Putting fatherhood in perspective

Updated: June 19, 2009, 2:44 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | Page 2

About a year ago, I shared a tough lesson I learned about fatherhood after my son, then 11 and a budding two-sport athlete, opted to drop out of hockey and soccer to direct his attention toward photography. For a man whose day feels empty without a good sweat, this was not news I wanted to hear. But I didn't want to be "that guy," so I relented.

Fast forward 365 days. My kid has a camera that cost three times as much as the one he started with. He's enrolled in a couple classes at the local college of art and design, and he fusses about natural lighting.

And his backhand.

Yep, the kid who was burned out on sports has picked up tennis. After his first class, he proclaimed he was "awesome" in the sport and by the end had won his class tournament, defeating kids a couple of years older and with more experience.

All is right in the Granderson household.

My son has the freedom to explore his interests, and I have learned the difference between controlling and steering. It seems that everyday since my son was born I have been learning new things about myself. But as Sam McNabb, father of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, told me, fatherhood is "not a one-shot program but an ongoing process."

"You learn quickly that your actions are monitored by your children closer than you think," he said. "I never wanted to live a lie, so I made sure my walk always matched my talk.

"And as a grandfather you get to see your children administer your tactics and strategies in raising their children. It basically makes you feel as if you did something right as a father, as a parent."

That's the key, right? Having to make parenting decisions on a day-by-day, if not hour-by-hour basis and never really knowing how it's all going to play out until years from now. Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson said the key for him is his ability to wear different hats.

"Provider, teacher, companion -- whether you have a daughter or son, you have to be be disciplined, supportive and patient," he said. "You have to support them, but also allow them to learn life's lessons."

That's the part that gives me the most anxiety. I grew up a lower-class kid: government cheese sandwiches, jeans that were too short, electricity shut off for non-payment, etc. So as a middle-class dad, I do everything I can to make sure my son never knows that life.

But I know the struggles I had growing up implanted a work ethic and resolve that got me to this place in life. Don't get me wrong, my son gets punished and has his share of chores. But am I robbing him of something he may need later by making sure he lacks for nothing? Sure, he has my genes, but each child is his or her own person, so you never really know how they're going to process one experience or another. It's those kinds of questions, that level of responsibility, that helps Buccaneers quarterback Luke McCown keep his head in the midst of on-field controversy.

"Kids put everything in perspective," McCown said. "There are a lot of pressures from being a quarterback in the NFL, but there's not a bigger pressure than raising children."

That sentiment is echoed by Vikings quarterback Sage Rosenfels.

"No matter how bad my work day is, when you come home and your kids want to go out to eat, you're just dad," said Rosefels, who had his ups and downs as a player famously played out in a game against the Colts when he was playing for the Texans last season. Leading 27-10 with 8:18 to play, Rosenfels turned the ball over three times and Houston lost 31-27.

It seemed like the entire football nation laughed at him.

"With your kids, you're not a loser, you're not a winner. … All they care about is dad."

For two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, he finds that all he cares about are his children.

"My feelings hurt way more when my girls are upset than they ever did when something bad happened to me," he said.

As I canvassed the sports world to ask men about fatherhood, the thing that stuck out the most is the commonality we all have. The fear of letting our kids down, being too strict, not being strict enough.

Pistons president Joe Dumars summed up fatherhood in two words: "Unconditional love."

Former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, who has a son with autism, summed up it up in one: "Patience!"

I need three: Happy Father's Day.

In a time when too many men are male enough to make the babies but not male enough to raise them, just being able to have those words mean something is reason enough for men such as Sam McNabb to smile.

"My sons often show their great appreciation and respect for me through their kind words and genuine actions," he said.

I guess they call that fruit from the labor.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at

LZ Granderson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine