate about one thing right now, it’s to start looking at the way we teach our teachers within this system.”
Pesqueira is president/owner of El Indio Mexican Restaurant & Catering, where his wife and two daughters work in the family business. “He teaches us by example,” says daughter Jennifer. “He tries to stay young at heart, but he’s such a hard worker and dedicated to everything he does. He takes responsibility for everything.”
Seven children, all by the same marriage and all at home. That’s how transactional business lawyer Tim Konold and his wife, Kathy, want it. Tim grew up in a family of seven children where “the problems were sure different, but the principles the same.” What principles? Strong, active parenting. Keeping in touch. Communication. And a tremendous time commitment.
For Konold, his law practice takes a backseat on weekends. And Monday night is family night; everybody takes part, from the 8-year-old to the 23-year-old. A short discussion on a family value (honesty, for example), with kids taking part, is followed by an activity. A Padres game, perhaps—or even a board game. What happens if somebody has other plans and misses? “We frown at them and let them go. If you get too rigid, you lose your purpose,” says Konold.
Every summer, this large Mormon family spends two weeks on a houseboat near the Utah border. Everybody brings a friend. “Last year, we had 25 for a week. It was great,” says Konold. Luckily, the houseboat is 70 feet long; it has four bedrooms, but most sleep on the upper deck. Says this committed father: “It’s the only thing we’ve found that both an 8-year-old and a 23-year-old will enjoy.”
JOHN ROBERT BEYSTER
John Robert Beyster came to San Diego 35 years ago to work for General Atomic. He is now head of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), the largest private employer in San Diego—with 20,000 employees nationwide.
What’s so unusual about Beyster’s firm? It’s owned by the employees. “He treats his employees as if they were his kids,” says a friend. “High expectancy, trust and passing on values. What you’d want to do for your family, he wants to do for his employees.”
“Bob’s very much a family-oriented man,” says his wife, Betty. “He instilled good values not by preaching but by example. Driving a certain ‘hot’ car, for instance, wouldn’t be important to him. He keeps a car 10 or 12 years—and it’s always American-made.” (Betty drives a Jaguar. “I was able to work it in for myself,” she confesses sheepishly. “But it’s 10 years old.”)
“Bob is bright, insightful, with a sense of humor,” says Charles Berwanger, chairman of the committee that made the Father of the Year selections. “He strives for excellence. He’s a stickler for professionalism.”
The Beysters’ two grown sons live in San Diego. Their daughter, with an M.B.A. from MIT, lives in the San Francisco area. “They’re all just great kids,” says their mother. “They’ve learned to be hard workers, like their father, by osmosis.”