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Fatherrific!

In honor of this Sunday’s celebration of Father’s Day, I wanted to take a look at three very famous fathers.

Joe was a very good basketball player, known on the rugged Philadelphia playgrounds as “Jellybean Joe,” a 6-foot-9-inch forward who possessed the skills of a point guard. At one point in his professional basketball career, he regularly poured in 30 to 40 points per game. His wife, two daughters and son followed him to six different pro teams and three countries. Joe’s son followed in his father’s footsteps and grew up to far exceed his father’s basketball talents.

Troy loved hockey. Growing up in Canada, I suppose that’s not much of a stretch. He played the game his entire life and managed to climb as high as the Junior Leagues in Canada, and he turned out to be a pretty solid goalie. But his reputation was more for his tendency to throw down the gloves and bloody his knuckles a bit. Troy’s son loves hockey, too, and his skills are further along than the Junior Leagues – and he rarely drops the gloves.

And finally there’s Earl, who might’ve become a pretty good baseball player. He attended Kansas State University on a baseball scholarship, and then broke the “color barrier” in the Big Seven Conference in 1951. The Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues offered him a contract, but he rejected it and opted to serve in the U.S. Army and complete two full tours in Vietnam. Many decades later, Earl’s son would break a color barrier of sorts himself – in another sport altogether.

The love and support these fathers provided their sons helped their boys rise to the top of each of their chosen professions. What? You don’t know Earl, Troy or “Jellybean Joe”? Then perhaps you know their boys? Joe Bryant’s son Kobe, Troy Crosby’s son Sidney, and Earl Woods’s son Tiger, by most accounts, are household names.

Within the past week, Kobe Bryant and Sidney Crosby each led their teams to championships in the NBA and NHL respectively, and Tiger Woods begins his quest today for a second straight U.S. Open championship (and 15th major championship of his career). Each man finds himself at the top of his profession, the top of his game, and with very few peers or rivals. And each of them would tell you that their fathers played a major role in guiding them to greatness.

Many books and articles have been written on Kobe, Sidney and Tiger, and even a few books have been written on their less famous fathers. Did their fathers push them and drive them unapologetically into basketball, hockey and golf? How often do we read about “stage moms” and overzealous fathers living their dreams through their children? In the case of Joe, Earl, and Troy, we find quite the opposite. What is notable about all three of these men is the lessons they learned from their own mistakes and near-misses, and how they passed those lessons on to their sons. Each of these fathers has been quoted at times, and all have said the same thing – it was not the sport itself they encouraged their sons to dominate, but instead the process.

The practice. The commitment. The dedication. The determination.

These are concepts and ideals – a spirit, if you will – that happen above the playing field. We see it in professional athletes, because our culture celebrates great athleticism and winning. But one could argue we’re not actually celebrating Kobe’s, Sidney’s or Tiger’s victories, but their spirit and their excellence, which are borne deep in one’s soul. Their ultimate success on the hardwood, the ice and the neatly kept grasses of Augusta move us because, inside each of us, lives a champion, too. And when we see great champions perform at their highest level, we see ourselves capable of similar achievements in the areas where our talent lies.

So on this Father’s Day, let us celebrate our fathers for the lessons they’ve passed down to us for generations. The very spirit that makes us Americans, as set forth by our forefathers, you men will pass on to the next generation.

I salute you, dads.

If you’ve wandered a bit off course and gotten lost in the woods, use this weekend to refocus. You have goals, and dreams. You have plans and ideas. You have a way, and a will. A will to succeed. Seek out some fatherly advice if you are so fortunate to have someone around willing to dish it. Or, offer some fatherly advice to someone you see who might need a kind, sound, encouraging word. Even the simplest thought or gesture can make a profound impact. And if all else fails, look at yourself in the mirror and give yourself some tough love – the love only a father can give.

Happy Father’s Day!

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