Today, my son turned eight years old. He had a splendid day with his classmates, gorging himself with Spider-Man themed chocolate cupcakes and also got some cool new presents. On Friday, since he had no school, we went shopping and he used some of his birthday money to get Battleship and a new watch. We had a really nice weekend watching the Super Bowl, and I took him to Cub Scouts the next night where he received another bead towards his Wolf badge and another few ticks towards yet another silver point arrow. This coming weekend I’ll probably take him bowling because he’s kind of obsessed with it now. When the spring time comes, we’ll start riding bikes and playing catch again. And I will continue to be a role model for my son.
I was going to write a birthday blog for my son as I did last year anyway, but Anno wanted to see if I could put a parental twist on it and talk a bit about role models. Every now and then you hear a parent say “Player X is a role model” or “Player Y is not a good role model”…something to that effect. My simple opinion is that those statements are not completely accurate. I won’t go so far to say that professional athletes should not be role models. They have a lot of exposure and kids love watching big strong men do big strong things on the baseball field or the basketball court, etc. But what I tell my son is that while he may want to emulate those athletic skills, he should not look to them as the end-all role model. Instead, he should look to me.
You see, everyone is human and everyone by extension is flawed in some way. Flaws are essentially what makes us human instead of androids (even androids are flawed, my phone has crashed a few times already this past week), and the ability to discern and reduce those flaws is what a parent should be expected to do. The professional athlete may care in passing about the general welfare of a child, and about his fans (especially in terms of the portion of his paycheck coming from that fan) but he doesn’t actually care on an individual basis. Therefore it is up to us as parents to instill a good system of values in our children.
I am an unabashed fan of Sammy Sosa. I have no desire for my child to be exactly like Sammy Sosa the person, because he most likely took performance-enhancing drugs and apparently was not the best teammate in the world. Ditto with Barry Bonds. What I do want my son to understand, though, is that there are certain things he can emulate from athletes and other so-called “role models” that will make him a better person. For example, my son enjoys baseball and wants to play it. I tell him that he needs to recognize the strike zone as well as Bonds did, and then swing for contact and power as Bonds did. He can also emulate Sammy’s power stroke because my son is right-handed. On a personal level, he can also be philanthropic and generous, as both Sosa and Bonds have established charities and given away sums of money to less fortunate people. It’s part of the mission of the Boy Scouts of America, and something my son enjoys.
My son likes video games, and against my better judgment, he plays some games that are rated M for Mature. However, because I’m there, he understands that it’s mostly imagination and that he can’t randomly shoot people in the middle of the street. Same with baseball and professional athletes. He understands that there are some things that he can look up to, like Mark Grace‘s ability to hit, but he should not look up to Mark Grace because he’s a drunk bastard. He knows these things because I am not delegating being a role model to anyone else but myself.
This doesn’t make me perfect; far from it. I know my flaws and my job is to ensure that my son doesn’t copy my flaws, but cultivates his strengths to be the best person he can be. My son is generous and kind, loves animals, is very smart at math and we’re still trying to get him to read more (he HATES reading) but he does know many words and is a decent writer when he puts his mind to it. We’ve instilled in him the understanding that people are equal (something that the Boy Scouts of America is looking into more, by the way) and that he should help his fellow humans.
Being a parent is a privilege, and as much as I love baseball players, there’s no way I’m leaving that job to anyone else. Not even Ryne Sandberg or Greg Maddux. Ryno and Mad Dog may be awesome parents in real life, but I’ll raise my own kid, thank you very much. If they want to coach my son into becoming a Hall of Fame baseball player though, I’m all for it. I’ll just make sure that my son learns more lessons than just how to hit or pitch.