If the term Renaissance man can be extended to an entire family, the Gomez clan would be the embodiment of the definition. With Riverside Tutorial and Theatre, travel hockey, art and music, Richard, Christine, and their eight children lead a busy, but fulfilling and Christ-centered life. Read on to learn what Riverside has contributed to their entire family, and how they balance everything they do and make sure it all adds to and does not detract from their core.
You are in the thick of things right now as a homeschooling mom, with your oldest on the cusp of high school and your youngest of eight is a newborn. How do you structure your homeschooling day? What has worked for you and what hasn’t?
Christine: Just as long as our day is centered on our Lord through prayer and the sacraments, and that is the focus, our day goes smoothly. I strive to make my relationship with God my first priority in my day, and the first thing the kids do in the morning is spend some time with the Lord: with the Bible, talking to our Lord, offering their day to God. When we are all doing this and starting the morning in this way, our days go so much smoother. When we are spending time with Our Lord individually and then coming together as a family through family prayer to start our day, God always provides time for everything else.
We order our days for living and learning as a family: music, time outside in nature, reading good literature to cultivate the moral imagination, art, spending time together studying and appreciating truth, goodness, and beauty—with the goal of deepening our relationships with each other and with Our Lord so that we can go into the world and bring others to Him. When I put these things as a priority, then the academics always seem to fall into place. I’ve learned that when I put too much stress on academics and not on creating a bright and cheerful home centered on our Lord and serving each other, our family suffers. Theresa has just been born. During this transition time with a newborn, we all have learned to be more like Christ by laying down our lives for each other. Everyone is doing more than they normally would do; giving up selfish pursuits to help the family. Academics are not as high a priority during this time but my children having this lesson for the rest of their life is more important. Continually discerning what God is asking us of us and following His will; I’ve found when I’m living in that way and am giving my children the tools to live in that way, everything else falls into line.
When it comes to prayer I give them a lot of freedom. Our official morning routine is that they wake up, they pray, and they read, but I’m not a helicopter parent; it’s not enforced. I believe in a lot freedom. I can give them the tools and show them what I do but ultimately it is their conversation with God, and it is the Holy Spirit that will guide and strengthen their relationship with Christ. Also, I hope to teach my children that prayer is also simply talking with our Lord throughout the entire day. I hope and pray that I am modeling this for my children as well. I’ll say things like, “We have this really good lunch. How blessed we are. Theresa is so beautiful, we are so blessed. Thank you Lord for everything you have given us. Look at the beautiful sunset. God must have painted that just for us because He loves us so much.” It is spontaneous prayer, an ongoing conversation with Our Lord throughout the day. It is what goes on in my heart, and I hope I am modeling for them a true, real, authentic relationship with God that they too will have for the rest of their lives. At the end of the day, that is my goal in homeschooling my children because if they are deeply in love with Our Lord and have a strong relationship with Him, everything else will fall into place because they will be able to hear God’s call for their lives and answer that call.
How has Riverside benefitted your family? What has been the most fruitful aspect?
Richard: It is hard to put into words the benefit of Riverside on our family; potentially the better question, what has Riverside done for the Chicago Suburbs Homeschool community? Riverside is not a program, it cannot be defined by a single event or even individual at this point (all respect to the founder, Peter Searby). The original vision casting of Riverside as an alternative education model for boys has evolved into an all-encompassing pedagogy that fully engages children, parents, and participants (inside and outside Riverside families). Creative imagination surrounded by prayer allows the program participants to engage the inner dialogue with self, while embracing their surroundings, other program participants, and Riverside staff. This simple model allows the participants to see beyond their current environment, to put themselves (time and space) into a world beyond, that brings forth creative works (artwork, music, plays, radio broadcasts, etc.) that could never be expected from kids of this age. This has become the expectation for time invested families and is the reason why families are so committed; we see the fruit within our children, and we are willing to do whatever it takes to support Riverside.
The above is long winded, but it sets the context for an individual family’s assessment of benefit to the family. With this said, that is only program specific. The most engaging and divinely inspired aspect of Riverside is the community. As a large homeschooling family (I am happy now to put ourselves into this category with eight kids), one of the greatest tactics of the Devil is to try to separate families into thinking that they’re on their own, that they are one of the only people trying to accomplish the feat of raising a large family with the goal and objective of getting their spouse and children to heaven. By attending any Riverside event, it becomes abundantly clear that you are not alone, that large homeschooling families are a real thing, and furthermore, that it can be done with charisma, grace, and passion. The community is large, unique, and inspiringly different. This is the fruit of Riverside; to have a common goal and objective (meet our Lord, and bring those around us closer to God), while embracing the normal communal aspects of life (concerts, festivals, and parties).
In summation: the strength of the programs brings forth fruit in the children; the parents embrace Riverside at large because of this fruit; the parents’ investment creates community; and our Lord blesses those involved because of the common goal and objective. In short, Riverside provides an opportunity for families to do life together.
How did you end up being the Riverside accountant? Why is it important to you to take on this in addition to your full time job?
Richard: I met Peter as part of Ricky’s introduction to Tutorial around 2016. The organization was at a formational level and beginning to take on a bit more formality. As part of my meeting with Peter, I let him know that I was an accountant, and was beginning to transition from a large public accounting firm to more of an entrepreneurial focused/niched firm. This ultimately led to my appointment as the “Riverside accountant,” which overtime, has taken on more responsibility, and at this point, is more operational and future focused.
Due to my family’s involvement in Riverside , I’m grateful to use my gifts and talents in support of an organization that aligns with my family’s moral values, and I am deeply invested to see the organization grow and thrive for years (and hopefully decades) to come.
Your family is very involved in hockey. Richard, what did the sport mean to you growing up and why was it important to introduce the sport to your kids?
Richard: I am the youngest of six kids, and all my older brothers and sisters played hockey. My dad grew up playing baseball, but as my two oldest brothers gained interest in hockey (early 80s), he began playing and coaching as well. All six of us played travel hockey through high school, and a few of us played in college. My dad also ran a hockey camp during my youth named Spirit Hockey. It was an overnight camp at Lake Forest Academy that blended our Christian Faith with the game of hockey. At this point, there are 24 grandkids in my extended family, and more than half have played or continue to play hockey. It is a family sport to say the least.
From a moral virtue standpoint, the game of hockey brings forth accountability, challenge, competition, discipline, and teamwork. In blending these moral virtues with a natural family community and the tenants of our Faith (through discussions with my children), there are many graces and blessings to be gleaned from the game of hockey. Ultimately, in any activity in which we participate, love better be the underlying drive, or it’s not worth participating. I still have fond memories of walking out of rinks as a youth in the dead of winter, with the sun shining outside, while being supported by my brothers and sisters, parents, and grandparents. Hockey for me intertwines the love of family, life, and Faith that brings forth moral grace onto my family.
Another aspect is that there is a certain rawness to life (especially as a man) that has been lost in our culture. Generations past (as an example, the World War I generation) had moral fibers in their bones that allowed them to know what they were fighting for, and when push came to shove, they were willing to stand up for good. Sport allows the participant to empty themselves in their avenue of competition, and in this place of vulnerability, it allows you to understand yourself in the deepest parts of your soul. In deepening your heart, mind, and soul, when now supplemented with the tenants of the Catholic Church, it produces a certain level of grit that regardless of what happens in life, you’re willing to fight (and die) for your family and the Faith. Unfortunately, at this time in our culture and world, there are uncertainties of the future. It is my job as the father of my family to prepare my wife and kids for the future (good or bad). Hockey has provided an avenue for me and my family to embrace mental and physical struggle through sport, while engaging the world at large (Great Commission of the Gospel). My hope is that this engagement produces mental and physical fortitude in my children that can never be taken away from them.
With you, Richard, being a coach and having a large involvement with the teams…how does this benefit your relationship with your kids?
Richard: At this point, I coach my four oldest kids in hockey (Ricky 14, Luke 11, Elizabeth 10, Peter 8). The fall season of hockey is from September to February, with three practices and one to two games per team/child on the weekend. My motto for the fall season has become, “embrace the grind.” This is not only for me, but for my kids (and family) too.
With this much time invested in hockey (I will supplement the idea of hockey as an investment into moral virtue), I have a daily date with my children in something that we mutually love. If they don’t love the game, I don’t want them to play. This time investment supports our relationship, and as my kids get older, they know they can trust me as they know I have their best interest at heart. This has been displayed through mine and Christine’s relationship with Ricky (14, our oldest).
How about you, Christine? Were you always on board with hockey and if not, when and how did this change?
Christine: I didn’t grow up in a family that did competitive travel team sports. This was a whole new world for me. I was not on board. I grew up in a family that ate dinner together at 6 pm every night, and the whole family was together on weekends. Competitive sports doesn’t look like that. It was hard at first. Now that I see Ricky and Luke and the relationship they have with their father it has changed the way I view hockey.
I see the fruits in both of them and how blessed I am to have the husband who devotes the entire afternoon, five days a week and all day Saturday and Sunday with his children. All of our kids have a strong relationship with their father and I see the virtues they are gaining through sport: strong work ethic, commitment, loyalty, confidence, fortitude, courage, determination, a pursuit of excellence, humility, patience, respect for authority, and personal responsibility. This bleeds into everything else they are involved in and so it has been a tremendous blessing. For Richard hockey is so much a part of who he is and it is how he expresses his faith. He transmits his faith to his children through the way he lives, through their many conversations in the car to and from the rink. He is able to show them how much the faith is a part of him in the same way sport is.
Incidentally, we are not a family that says, you can only do hockey. It is a way Richard can bond with our kids. But he asks every year, “Do you want to play hockey? What is God calling you to?”
Music is another part of your family life. How has Riverside encouraged Ricky’s drum playing and provided him an outlet to perform?
Richard: Because of my father and oldest brothers, I grew up listening to Classic Rock (AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, etc.) and further explored bands like Dave Matthews and Red Hot Chili Peppers in grade school through high school.
My dad was a drummer growing up, and I played bass in a rock band (my brother Chris was the guitar player in the band) starting in fifth grade through my sophomore year in high school. My dad was the manager of our band, and we were fairly successful; we played multiple times on The Jenny Jones Show and at the House of Blues. Chris and I played together for two years in college, and Chris had a band for about five years post college in Chicago. I also played standup bass in a jazz band in middle and high school.
While I played bass occasionally in our home when the kids were younger, over the past three years, we have become more intentional in allowing music to help shape our family life. Our family room doubles as a music hall with drums, fiddles, and guitars (God willing, a piano to be added soon).
Ricky started playing drums two years ago after he expressed interest and my dad bought him an electronic drum set. In home schooling our kids, it gives him the freedom to practice close to two hours a day; his choice, drums are his outlet, and he’s able use headphones to be in his own world while not making his mother go crazy. As kids get older, it is important for them to have multiple influences and outlets, and music is one of those for our family. The hope (maybe not an original/intentional idea) one day is to have a family band, and we’re not far off (Ricky drums, Luke guitar, Elizabeth fiddle, and Peter bass); it will be fun to see what Juliana, John, Patrick, and Theresa play as they get older!
A funny thing about Riverside (and any fulfilling activity), is that as you participate over time, it is easy to take things for granted. The same thing can be said about Peter Searby’s creativity, but also his musicianship. He is extremely talented, and a blessing to the community in this way too. As Ricky has improved in his drum playing, he has had the opportunity to play in the “Riverside band” in certain capacities (examples: Adventus, Variety Show, Community Parties). It has been a blessing to play music with my kids, and Riverside has now provided an ongoing opportunity, that God willing, will continue for years to come.
Christine: Riverside has brought (our family’s involvement with music) to another level. All of it has been such a blessing; it is surreal sometimes that we have been given this.
When I met Richard, he was playing music. But early in our marriage he didn’t have time to play any more. He was working a lot; we got married very young, and Ricky came right away. There wasn’t a lot of time for music. Richard finally joined a band that played praise and worship music at encounter nights. It was hard, because I could see that he loved it, but it didn’t fit in with our family life. He was going off on his own; the events were geared toward college-age kids and so our family couldn’t go see him play. We prayed and discerned that this was not what God was calling him to do. I know that was hard, but now Riverside has given him the opportunity to play music with his children, with the community and for his friends. Our whole family can go to the Riverside Folk Fest, for example, where Richard will be part of a band, Basil and the Wrath Bones, with Peter Searby.
Riverside is building adult culture and building the community as a whole. It is not just centered on kids. It’s giving adults the opportunity to share the creative gifts that they have. The kids know that, see that and appreciate it.
Christine, you really enjoy art and sketching. How do you incorporate that into your homeschooling?
Christine: Richard brings the element of sport to the family. What I share with the kids is art through sketching and painting, hiking, and nature journaling. It is a large part of our homeschooling and family culture. Sketching, painting, and nature journaling with my children is probably one of my favorite things about homeschooling. My children have all grown to love art. To tie that in with Riverside, what I’ve loved is that Riverside has given the boys a way to share their artistic gifts with the community. They can sketch and paint and it is manly and they are able to share it with their friends. At the most recent museum project day, Ricky had painted five Lord of the Rings landscapes. This was such a proud moment for him to be able to share that. Art is such an individual thing; it is quiet, not like theater or hockey. For him to be able to show this side of him and see the projects that other boys did; you don’t find that in any other place. For the boys to be able to share those things that they wouldn’t have been able to share otherwise with friends and community is such a blessing.
Riverside gives them confidence to share and makes (everything) manly. At home, we are always making tea-stained paper books and sketching in them. We are inspired by Riverside. It bleeds into our whole family culture. This is something I love and now the kids are doing it, because of what I’ve brought to the table through my love of art and because of Riverside.
Pete Searby talks about the importance of men being able to be both warriors and poets. Can you speak to this?
Richard: See my discussion above on the rawness of life, especially for men. A dangerous part of an over pious life is to get stuck in a bubble and only be willing to associate with those that agree with you and only share your similar beliefs. This is part of the call of hockey for my family; as a man, you are called to go out in the world. The culture at large is present in the hockey community, thus, we engage and interact, but understand the true call of life, and the difference between good and evil. Giving my kids both sides of the world (homeschool and Riverside) and the culture (hockey), forces them to make the decision between good and evil, but without me forcing it upon them. This is the warrior.
The poet is more learned for us (and maybe, me). Bass is an avenue here, no doubt. I did not grow up fully embracing acting, the outdoors, writing, etc. So, in a lot of ways, I see Riverside as producing more poets in my boys than I am, or had the opportunity to develop in my youth. This plays into the generational hope for Americans, for your children to be better off than you, and to build momentum within your family over time. I am excited for my kids in this way and know that we have produced wisdom in their upbringing.
Christine: Our children are becoming warriors through Richard and hockey but all these other gifts that men have been given, but our current culture has lost–art, music, poetry,writing–my boys have been given by Riverside. I also see it with our daughter Elizabeth through theater and just being part of the Riverside culture. The moral imagination and the core memories that the kids are building–when they do grow up and answer whatever vocation God calls them to, they have been given this foundation of truth, goodness, and beauty that has complemented what we have been doing at home.