One of the most important aspects of Tony Kanaan being a father of four is to have alone time with each child.
That means Kanaan and his wife, Lauren, making the most of those minutes when he’s not racing. Leo (11), Deco (4), Max (2) and Nina (1) deserve that.
“Especially when you have more than one, you try to divide, not doing everybody together all the time, individually taking alone time with you, you and you,” Kanaan said. “They’re all different. They all have different desires and interests. That’s just one thing I try to do the most, alone time with each of them.”
Kanaan, 44, stands alone in Indy car longevity. The 2004 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner has made a record 317 consecutive starts, the last two seasons for A.J. Foyt Racing.
But no matter what happens in racing, he’s always reminded of his responsibilities as a dad. Take his best race this past season, when he delivered his only podium with a third-place finish at Gateway.
“I have to reset when I go home,” Kanaan said. “Every time I press that button to open the gate at home, T.K., the dad, is going to have to play a role. I can’t bring the stress of my job or I’m tired.
“I’ll give you a perfect example. At St. Louis, we had a night race and finished on the podium. I drove home and got home at 4:30 in the morning. We had somebody who stayed with the kids. Seven o’clock, they’re up. I was up all day. You can’t say you’re tired. They want to go to the pool. They want to go ride a bike. That’s a part that I don’t want to miss.
“My 11-year-old is really into soccer. That’s obviously extremely popular in Brazil. Soccer, swimming and he likes to play instruments. The other ones are just too little, a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and Nina, she’s a year old. My 4-year-old loves to ride the bike, but I think it’s because he sees me on the bike all the time. We go on bike rides together. The 2-year-old is into swimming a lot. The 1-year-old, she’s just there.”
Kanaan reflects on his childhood and what he learned from his parents.
“Being a parent, I don’t think there’s a rule,” he said. “I think you discover it as you go. Obviously, some examples you try to set the way you got taught by your parents. Some things, you grow up not agreeing with how your parents did and you try to do better.”
One Kanaan family tradition continues.
“One thing that dad did a lot was dinner, everybody has dinner together, everybody sits at the table together,” he said. “I remember because we wouldn’t start having dinner until dad got home from work. He’d get home, everybody would sit at the table, we’d laugh and talk about the day, so that’s something I do.
“Dad traveled a lot, so when he was home, he wanted to do dinner with us. Otherwise, it becomes everybody would want to have dinner at their own time, especially different people are hungry at different times. ‘No, you’ve got to wait on your brother. No, you’ve got to wait on your dad.’”
Kanaan knows his children value every interaction, and that they're keeping an eye on him all the time.
“You always try to set an example for them, how professional you are, how nice to people you are,” he said. “They’re watching. People would be fooled if they think a 2-year-old isn’t watching their dad or mom, how they behave all the time when they’re around them. Lauren and I take extreme care to always set good examples so they will remember.”
Kanaan credits Lauren for doing the heavy lifting at home when he’s working. He considers his family his stability.
He’s already thinking about what his children will say about him when he’s older. He puts a lot of thought into those parenting decisions.
“As a parent, you’re always questioning if you’re doing the right thing, right?” he said. “I’ve learned over the years to accept that you’re not always going to do the right thing and you’re not always going to agree. I’ve tried to put myself in a position to where one day, my kids will look at me and say, ‘You made mistakes, but you’re a good dad. You tried.’
“Obviously being a parent is such a difficult task. You’re learning every day and you’re having to study your kids’ reactions, what’s going on in the world, communication, especially nowadays with kids having so much access to information. Before, I had to go ask my dad. Now, you can just Google. I said the other day, ‘I want to be my kid’s Google.’ Most of the times nowadays when my kids ask, ‘Dad, how do it do this?’ I’ll say, ‘I don’t know. Let’s find out.’ They’ll say, ‘Oh, Google.’ And I’ll say, ‘No, we’re going to find out.’ I want to be my kid’s Google.”
INDYCAR.com will spend the next several Mondays profiling the NTT IndyCar Series drivers who are fathers. Next week: Ed Carpenter of Ed Carpenter Racing.