Football and Fatherhood as Badalona Dracs players celebrate Spanish Father’s Day

The country of Spain celebrates Father’s Day on March 19 every year. For a handful of Badalona Dracs players, this Sunday’s holiday will take on a more significant meaning.

Balancing life, work and raising children –– all while playing American football professionally –– is draining, but that’s life for Jeremiah Gutierrez, Victor Llargués, Ian Palmón and Jahir García.

Being an ocean away from family, working multiple jobs and sacrificing parts of their social life just to play a sport are tradeoffs the four believe are more than worth it, especially when they get to go home and see their kids.

From late night FaceTime calls to seeing their children’s faces on the sidelines during an occasional game, these are the stories of four of the fathers currently playing for the Dracs, the sacrifices they have made and a side of their lives away from the football field that brings them joy.

An ocean apart 

The most difficult thing Gutierrez had to do before leaving for Spain in January was tell his five-year-old son, Josiah, goodbye.

In the days before heading to the airport to embark on his journey, Gutierrez sat down with his son and explained that he was going to Barcelona to pursue a professional career in football. While he didn’t dive into too much detail, Gutierrez struggled to read his son after breaking the news. It was more than bittersweet.

“He didn’t seem down, but he didn’t seem happy,” Gutierrez said. “He didn’t really understand what was going on, but he knew he was going to see me soon.”

Unlike many of his teammates who have family close by in Spain, or at worst somewhere in Europe, Gutierrez comes from Compton, California, an ocean and entire country away from Catalunya. The American import talks with Josiah through FaceTime several times a week, but a nine-hour time difference between Spain and California presents an undeniable obstacle. Many of those calls come after Dracs practices, which end around 23:00h in Spain. From the team’s practice field at Camp Municipal de Montigalà, Gutierrez will walk to his apartment, make dinner and then call family at home before going to sleep.

“I think about my family back home every day,” Gutierrez said. “It gives me the extra little push to keep going and stay determined and focused on what I came here to do.”

Pictures of Josiah adorn the walls of his room in Badalona, providing life to otherwise relatively empty walls in a temporary residence. One of Gutierrez’s favorite pictures frames him playing video games at home with Josiah resting under him.

Jeremiah Gutierrez with son Josiah at home in California

Gutierrez says he is thankful that he has such a big support system at home between his mom, siblings and other family members who provide consistent updates and send pictures. While small acts, they allow him to feel connected over 9,600 kilometers away from home. Still, nothing replaces the feeling of having Josiah by his side.

“The team and imports do a good job of making me feel like I’m at home here and have a family here,” Gutierrez said. “But there are those early mornings or late nights when it is just me and my thoughts and I dwell on my son and family.”

When he lays awake with those thoughts, Gutierrez likes to replay his favorite memories with Josiah in his head, such as the times when he is chased around his house by his young son. Gutierrez can still vividly hear his son’s laughter and playful shouts, something that brings a warm smile to his face on a chilly early spring night in Badalona.

Although he won’t come to Spain, Josiah still watches his dad play. Back in California, Gutierrez’s mom will put the Dracs’ game stream on the television, either on delay or live depending on when the game kicks off. There, she’ll point Gutierrez out to her grandson, something she has gotten to do a lot with him finding the end zone several times over the past two weekends.

Even though it hurts not to see Josiah in person, Gutierrez loves knowing his son gets to watch him play. Those moments remind him about what motivated him to leave home to play football in Spain in the first place. It was a big sacrifice, but the thought of once again seeing Josiah, hearing his laughter and holding him in his loving embrace when he returns to the United States after the season gives him something to look forward to.

“This opportunity is once in a lifetime, especially for someone coming up where I come from,” Gutierrez said. “I just want to take advantage of it and hopefully it will pay off.”

Soaking in the moment

For Victor Llargués, the last calendar year has been a whirlwind. He and his partner bought a house with a mortgage and moved. During that time, they also became first-time parents when Llargués’ partner gave birth to their daughter, Lúa, in March.

“We struggled a lot because when you don’t get enough sleep, that’s the hardest part,” Llargués said. “I was still playing games with the Dracs, too.”

Despite the busyness, Llargués prioritized being a father, taking life slow and soaking in every moment and new experience at home. The fact that parents receive four months of leave in Spain after the birth of a child made things a little easier.

Victor Llargués and daughter Lúa

Having those four months to intentionally slow down was vital, especially when you hear about what Llargués’ day-to-day schedule looks like now. His day starts when he drops Lúa off at a nursery by his house around 9:00 am, then he goes to nearby Barberà del Vallès where he works for a construction company before picking his daughter back up around 16:30h. After a few hours at home with his partner and daughter, Llargués heads to Badalona for practice.

The Dracs’ tight end will never forget when Lúa was born. The team was playing in Zaragoza, over three hours away by car, when his partner was about to break her water. Instead of taking the team bus, he drove to the game in his own car just in case he needed to drop everything and rush back to Badalona. Luckily for him, he didn’t need to do that, but it’s still a story he loves to tell.

Not yet a year old, Lúa has already seen her dad in action: a Spanish Cup semifinal game against the Alcobendas Cavaliers. While Llargués knew his daughter didn’t understand anything that was happening, her presence on the sidelines meant the world to him.

“(Lúa) was not able to see me because of the helmet, but I went to her and she was surprised,” Llargués said. “It was really beautiful, it’s like your heart is melting.”

While Llargués loves playing American football, he now lives for the moments he gets to spend with his daughter and family. He gushes with pride when talking about how she stood on her own for the first time just the other week. He has also traveled all over the world with her, from Hungary to Turkey and has a photo of Lúa strapped to his chest as he navigated the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. The presence of Lúa in his life has undoubtedly provided Llargués with a new sense of perspective, both when it pertains to life and American football.

“Every day is awesome,” Llargués said. “It’s a big joy every time I see her, it brightens my day when I pick her up from the nursery.”

Finding a balance

When Ian Palmon’s daughter, Ona, was born four months ago, the offensive lineman seriously considered taking the season off. Between an irregular sleep schedule and the constant tasks associated with caring for the needs of a newborn, the first few weeks following Ona’s birth were draining.

Ian Palmon holding daughter Ona

During that time, Palmón’s partner discouraged him from giving up American football, even if only for an entire season. She considered it a non-starter, telling him that he “needed to play” because it was his hobby and was what made him happy.

“It was so difficult,” Palmón said. “I have a lot of love for my girlfriend because she helped me a lot and wanted me to stay with (the Dracs) to practice and play the game that I love.”

Between getting up by 7:00h to wake Ona up, his 9:00h to 18:00h job as a maintenance worker at a residence and Dracs practices, Palmón’s schedule often leaves him exhausted. Still, he wouldn’t trade it for the world and loves the time when he can watch TV with his partner while Ona lays on her stomach or back playing right by them.

Palmón’s teammate, Jahir García, is also a relatively new parent, father to a three-month-old son named Ryan. García admits it has been a little complicated to adjust his hours between practices, games and his job. How has he gone about trying to find a balance?

“I try to find a way to make myself comfortable while at home,” García said. “I need to have a space of my own, which is why I have an apartment that I’m paying for myself. Sometimes I have friends or family who will come over to help watch Ryan when I go to practice, too.”

Jahir García with son Ryan

Of course, there are sacrifices that come with being a father, even if it doesn’t go as far as having to live an entire ocean away. Neither García nor Palmón can go out with their friends or teammates as often when they go to parties and drink. But like Llargués, the time spent at home with their children makes those small sacrifices worth it.

When García is with Ryan he likes to turn on a college football game, whether it’s Michigan or BYU. He wants Ryan to listen to the games, even if he doesn’t yet comprehend what is happening. The goal is that he grows up with American football in a place where fútbol is often the way of life.

“It gives me a little bit of pride because I would like for him to be used to the sound of American football,” García said. “The sounds of a tackle, helmets clashing and shouting. So that when he grows up, it’s not something new.”

Like Lúa, Ona and Ryan have also already seen their dads in action, too.

“It’s crazy because it’s something new,” Palmón said. “I was so happy when the game ended and I could go upstairs and see my daughter and take her in my hands.”

Which brings us to this weekend and Father’s Day in Spain. It will be the first one as a father for Llargués, Palmón and Garcia and as it’s the Dracs’ bye week they will get to celebrate it at home with their families.

Each of the dads are quick to admit they have sacrificed a lot, but they wouldn’t change it for the world and are excited to celebrate the holiday with their families at home.