I feel very lucky to have a son who not only shares my passion for sports, but for the same teams I follow. Some of our favorite times as Daddy and Brennan are when we’re able to go to a live game or even just sit around and watch one on TV.
My son has learned so many of the nuances of baseball, football, and most of all, soccer. He understands all of the rules and can recognize almost every player on Manchester United. As we were watching the game when Wayne Rooney became the all-time leading goal scorer for the club, he said something that really made me think, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be just like Wayne Rooney.”
That was when it really hit me: kids really do blindly worship athletes.
My son has a lot of ambitions for a 7-year-old, including being a NASCAR crew chief or a scientist that designs race cars, but this one really stuck out to me. How do I respond? Can I ignore it and allow him to keep up the hero worship, or would it be better to crush his dreams and tell him how these famous people can be terrible humans off the field of play?
It’s different with my son, as he is a super logical thinker (my 5-year-old daughter still wants to be a unicorn when she grows up). After a few minutes of my mind racing, he asked me if I was OK because he wasn’t used to me being so quiet during a game. I decided something had to be said.
After the game ended, I turned off the TV and told him we needed to have a real conversation for a few minutes. I said that Rooney is a great player who has showed great dedication on the field. I told him that he could emulate his style and his passion for the game that he loves, but there was a lot that he didn’t know about the people we only see on TV for a few hours per week.
I told him that even though I, too, was a big fan of Rooney the player, Rooney the man hasn’t always been someone to look up to. I told him that he has gotten in trouble a lot for doing bad things both on the field and off. He even made a mistake so bad that his wife almost divorced him. I told him that Rooney got suspended because he yelled bad words into the camera and a lot of kids heard them. He then said something that stuck me like a dagger, “If Rooney did all of these bad things, why do you wear his jersey?”
I then realized how much I was also learning in this conversation. He wasn’t the only one who needed to stop this hero worship of athletes — I was just as guilty! I told him that he was right and that we all need better role models. I informed him that athletes get paid a lot of money in a short amount of time, many times before they are mature enough to understand how to manage it, which can lead to poor decisions. We’re the ones that give them a second (and sometimes a third) chance to redeem themselves. I explained that Rooney was a year younger than Daddy, and even though he made a lot more money that I ever will, he may not have a job in the next couple of years. I need to keep one to pay the bills.
I love having these logical conversations and teachable moments with my little dude when we both end up with a better understanding. My son asked if there were any athletes that were good people and I told him that there was no group of people, however they are divided that are all good or bad. I told him that he should look up to the good things in people he admires. He shouldn’t ignore the bad things, but he should understand that people need to learn.
It was hard for me to explain that when Rooney was in his second season as a Manchester United player, Daddy had been going on his first deployment. He then almost melted my heart when he said, “But Daddy, you’re the one I look up to the most.” I guess someone was cutting onions nearby because my eyes got very watery.
To my fellow dads out there, be that role model for your tiny humans. Encourage them to follow their dreams and show the passion, drive, and work ethic of top athletes while remembering their roots.