In Buckhead, the delicate dance of juggling work and family is expertly performed by dedicated dads—family men with demanding careers as executives, entrepreneurs and professional athletes who toil for long hours to be successful without losing ground as caring fathers. One plays professional basketball. Another sells sports apparel.
No matter the day job, these career dads who live or work in Buckhead understand what is important in life. They value family and take pride in the responsibilities of fatherhood. They love their kids and careers. Here is how they get the job done.
STORY: D. Aileen Dodd | PHOTOS: Sara Hanna
Spending quality time—not money—is essential to good parenting
Occupation: Atlanta Hawks player
Kids: Xylah, 10; Yani, 9; Palur, 19 months; and infant son, Porter
A day at the office for NBA All-Star and Buckhead resident Paul Milsap finds the Hawks forward slam-dunking a basketball in the face of his opponent and signing autographs in a huddle of adoring fans. Millsap works overtime to perfect his shots. He has built an impressive game day record of 18 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists. And he is just as deliberate about building his record as a caring dad.
“Everyone around me knows I’m a workaholic,” Millsap says. “You want to be the best at what you do. I also want to be the best at being a father.”
Millsap admits that the demanding travel schedule of an NBA player can make it “tough” to be present for every milestone and class play. But he never wants his four kids to see him as a part-time dad because of his career choice. That’s why Millsap returns home as often as he can between games to be present at family dinners and to help his kids with homework.
“In the NBA, a lot of fathers throw money at their kids, but nothing can pay for the time that you spend with them,” Millsap says. “You have to be there for your kids. You have to make sacrifices.”
Instead of living the fast life of a star athlete, Millsap takes his kids to Sky Zone and the playground at Chastain Park. He supports their interests in piano and soccer.
Making sacrifices is part of good parenting, he says. Millsap watched his single mom do it for years. “She had four boys to care for, so she sacrificed her downtime to work and make ends meet,” he remembers. “I want to sacrifice everything else just to get time back with my kids.”
For Millsap, “coming home to see the smiles on their faces” is the best part of fatherhood. His fiancée takes care of the family while he is away. The most challenging part is trying to teach his kids important life lessons when he has limited time and must leave home again. “It’s kind of tough to instill principles, but you have to find some way to do that,” he says. “I want them to succeed in life. Calling helps a lot.”
MILLSAP ON FATHERHOOD:
A father is … a child’s everything. He is a man who
takes care of his kids. He’s the foundation of a family.
What is the one thing your parents used to say to you as a kid that you now hear yourself saying? This is going to hurt me as much as it’s going to hurt you. It is something I say when I have to discipline my kids by taking away something from them.
Favorite retro TV dad: Bill Cosby of “The Cosby Show.” I really liked the relationship he had with his kids. I loved his philosophy on parenting.
What is the most important lesson a father should teach his kids? To love each other
and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Love and leadership set the stage for lasting relationships with kids
Occupation: Executive Vice President, Buckhead Coalition
Kids: Bryson, 27, and Travis, 26
From his window seat at the Buckhead Club, Garth Peters, in a steel gray suit, sips coffee as he eyes the skyline of towering office buildings, chic hotels, eclectic shops and bistros below like a proud father. Last year, he won the Buckhead Business Association’s “Bullish on Buckhead” Award for his dedication to the responsible development of our affluent intown community.
Peters loves Buckhead. But what he is really “bullish” for is his family. Twice a week, he has family dinners with his wife of 30 years, Lori, and their two grown sons. They eat home cooking, settle down to watch some TV, talk or not talk— just as long as they are together on Sundays and Wednesdays.
And when he sees his sons, he gives them bear hugs. Peters is a firm believer in showing children love no matter how old they are. “I’m a hugger,” says Peters, a longtime Buckhead resident who works as executive vice president of the Buckhead Coalition. “I always thought that showing affection to your children was a positive, nurturing thing to do. It has been part of our routine from the first hug at the delivery table through today.”
For Peters, balancing work and family takes discipline and commitment. He learned the importance of setting priorities and living by his word while serving in a military regiment in Bermuda. Peters leads by example. So when he made a commitment to be there for dinner or an outing for his kids, he was there.
“It was important to me to plan my schedule around special events,” says Peters, the former senior executive officer in North America for the Ministry of Tourism and Trade in Bermuda “There were occasions where I would fly out for work on Monday and fly back the next day to meet my family at the Center for Puppetry Arts … attend a recital or baseball game.”
Peters wanted his sons to feel like he was there for them even when he had to leave the country. He supported their interests and set clear rules. And if they didn’t follow house rules, Peters doled out consequences by taking away privileges. “Kids actually feel safer with rules that are firm, not inconsistent and confusing,” he says.
Peters’ trust in his sons created a close bond. They knew they could come to him if they
had a problem at school, wanted a ride home from a late night party, or needed help in overcoming peer pressure. Like always, Peters would analyze their problem, present clear options, and allow them to make the right decision. “During those reflective moments, they start to see the world and the consequences of their decisions more clearly,” Peters says.
When Bryson and Travis played in a rock band, he stepped up to be their road manager. (Bryson is an engineer at Deloitte. Travis works in consulting at the same firm.)
“I would take off my jacket and tie and
come home and put on the black shirt and pants of a roadie,” he says. “The boys would open
for bands in some large clubs. I would drive all of the equipment to the venue.”
Peters is looking forward to the new family traditions that will occur when his sons have wives and children.
“Life is about change,” Peters says. “I am looking forward to grandchildren.”
PETERS ON FATHERHOOD:
A father is … always there for his children.
Best advice I’ve ever received about fatherhood: If you add a little to a little, and then do it again, soon that little shall be much (Greek poet Hesiod).
What is the one thing your parents used to say to you as a kid that you now hear yourself saying? Remember, you represent the family!
Favorite retro TV dad: John Sr. of “The Waltons.” The show was set in the Roosevelt/Truman era. It featured good family values, hard work and hospitality shared
with others. There was always
a reassuring “Good night” after every show, offering a sense that tomorrow will be a good day.
What is the most important lesson a father should teach his kids? Be a parent and a mentor. Don’t compete to be one of their friends. Participate in their lives. Listen when they’re ready to speak. Create a safe environment at home, a refuge they can go to when all else seems out of place. Lead by example. Encourage caring for others and, mostly, tell them you love them often.
Being a good role model is key to raising successful kids
Occupation: President of Maple Street Guitars
Kids: Lindsay, 34; stepchildren Justin Brent, 46, Lara Brent, 47
George Petsch spends his days surrounded by some of the finest handcrafted guitars. He is living his dream as a musician and entrepreneur. For 40 years, he’s played classical guitar entertaining friends, teaching students, and in the early years, elegantly strumming sonatas for paying audiences during gigs. But Petsch’s most harmonious work is performed without strings or notes.
It’s the harmony of family unity Petsch is building with his wife of 38 years, Claire, and their son, Lindsay, as they run a family business. Maple Street Guitars, which opened in 1981, is their Buckhead home away from home, which makes it easy for Petsch to balance work and family time. Petsch’s stepson, Justin Brent, and two grandkids live in South Carolina. His stepdaughter, Lara Brent, lives in Atlanta.
Lindsay Petsch, 34, manages the store. George teaches one day a week and helps customers. Claire helps with administrative duties.
“Like most family businesses, the success is the family bond,” George says. “You have a shared stake. It so happens that we al have worked well together. We get along and it’s great”
Petsch has set some rules that keep his family life and business life in perfect harmony. “We don’t argue about money,” Petsch says. He tries to keep shoptalk to a minimum when he’s at home. (He does website work for the shop while at home, though.) “Our work is kind of our life.”
When Lindsay was growing up, there was more of a separation between work and family time. George and Claire took turns staying at home and taking their son to activities. Lindsay sang with the Atlanta Boy Choir at age 6. He later played guitar for enjoyment and followed his dad into the family business.
“He grew up around the shop,” Petsch says. “My dad didn’t know what to make of me taking up classical guitar and going back to school to study music when I was at age 20.”
Petsch says he learned how to be a good father by watching his own dad support him and show him unconditional love. “I was fortunate to have a positive role model.”
PETSCH ON FATHERHOOD:
A father is … a provider, a teacher, and in the
best cases a role model.
The best thing about being a dad: You have the opportunity to witness the growth and development of a unique individual and at the same time you are in a position to influence and share in that maturation process. You show the better part of yourself to the child. It’s good for both parties.
Favorite retro TV dad: I didn’t watch much TV. I was too busy developing my guitar playing skills.
What is the most important lesson a father should teach his kids? Your actions define your character. Learning to make good choices is one of the most important things in life.
Parenting is no ‘perfect’ science for this single dad
Occupation: Owner/CEO DEKA
Kids: Parker, 17; Chase, 16; twins Blake and Julia, 12
On some days, Jim Whitlow is pulled in a dozen different directions. The athletic single father of four juggles the schedules of his busy kids while he runs a thriving women’s apparel store in the shadow of Lenox Square Mall. He waits on customers. He orders inventory. He oversees operations and plots an expansion. Next year, Whitlow will open a satellite location—about 800 miles away in New York City.
Whitlow is both provider and nurturer to his kids. He makes sacrifices to keep his family and business going, but he also is sure to make room for himself. To outsiders, Whitlow’s juggling act of balancing work and family may seem like second nature, but he readily admits he’s no expert.
“Some of my customers who are single mothers come to me and ask, ‘How do you do it? How do you juggle it all?’” says Whitlow, while working at his Buckhead shop under the soft light of crystal chandeliers. “I wear so many different hats. I know that I can’t do everything and be every place. At the end of the day, if you allow yourself to know that you don’t have to be perfect, there is some relief in that
Whitlow’s oldest children, Parker and Chase, help with the grind of the day from shuttling the youngest kids off to school and sports practices to taking shifts at the store. They are in awe of their dad’s ability to do so much.
“My dad is amazing,” Parker says. “I have learned a lot about juggling by watching him do it. I’m a straight-A student and I direct a play. We don’t get to see each other as much, but when we do spend time together it’s really valuable.”
Whitlow allows his kids to be independent. They help with cooking and chores. He gives them space to grow and learn from their mistakes. “I don’t sweat the small stuff,” Whitlow says. “If they make mistakes, they are human. I am a firm believer in not hovering over them.”
It’s how he makes his schedule work and finds time to exercise in the gym, jog and have dinners with friends.
The best thing about being a dad for Whitlow is “watching the hard work and sacrifice pay off in just all-around happy and well-adjusted kids.”
WHITLOW ON FATHERHOOD:
A father is … the rock in his children’s lives and accepts them and supports them with whatever they do.
What is the one thing your parents used to say to you as a kid that you now hear yourself saying? Don’t go to bed with dishes in the sink!
Favorite retro TV dad: Bill Cosby. I liked the way he used humor in parenting. He was really fun, but strict.
What is the most important lesson a father should teach his kids? Forgiveness. It will eat you away if you don’t learn to forgive and let go of the hurt. It can get in the way of everyone’s happiness. Live with no regrets.
Real estate exec is parent and friend to his kids
Occupation: Vice President of Development and Acquisitions, Selig Enterprises
Kids: Sam, 12, and Cooper, 14
Scott Selig, a vice president at Selig Enterprises, sits in his new office wearing a summer gray pinstriped suit and pink shirt custom- tailored to fit like a glove. His skin is tan. His hair is enthusiastically moussed. He is mulling over décor that will bring energy to an executive suite with a view of downtown and Ralph Lauren blue walls.
Some of the first things Selig plans to move into his new workspace are giant pictures of his sons, Cooper, 14, and Sam, 12. The proud single dad wants his sons to see themselves represented in the family real estate development business just in case they decide to work in the executive office someday.
For Selig, work and family are intertwined. Selig works with his dad, Steve Selig, who served as a former deputy assistant to President Jimmy Carter. The elder Selig is president and chairman of the board of Selig Enterprises, a firm founded in 1918 that has helped to build multi-million-dollar retail, industrial and office complexes in metro Atlanta.
“I am blessed that I work for my family,” Selig says. “We have a philosophy that family comes first.”
Selig says he has the flexibility to schedule his business appointments around his son’s cross country meets, soccer games and social schedules. He is a self-proclaimed “soccer dad.”
“When I yell, I know what I’m talking about,” he says. “I played the game all my life”
When he is not cheering on his sons, Selig loves to travel with them and go to “random” festivals. He wants his sons to see him as a father and a friend. “We go to folk art shows, RV festivals and boat shows even though we don’t have a boat or an RV.”
Selig also teaches his sons about their family legacy: “My dad is a great speaker with a lot of amazing lessons. One thing he always talks about is that he recognizes that he is very fortunate and has been given a life that probably no one deserves to have. He realizes he was born on second base. He says, however, ‘I am smart enough to know that I could be thrown out stealing third.’”
Scott Selig explains to his sons that money doesn’t make the man. “It’s okay to be successful and to enjoy the fruits of that success, but it doesn’t make you better than anyone else.”
Selig teaches his sons to be charitable. He takes them with him when he volunteers in the community. Selig is a founding board member of Ron Clark Academy, a private school serving an urban population in Atlanta, and a member of the Buckhead Coalition.
The best thing about being a father, says Selig, is “knowing you had a direct hand in watching your children grow. You get to relive life through the eyes of a child.”
SELIG ON FATHERHOOD:
A father is … One who guides his children down a path, but doesn’t necessarily take their hand and have them follow down that path. He gives them the freedom and flexibility to think, act and make mistakes. He is always there to catch them if need be.
What’s the one thing your parents used to say to you that you now hear yourself saying? Do as I say, not as I do!
Favorite retro TV dad: I think one of the coolest dads on TV was Sandy Cohen from “The O.C.” He was a great dresser. He was very philanthropic. He was a CEO and a former lawyer who did pro bono work. His family took in a troubled child and adopted him. He had a great relationship with his sons and his sons’ friends. Everyone liked him. When I was watching that as a teen, I thought about the future and said I wanted to be like that dad—someone my son can respect and come to for what he needs, and his friends can also count on me.
What is the most important lesson a father should teach his kids? That it is
important to give back. I tell them that it is important to donate your time and charitable contributions to the city that has given so much to our family and encourage others also to donate their time and contributions.