Saturday, June 18, 2016

Happy Father's Day

Who is the following quote attributed to?

"I love my dad. He's the biggest thing in my life. He taught me and he straightened me out and he kept me in line. If it hadn't been for him standing behind me and pushing me and driving me, I wouldn't be where I am today."

  • Marcus Stroman
  • Colby Rasmus
  • Russ Martin
  • Anthony Perkins, as Jim Piersall talking to his psychiatrist, Dr. Brown

We all want our kids to have a good life. A happy life. To be successful. But what exactly does that look like? Quite often income and status are the metrics we use to measure success. A son in pro sports is the dream of many a parent. Granted there are several inaccuracies, and Piersall himself eventually distanced himself from the film, but the 1957 movie Fear Strikes Out, about the hard-driving relentless parent who pushed his son to the brink was so well done, one can overlook all its faults. We have all seen this dynamic, the parent who just won’t back off. And we have read about it too. Quite a bit actually.

“My dad pushed me to the edge. It was hard. It really took a lot out of me…He wanted to be successful in life and he wanted the same for his kids. He hated failure. If I ever failed at something there was no discussion—it was back to the batting cage or back to working out.” -Marcus Stroman

Many of the Stroman father/sons stories are relayed today as somewhat charming anecdotes, although it is reported that Marcus had a strained relationship with his father and hated the rigorous workouts that were forced upon him. reports that from the time he was six, Marcus was running parachute sprints and pushing weighted sleds. Today Marcus heaps praise on his father, and says that his father is responsible for everything he has accomplished. Maybe because we admire Stroman’s tenacity and drive, we are willing to accept the idiom that the end justifies the means.

“My dad used to always say, 'You ain't had no job.'…The stuff that I had to do was work. Drinking those shakes and walking with dumbbells that I could barely hold, doing lunges across the yard, that was work… It was a tough time but it got me to where I'm at today.” -Colby Rasmus

Tony Rasmus fits the profile of the athlete who never made it big, but imposed it upon his sons to carry through on that legacy. The senior Rasmus stated “I was one of those parents that expected greatness in everything that they were part of in life and I know that was hard on them…That’s tough I know looking back on it.” And his expectations went beyond the playing field. Cory Rasmus was an excellent student and from a young age Tony fully expected him to be valedictorian of his senior class. A quick search will provide many quotes from Colby about his father’s exceedingly high expectations and the relentless pressure he put on his sons to excel.

One of the most abusive-dad stories to come out lately is from former NHL player Patrick O’Sullivan. His is a story of a horribly abusive father, an ex-athlete who never made the grade but was determined that his son would. In an interview with the Canadian Press, O’Sullivan laments “I think it is a story that is far too common, maybe not as extreme as mine, but there’s a lot of people, parents or even coaches that think they’re going to be the difference-maker in their kid making it…it’s important because the subject involved is kids, and they don’t have a voice of their own, they can’t change their circumstances, someone needs to do that for them.”

Achievement by Proxy Distortion Many of us are familiar with Munchausen by Proxy, where a care-giver (usually dear loving mom) fabricates or causes illness in someone under their care, most often a child, for secondary gain (attention, sympathy). Sometimes to the point of accidentally or intentionally killing the victim.

There is also a disorder that psychologists refer to as Achievement by Proxy Distortion (ABPD), where a parent’s sense of self-esteem and importance is dependent on the child’s success.

“The pathogenic form of ABPD is a phenomenon by which the social and/or financial gains of the child's achievements become the adults' primary goals. ABPD is often associated with child athletes.” (Note: I’m not attributing this disorder to any father mentioned in this post)

I’m sure many of us know a parent who has walked that fine line between being supportive and engaged, imparting wisdom and being a positive role-model, to being the parent who doesn’t allow for failure. There have been many documented cases of ABPD, including several involving accomplished Olympic athletes. Interestingly, one of the risks factors of ABPD is a father who was an athlete, but never achieved the success he had hoped for. The disorder has several stages, all involving a distorted drive to have the child succeed. The parent (or coach, etc.) invests an inordinate amount of time and money on the child, with increasing pressure to have a “return” on the investment. The child suffers from emotional and often physical abuse, particularly in the latter stages.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association reports that only about 1 in 168 high school baseball players will get drafted into the MLB. The odds are even slimmer for the NBA; 1 in 2,451 high school basketball players will get drafted. Apparently those odds aren’t scaring away some parents; they just start their kids earlier. Consider that the Physician and Sportsmedicine journal reported that overuse injuries have replaced traumatic injuries as the most common reason for a child’s sports-related visit to the physician. This is attributed to the fact that to increase their chances of making it to the top, parents are having their children specialize at a very young age. Overuse injuries are being seen in children as young as 8 years old. Yet statistics support the claim that children who specialize in one sport at an early age have a much higher rate of dropping out of sports all-together than do children who play a variety of sports.

Tom Farrey, author of Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children states "more and more parents are hiring private coaches and having their kids play a single sport year-round. They basically feed these kids sports with a fire hose from a very early age". One can make the argument that parents are simply allowing their child to follow their passion, but Farrey claims many are pushing their kids because they believe they are bettering their child's chances to obtain an athletic scholarship or have a pro career.

We can point to some high-profile success stories where a child has been groomed for one sport at an early age: Tiger Woods, Serena and Venus Williams, and Andre Agassi. Might this be some fuel for the fire?

You can’t make something out of nothing, and who knows how many dads are out there whose early-morning drills and protein shakes did not amount to a son playing on a pro team. But for those kids who inherited those coveted genes that gave them that athletic edge, maybe dad’s regimented approach was the one thing that set them apart from the hundreds, thousands, who dreamt of hearing their name called in the draft. I wonder how these parent-child relationships pan out over the years. Does the parent provide unconditional love to the kid who doesn’t make it, or even worse, quits?

I am always partial to the story about the child who made it due to an internal motivation to be the best they can be at something that they love (such as this lovely story about Marco Estrada; thanks to RADAR for posting the original link). Although Walter Gretzky was touted as an obsessive hockey dad, Wayne asserts that his dad always encouraged the kids to play seasonal sports, and the hours Wayne spent on skates on the backyard rink was from internal motivation and a pure love for hockey, and not due to any external factors. And it’s not just about admiring someone with high-profile, sexy, big-money success. Any person who can make a living doing what they love to do is lucky indeed.

Jim Coyle of the Toronto Star wrote an interesting article about minor league baseball in Toronto, and some of the colourful characters and stories from a bygone era. I knew him as Jimmy Coyle, when, back in the 60’s my dad coached him in the Greenwood Little League in Toronto’s east end. I was a young girl, 10 at the most, when my dad taught me how to keep score. Some of my fondest memories are of being at the park with my dad while he coached baseball. He never had any lofty goals for his only daughter. He thought it important that I learn to type so that I could get a job in an office. (And after completing 3 years of college and 6 years of university, you must admit that it’s quite a feat that I still don’t know how to type. Sorry dad!). But I think he would be more than okay with how I’ve lived my life. I don’t begrudge the parenting decisions my dad made; he did his best with the tools that he had. And maybe that’s what the Earl Stromans of the world have done as well.

I miss my dad. Happy Father's Day!