Editor's Note: On the occasion of Father's Day 2019, John Wondolowski, father of San Jose Earthquakes captain Chris Wondolowski, shares some of his most memorable personal experiences over the years alongside his son -- from coaching him, to watching Chris find his own way in his career all the way to a World Cup and the throne of MLS all-time leading goal scorer.
Hi. I‘m Chris Wondolowski’s father.
That's obviously a natural introduction to fellow MLS fans reading this. But many years ago, those were also my opening words to a teacher when 8-year-old Chris did something wrong and I was stepping in ready to jump on whatever grenade he had set off.
Today, those same words represent a statement of pride since my son's name has become synonymous with career achievement in his field -- a career that others recognize.
I’m proud to be the dad of three amazing sons: Chris, Stephen and Matt. They are the kind of sons you’d only visualize in your wildest dreams of fatherhood. And some of the best moments we’ve shared over the years have often revolved around sports. It’s just part of our family’s DNA.
Chris had a football in his crib. He shot at an indoor basketball hoop as soon as he could stand on his two feet. And he could hit my wiffle ball pitches before he was two years old.
His two brothers were similarly wired and by the time the youngest, Matt, was four years old we started a very long tradition of Turkey Bowls: 2-v-2 football games on Thanksgiving. That evolved into 2-v-2 basketball games at Christmas. And in recent years we’ve even added a healthy dose of golf since we can’t tackle Chris anymore for obvious reasons. I can’t tell you how cool it is to be the father in a golfing foursome with your three adult sons.
Chris played nearly every sport as he grew up and into high school. When he was six years old, I volunteered to coach his Under-7 soccer team (they were short on coaches) and Chris was still allowed to be on the team. From that moment until he turned 14, I was his soccer coach.
Those years of coaching all came back to me on January 30 of last year.
At a televised charity dinner held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, the Coaching Corps, an organization which helps children in underserved communities, held their annual awards ceremony during which the Bay Area’s pro sports stars recognize the most influential coach in their life.
Chris represented the Earthquakes and he chose me.
I still remember what I told the audience that day: I have three sons and like any father, I had this crazy dream … I dreamed that my sons would find success in a career that they thoroughly enjoyed, that they would be lucky enough to find a great partner in life, that they would be blessed with the privilege of raising children, that they would give back to the community, and that they would be good brothers to one another.
That night I told the audience, the television viewers, my family, and my son that my crazy dream had come true with Chris. I then told him that I loved him in front of everyone because, happily, that is what we Wondos do.
The long and winding road
In January of 2005 I remember receiving a call from Chris, who was still in college at the time. I figured it could only be one of two things – he needed money, or he needed help out of a jam.
Turns out he was drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes -- the club our family supported. The club he grew up rooting for as a kid.
Nine weeks later, Chris signed an $11,000 contract and started looking for San Jose rentals with three other teammates. Make no mistake about it: This was success.
I was the father of a professional athlete! And I would never let him forget what he had achieved. Every day I reminded him of a phrase that he adopted as his mantra: “Work your ass off and keep your mouth shut.”
NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger once said that his father would make sure to tell him how proud he was after every game. I adopted that practice, too, and hopefully Chris has never grown tired of hearing “I am so proud of you” after every match. Because I was and still am.
And I was never more proud than that first match he played at Spartan Stadium. It was only four minutes off the bench and the highlight was a yellow card for a tactical foul. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t sleep that night I was so proud.
But things changed fast. MLS fans and particularly Quakes supporters, are intimately familiar with the club’s story after that 2005 season, Chris's first in MLS. The Quakes became the Dynamo and moved to Houston. It was time for Chris to grow up.
Chris and his brother Stephen, who was later also signed by the Dynamo, were doing as much coaching on the side as they could to earn a living. They barely had time to take care of the Dachshund they adopted, so they left the puppy with me and my wife in California.
While in Houston, Chris would later marry Lindsey, who moved to Texas and became a teacher there. But Chris was still not a regular on the Dynamo and I called Lindsey to tell her that I would talk to Chris about getting a real job.
I didn’t rehearse what I would later tell him via phone: “Hey pal, you have a wife and responsibilities. I don’t know how soccer is going to go for you, but just tell me: Are you having fun, do you still enjoy it?”
His answer was an emphatic “Yes.”
Living the dream
It’s almost as if Chris knew something.
He was traded back to San Jose and soon enough the stars aligned. He started scoring and won the Golden Boot in his first full year back with the Quakes.
For me, it felt like I was living someone else’s life. This was my son, pretty much neglected by college teams and then barely hanging on in the professional ranks. Now he was “the man” in Major League Soccer. And it was all happening right in our backyard!
Sure, few actually believed I was Chris’s dad. He was lean, athletic and handsome … I am none of those. But that did nothing to take away from the feelings that would overcome me as I walked to my seat at Buck Shaw Stadium and saw fans wearing those “Wondolowski” jerseys.
And then there was 2014. I remember being in a car with my corporate team in Fresno, Calif. when I received a call from Chris who told me that he was pretty sure he made the US World Cup team. I cried in front of my colleagues and friends – I cried.
Ever since he was a kid, Chris and I would always watch the World Cup together and stay up at all hours to take in nearly every game. And to think that years earlier I watched the coach who selected Chris, Jurgen Klinsmann, on Soccer Made in Germany.
Now I was at the World Cup, bouncing from city to city to watch my son play. My son.
That’s the same ultra competitive son who knows every button to push to get me, Stephen and Matt riled up on the golf course or on the basketball court every weekend. He is the brother who will make you crazy but who will also be your first phone call. He’s the fantastic dad to two great kids. And I pray that he is also an OK husband. (Lindsey?).
He’s the San Jose Earthquakes fan who happens to play for the club he grew up loving. Chris, his brothers and I were in the crowd at Spartan Stadium when they were called the Clash and he started his career as a teammate of some of his heroes: Richard Mulrooney, Troy Dayak, Pat Onstad, etc. Those experiences have always made playing for the San Jose Earthquakes truly special for him.
Any record Chris has achieved will be eclipsed in the future. Any award that he has been given will likely become less relevant as the years pass. But the bonds with his teammates, the San Jose (and MLS) supporters, and his other friends will endure.
I still go to every San Jose Earthquakes game and everyone wants to get his autograph. Typically they are jostling me out of the way, but after every match Chris and I have our moment: He comes over and gives me a disgustingly wet and sweaty hug. I tell him how proud of him I am. He tells me something about the game. Every game it’s never any less special, and strangely, I am ok with the sweat.
I love seeing him happy, I love being his biggest fan, I love the man he has become and will continue to be. I treasure those Sunday evenings when the family is gathered and when Chris is Chris – just a good guy, good brother, good dad, good son, lazy as heck and avoiding anything that looks like work.
It is Father’s Day. And I am Chris Wondolowski’s father.
I had a crazy dream when he was born that he would find success in a career that he thoroughly enjoyed, that he would find a wonderful partner like Lindsey, that he would be blessed with the privilege of raising children, like Emersyn and Brynlee, that he would give back to the community, and that he would be a good brother.
Father’s Day continues to be the reminder that my crazy dream has come true. After all, who needs another necktie or BBQ tool? (Although a new Big Green Egg would not be the worst idea, I mean mine is 11 years old.)
Happy Father’s Day to you, too, Chris – my hero, who also happens to be my son.