Four for Father's Day 1

As both fathers and professionals, these Fort Worth men set a new standard for success.

Novelist Michael Chabon, a father of four, has written that “a father is a man who fails every day.” Chabon’s sentiment — that great fathers always strive to do better — certainly holds true; but to observers, fathers who balance their careers against the needs of their children appear as laudable successes. It’s easy for a man to convince himself that the 80-hour weeks are for the good of his children. In reality, children best remember not the expensive toys or material comforts, but the sight of their fathers in the bleachers, or in the first row of the recital; they remember the time spent together in the backyard, not the gifts opened in the absence of a giver.

In honor of Father’s Day, we’ve identified four Fort Worth fathers who exemplify achievement as both parents and professionals. Each of these men found different pathways to success, yet all have reached the very pinnacle of their professions. At the same time, each of these men consider their careers as secondary to a more important role: that of father to their children.

The Strategist

For his clients, John Pritchett brings over two decades of experience that includes work at the highest levels of political campaigns. By his own admission, the financial incentives for John to stay engaged in Washington D.C. or Austin were considerable; not nearly enough, however, as compared to the rewards of fatherhood.

“It was an easy decision to make,” says John of his settling down in Fort Worth. “I get to see my kids everyday, know them as people and see them grow. I take fatherhood very seriously.”

John began his career in the service of then-Governor George Bush, with whom he continued to work at the national level through two successful presidential campaigns. When it came time to choose where to raise his kids, however, Washington was never an option.

“My family has deep ties to Fort Worth, back to the 1880s,” says John. “The houses and buildings might be gone, but I know where so-and-so lived, and how they helped my grandparents. I want my children to have a sense of place and stewardship, and to teach them to love the little things.”

Today, the little things include Grimm fairytales and regular trips to the museum. As an absentee father, John knows he wouldn’t have been able to offer what his own parents gave to him.

“I grew up in a family with very engaged parents, and I want my children to appreciate home life,” says John. “Not the over-scheduled, regimented kind, but one of faith, wonder and joy.”

The Chef

The restaurant business can present a recipe for disaster when combined with the demands of fatherhood. It’s all the more impressive, then, that one of Fort Worth’s most prominent restauranteurs, Jon Bonnell, is also an exceptionally dedicated father. It doesn’t come easy, however, due to the unique demands of the kitchen.

“In the restaurant business, you spend all your time working,” says Jon. “And it’s the opposite hours of everyone else. The typical schedule is from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and if you keep that schedule you can’t get to know your kids.”

In order to swap the chef’s hat for that of a dedicated father, Jon had to make some creative adjustments.

“Having kids changed the way I work,” he explains. “I’m still at the restaurant, but I’m conscious to take time to spend with my children. I’m a morning person, so I’m the one that gets them breakfast and gets them to school.”

Having a daily breakfast prepared by the chef of Water’s and Bonnell’s restaurants is a substantial perk for Jon’s children, ages 7 and 4. Chances are, though, they appreciate less Jon’s impressive pedigree, and more the attention they get from their dad. Finding the time might be a weekly challenge, but it’s one than Jon gratefully accepts.

“You always have time for the things you put first,” he says. “I work very hard, but that’s part of the lesson I want to teach: working hard is a good thing, and has value in and of itself.”

The Artist

James Hinkle’s career in music has seen him travel the world and share stages with the likes of John Lee Hooker and Delbert McClinton. Lately, though, James has dedicated more time to a different passion: the visual arts. It should come as no surprise that this career artist should change gears; after all, it’s not the first time. The birth of his children, now aged 28 and 14, wrought a sea-change in the guitarist’s habits.

“When I became a father, I came off the road,” says James. “I didn’t go out and pursue touring as much, and I decided I wanted to stay closer at home.”

Since he’s picked up the paintbrush, James hews closer to home than ever before. Much of James’s art reflects the world of his experience: a life in Texas and the community of music. With James, you won’t find the insularity that many people associate with professional artists.

“The world opened up for me with the birth of my children,” says James. “Your extended family and friends become so important to you. It really threw into relief the importance of community.”

As for the impact of fatherhood, James’s insights follow a similar theme:

“Fatherhood brings out a connection to the rest of humanity,” says James. “You start to look at people differently, namely with more patience. In the music business, you develop a hard edge. My children made me realize that there was a different way to live.”

The Leader

Zim Zimmerman has lived an all-American success story. A 34-year career in the defense industry included stints as a test pilot and ended with the position of vice president of product support at Lockheed Martin. Rather than rest quietly in his retirement, however, Zim has chosen to serve the city he has lived in for nearly 50 years. In 2009, he won election to the Fort Worth City Council. The father of adult children aged 45 and 46, Zim offers the perspective of decades in his advice for young fathers.

“As a parent, you walk a fine line between being a dictator and being benevolent,” says Zim. “You’ve got to recognize that sometimes you need to offer tough love, and sometimes you need to honor your children and just help them.”

Though Zim’s career saw him frequently on the road, he recognized early on the importance of attentiveness for successful parenting. His time at home was singularly focused on his sons, and saw the test pilot coaching soccer and leading Boy Scout troops. Activities such as these also provided the opportunity for some important lessons.

“It was important to me that the boys were Scouts,” he says. “You want your children to prosper and do well in their lives, and Scouting helped teach the right set of values. I’m very proud of the fact that both of my sons made Eagle Scout.”

Decades after the fact, a father still gushes over his children’s success. Perhaps more than anything else, this simple, natural pride reflects everything you need to know about what makes a great dad.