Human beings are born completely helpless. Without protection, an infant dies. When done right, it’s a protection that continues well into our adolescence and sometimes our twenties. As babies and toddlers, protection means food, shelter and changing your diaper.
As the child matures, protection means being taught the discipline of making it on your own one day.
It’s called parenting. You can never get enough good parenting. And, you can be hurt if you’ve been deprived or abused. Parents help prepare us for future relationships, employment and even, the capacity to know right from wrong. Parents prepare us to be solid men and women in this world.
According to the New York Times, Major League Baseball is now displaying a parenting casualty on center stage. His name is Alex Rodriguez; the superstar third baseman for the New York Yankees. Rodriguez has been caught in the scandal of our times; performance enhancing drugs.
Strangely, George Vecsey of The Times claims that Mr. Rodriguez’s real problem goes back to childhood. The piece is entitled Thrown by Life’s Curveballs, a Star Missed the Signals.
What’s fascinating about Vecsey's article is that it’s not about baseball, but rather about fathers and sons. While I cannot know the truth of Rodriguez’s life, I do understand broken families, and the role an active (or absent) father can play in the life of a son or a daughter.
Fathers often play a critical role in the life of sons and daughters.
According to Vecsey, Rodriguez believes that his father’s disappearance at a critical age, profoundly affected his development. He uses A-Rod's own words to prove his point. I don't know A-Rod's inner mind, but I do understand the Father/Son dynamic. I will develop this essay with the possibility that Vecsey is onto something.
The Yankee/A-Rod Drama:
Here is what’s going on: Alex Rodriguez’s huge suspension from Major League Baseball is probably deserved, yet I have sympathy for the way he’s fighting back. You see, A-Rod knows there’s a lot of guilt to go around. Who wants to be a fall guy for everyone else, even if you’re guilty yourself?
So Alex fights back, and accuses the Yankees of their own misdeeds. He now claims that the Yankee front office had him play with an injury, risking an end to his career—maybe yes and maybe no.
We are in for a mess.
Fathers and Sons:
Vecsey bases his piece on an upsetting interview with A-Rod many years ago about his father. It's an old story; apparently, Alex's father disappeared one day, and his mom did the best she could. But, little Alex felt a void. Here’s Vecsey;
“Dad left us when I was 9,” Rodriguez told Bob Finnigan of The Seattle Times in the spring of 1998. “What did I know back then? I thought he was coming back. I thought he had gone to the store or something. But he never came back. ... It still hurts.”
…“After a while, I lied to myself,” Rodriguez said. “I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t care. But times I was alone, I often cried. Where was my father? To this day, I still can’t get close to people.”
After years of working in the fields of divorce, I now know that kids need role models where ever they can be found. There are now more single parent households in our country than intact families. Kids move between homes, or more sadly, only have one home, with a parent missing – usually Daddy.
The Single Mother & Her Son:
There's much a mother can do to get more male involvement into the life of a son or daughter. There are coaches, teachers, ministers, rabbis, uncles and grandfathers. Pamela Cytrynbaum, a Psychology Today blogger, writes about finding a ‘Volunteer Fathers Club.’ Healthy male parenting can come from a non-parent. But, many miss out.
I have written on the value of a good Dad on both genders, so I will confine my remarks here to the father-son dynamic that was apparently lacking for little Alex Rodriguez. According to Vecsey, it cost him dearly.
It’s tough for a single mother to raise an adolescent boy. When healthy, such boys are big, strong and willful. Plus, most boys will not “cave” to their mothers. A father or a good male role model teaches a boy how to contain his aggression and mold it into something good.
The boy sees his father carrying dignity and power.
- He doesn’t cheat, or hit a woman.
- He takes pride in working hard and dealing with people fairly.
- He learns to be invested in the difference between right and wrong.
- While mothers set rules and expectations, dads help boys internalize that sense of being a man, strong, in control, invested in society and prideful.
- A good father diminishes the chances for male narcissism.
We don’t know Alex Rodriguez’s whole story. Nor do I want to know. Maybe there was a step father who counted, or a coach. Someone taught him discipline.
But, did anyone really teach him the inviolate nature of a world with rules.
A-Rod as a Tragic Figure:
Vecsey’s argument is that A-Rod lacked a father to help him understand right from wrong. If that’s true, think how it went. Everyone was doing it, so why not me? No one will ever know if Vecsey’s thesis is correct.
A-Rod may have been tempted to use PEDs with or without a good father around.
Guilt and accountability stem from a strong sense of what’s right. Most baseball players probably knew it wasn’t right to use steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Yet they did anyway. Why? Good money, of course. But, also because everyone in charge, from the Players Union to the Owners to the Sports Writers, were all looking the other way. Into that vacuum walked men like Alex Rodriguez.
He probably did stuff that so many others were doing. He probably felt reassured that the authority figures wanted it this way. Now the tide has shifted. I doubt he feels guilt; more likely anger.
If we take Vecsey one step further, the parental figures of baseball also abandoned Alex.
This time he will not take it lying down.