By Romi Carrell Wittman
His Parenting Philosophy – Lead with Love
It’s not often that an entire family goes off to college, but that’s what happened with the Dudas family.
“Our extended family all moved out to Arizona over the years,” Jon Dudas said. “When my son came out to attend the University of Arizona, I was working as a consultant and we’d been talking about where we wanted to live if we could live anywhere.”
A trip to Tucson to visit his son sealed the deal. “I found a job on the UA website that closely fit my skill set, and I loved the mission of the UA,” Dudas said. “But I wanted more opportunity to be with family.”
Dudas, who currently serves as the senior VP, senior associate to the president and secretary of the university, worked for the U.S. government for 14 years. That included a tenure as undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Following that position, Dudas was the president of FIRST, a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire children to pursue majors and careers in STEM — science, technology engineering and math.
Dudas and Nicole, his wife, have four children – Josh, 25; Caroline, 23; Sarah, 19, and Caleb, 16.
Tucson has truly become home for this East Coast family. “Our daughter transferred from Clemson to the UA,” Dudas said. “We realized we’re getting all this extra time with our adult kids.”
When asked how it feels to be named a 2019 Father of the Year by the Father’s Day Council Tucson, Dudas was reflective. “It’s a really great honor that others in the community would consider me. It’s very personal to me – there are only five people who know if I’m a good dad,” he said with a laugh.
Fatherhood came with many ups and downs – yet it was the ups that, at one time, gave Dudas the most concern. “I used to panic about them growing up because life was so good – but the older they get, the more excited I get to watch them grow and mature.”
Unlike many fathers, Dudas said, the day each of his children was born wasn’t the happiest day of his life. “It’s really scary, actually,” he says of those births. “You feel like your whole life is in there and it’s really stressful. I love that day, but it’s scary.”
The one “dad” moment that stands out most for Dudas was the day his children spoke at his mother’s celebration of life. “To watch them stand up in front of scores of people at a time when they felt extremely sad … they spoke about the love they had for their grandmother,” Dudas said. “I couldn’t have been prouder.”
Dudas’ parenting philosophy is to lead with love. He views his primary job as loving his children and supporting them emotionally – but also keeping them safe. “I’ve told them I want to be their friend as much as possible, but sometimes I have to tell you ‘no.’ ”
Balancing career and family wasn’t always easy and Dudas has tried to find employers who valued family. Even when he worked on Capitol Hill, his boss was understanding about family. “Whatever job I’ve had has had a lot of flexibility,” he said. “I left a job that didn’t allow flexibility. If I have to work till 3 a.m., I’ll do it if I can make it to my son’s lacrosse match.”
As his children embark on adulthood and career – three kids have attended the UA for undergrad and grad schools, while another is still in high school – Dudas has found new joys in fatherhood. “For me, what I’ve enjoyed most is watching them grow into adults, seeing their unique attributes. They reach an age where they know I’m wrong and they’re right. It’s fun to see that, to watch them grow and become independent.”
Oldest son, Josh, recently returned to Tucson to further his career. “He appreciates his family and it’s a serious affirmation for Nicole and me,” Dudas said. Being in Tucson “has given us family time that we never would have had.”
Dudas recommends that new fathers “have fun. We laugh all the time and we have a lot of fun. The most important thing is to be loving. I love them more than anything else on earth. My wife and I, our mission is to raise them the best we can.”
While some may talk about the pains and trials of being a parent, Dudas said he doesn’t view it as a sacrifice. “This is exactly what I want to do.”