Part 1 of 2
“The Sports Dad”
I have been inordinately busy the last several weeks, eyeballs deep navigation through a pair of fascinating scenarios. Polar opposites in challenge and charter, both initiatives share a common denominator: the dramatic impact a person’s formative years can (and usually do) have on his or her evolving adult life.
These stories revolve around two inordinately skilled high performers whose recent years have careened a bit like bumper cars. One used to be famous in the world of sports; but he chucked that for art, which is what he loves and probably should have doing all along — assuming he had not been so much better than everyone else at sports.
The other is a businessman, a “suit,” a man from humble beginnings who set out and persevered with great determination to build a company that for more than two decades provided livelihoods for hundreds of families.
This column, part 1 of 2, is about the athlete turned artist. The man now in his early forties and lives in the same Southern California house in which he grew up. Soon may need to relocate — not by choice — which he is not particularly thrilled about.
The other man, now in his late fifties, lives in a beautiful mansion in suburban San Francisco. His story is different. It will be told in the next article, Part 2 of 2: Businessman.
As so common with most all of us, on the exterior, things for both men appear quite fine. Invisible, on the inside, I am reminded of a small, typed seven-word reminder I have taped to my workstation.
It reads, “Even the strong are broken in places.” The quote has stood the test of time, probably because it so brilliantly true. I have seen the truism in myself, and I have seen it in others.
In southern California, the former sports star is now a commercial artist. He majored in art in college and obviously paid attention. His work is quite good, even to my uneducated eye. He paints with vibrancy, always with a bold and splashy point of view. His favorite paintings are abstracts, which are all that and more. His least favorites are commissioned pieces. For those he is hired because of who he was, not who he is, often to mimic with paint family photographs or subjects he would never otherwise choose.
But a dollar is a dollar so he paints the commissions without complaint.
He is not wealthy but hustles to carve out a living, as a devoted father of two toddlers generally tends to do. Love and marriage, and wee ones, along with a bit of structure in what had been a very unstructured life, came only recently — quite late by relative standards.
Like most of us in midlife, his weeks are now a merry-go-round of hustling for a buck, side trips to the grocery store, eye-rolling stops at California gas stations, and an occasional swing-by to the barber shop, post office, or other invisibly forgettable yet necessary place.
This man used to be somebody, a household name throughout California and the entire American sports world. Fame was thrust upon him at an early age — fourteen — when he was featured in one of the nation’s biggest magazines. Dealing with that turned his life upside down, inside out, and eventually into an accelerating meteor of confusion. He was no longer a kid. Like it or not, he was a national celebrity.
Growing fame and notoriety soon brought him, for a short while, a huge amount of money and the perks in the sidecar that came along with it.
“Velvet ropes,” we call it. The velvet rope world is, after all, different than the world most of us live. People with access inside the velvet ropes are VIPs who live in a world of entitlement. Everything from adulation to material toys is thrown at you.
For much of his early adulthood, sporting fame meant ushered my friend behind the velvet ropes. It is dark in there, and hedonistic. It is safe to say my friend took full advantage.
What earned the man this post-adolescent red carpet treatment was inordinate athletic skill. From birth his father diligently trained him to be a star. He did not let his father down. He grew big and strong and quickly became one.
His father was loving and devoted, obsessed at times in his determination to do one very specific thing: prepare his son for athletic greatness. Where most fathers dream such folly and start at four or five with a back yard whiffle ball and bat, my friend’s father had him doing flexibility drills and strengthening exercises within days of being born. The newborn exercise in his crib and in the swimming pool, long before he could utter a word.
The lad’s life was one of commitment and work — flexibility exercises, reaction exercises, studying positional play — all guided by a no nonsense approach to absolute performance. His father knew scads about biomechanics — far more than anyone else. In retrospect, perhaps his father knew way too much. It was he who incorporated all he’d zealously studied into the remarkable work schedule tailored specifically for his son.
You could say, as many have, the boy never got to be a boy. His childhood was traded in pursuit of a greater destiny: being be a star.
For the boy, life was an odd mix of juxtaposed priorities. He liked sports and was quite good at several, especially brilliant at one, his dad’s favorite. On the other other hand, the boy traded a whole lot of innocence for gaining a competitive edge. Lost in the shuffle was being a kid. He wasn’t just different on the field; he was different off the field, too.
Fame being a runaway train, by the time he finished high school his notoriety transcended transcended all others. But that ubiquitous persona came at an ominous price: In the darkness of privacy, he rebelled against structure and expectations. He hungered to be one of the anonymous guys. He did not like what he’d become — the pedestal guy. He missed all ten shades of normal.
Rebellion came displayed in the form of self-destructive behaviors. As way too many loving parents already know, there are few more helpless feelings than trying to help a child determined to hurt him or herself.
Every child enters the world destined to raised somewhere between too much parenting and not enough. Parenting is like the presidency — there is no training for it — so raising a child is very much a “figure it out as you go along” experience.
A child’s core values are formed between the ages of 0-to-13. These stimuli, influences, observations, and experiences shape the adult world the way the child will grow to live it. After 13, significant emotional events — good and bad — reaffirm or reshape our beliefs. Significant emotional experiences force us to reassess life and decision-making.
Parenting, therefore, is a balancing act between what we want to do and what we need to do. We may want the child to benefit from having a competitive edge. But what may be best for the child is to let him or her, at least from time to time, have the freedom to go be just that: a child.
Regardless how passively or aggressively you choose to engage with your children, never lose sight of the key: How a youngster experiences the world from 0-to-13 hugely effects how he or she will behave a decade or two later.
Next: Part 2 of 2
The Impact of 0-13 in Business
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