As founder of the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, David Hirsch of Barrington needs to make it back home from California in time to celebrate Father's Day. To accomplish that, the 54-year-old broker and financial adviser must pedal his bicycle 2,211 miles in 21 days. And he's looking for volunteers to join him along the way.
Hirsch kicked off his inaugural 21st Century Dads Honor Ride 2015 at 7 a.m. Monday from Santa Monica, Calif. Cycling along historic Route 66, Hirsch will be joined along the way by fellow biker teams and individuals as he crosses eight states before rolling into U.S. Cellular Field for the June 21 Father's Day afternoon game between the White Sox and the Texas Rangers.
That's the plan. As with fatherhood, you prepare, but you can't look too far ahead.
"There's uphill days and downhill days, sunny days and cloudy days, and really rainy days," Hirsch said, talking as a bicyclist and a father. "You have to be there for your kids. The ride is a metaphor for life and for being a dad. I'm all in."
After his wife, Peggy, gave birth to the couple's fifth child 18 years ago, David Hirsch had trouble finding good fatherhood resources. So he started his own: the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, the first nonprofit, statewide effort to connect children with their fathers and give dads the tools they need. This year, Hirsch created the 21st Century Dads Foundation. another nonprofit charity, to raise awareness and funds for a variety of local and national charities that strengthen bonds between fathers and children.
"What it takes to be a dad in the 21st century is different," said Hirsch, noting that today's fathers need to be invested in their kids emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. His trip, which is sponsored in part by Motorola Solutions and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, includes the distribution of fatherhood self-assessment tools, conversations and visiting agencies working to make better dads. Two hours into the cross-country pilgrimage, Hirsch and his leadoff team of riding buddies will stop at St. Francis Medical Center to show support for the hospital's "Daddy Boot Camp," which prepares first-time fathers before they leave the hospital.
"We want to draw attention to this being a way to discuss dads in thoughtful and tangible ways," Hirsch said. He is the only biker slated to make the entire trip. Other teams of cyclists (including Veterans, Devoted Daughters, Urban Dads, Grandpas and First Responders) will join him for stretches along the way. Adventure Guide Lincoln Baker serves as ride director, and his wife, yoga instruction and ironman athlete Courtney Riley, is heading up the daughters team.
Hirsch's youngest daughter, who graduated Friday from Barrington High School, handles the public relations during the first week of the trek. "He's been a great dad to me, and I like to help out any way I can," said Addie Hirsch, 18, who will be studying business at Indiana University. "He's never been one to shy from a challenge."
Originally, David Hirsch had an easier challenge in mind.
"I'd been thinking of taking a cross-country motorcycle trip," said Hirsch, a longtime churchgoer at St. Anne Catholic Church in Barrington. "I don't know how to explain it other than God put a hand on my shoulder and said, 'It's not a motorcycle. It's a bicycle.'"
An avid biker who has completed triathlons and finished the grueling Ironman Wisconsin in 2009, Hirsch first broached his idea of the bicycling trip with Bob Lee, a 73-year-old Barrington man who has biked more than 12,000 miles in his efforts to raise $1.3 million for charities that deal with ALS, cancer and hospice.
"I went out pedaling. He's out riding," Lee said of Hirsch. "He has some tough desert. He has the Rockies. It's not just doing a century (100-mile bike trip) on flat ground in Illinois."
But Lee, who has inspired plenty of ambitious charity athletic endeavors, said he thinks Hirsch will do it.
"David is driven to make good things happen," said Lee, who will ride on the final day into Chicago as captain of the Grandpas Relay Team. "He's a fabulous father and a great role model for a lot of us."
With plenty of rain gear and equipment to make night rides possible, Hirsch said he should be able to overcome delays caused by weather. For more information, or to donate, volunteer or ride along, visit 21stcenturydads.org, firstgiving.com and facebook.com/dadshonorride.
"Somebody might read about what we're doing and want to join the ride, if only for a day," said Hirsch, who is committed to making the effort for 21 straight days. Lee said the chance to help others will propel Hirsch.
"If he's doing it for someone else," Lee said, "that's where he'll get the energy."