Ex-Jocks: The Best Dads?

Do athletes make the best dads? The stars appearing in the Journey to Comfort spots from Dove Men + Care provide appealing portraits of fatherhood, obviously comfortable in their own skin. While not many dads are sports stars, or were in a small town track team kind of way, lots of them are former athletes. And for most of these dads, sports had a formative influence on them. Which leads me to pose the question: does having a history as an athlete make a man a better father?

On the face of it, one would suspect not. Competitiveness, aggression, courage, exceptional strength or endurance aren’t that helpful when it comes to soothing colicky babies past midnight, helping with spelling lists, or driving kids to soccer practice. The characteristics of the successful athlete line up pretty well with stereotypical male gender roles of the past. These attributes seem to better support performance in the workplace than in the domestic sphere.

And there are certainly cultural stereotypes about athletes that don’t paint them as good husbands and dads. For every time we see Doug Flutie in a Dove commercial, we hear about another pro athlete engaged in a domestic dispute.

I’d love to see some social science on this, though it would be difficult to define what a “better” father is, or what an athlete is, for that matter. But I bet you could cross index participation in varsity athletics at the high school level or above with domestic violence, failure to pay child support, absenteeism. What do think the study would reveal? Higher or lower rates of bad behavior among the jocks?

For me, the list of attributes of what makes a good dad evolves — I think probably to reflect the challenges offered by my stage of parenting. For my buck, the key things are still: Showing up and being present, ability to express unconditional love, a capacity for self-sacrifice, empathy, consistency, and a sense of humor. Did my experiences as a high school or college athlete enhance any of these characteristics?

Causality is impossible to prove. I could certainly make a case that my time on a team sharpened my ability to put the needs of the group ahead of my own, taught me the discipline of showing up. But the other, more nurturing characteristics? That would be a stretch to say the least.

That said, I’d wager that if the study were ever done that the findings would surprise a lot of folks, revealing that athletes are less abusive than non-athletes.

My hope, for myself and for my athletic sons, is that sports teach us about drawing lines and discriminating between “on the field” and “off the field” behavior. They give us practice at letting loose and reigning in — a balance that allows us to be not only what we were in the past, but also what we need to be for the future.

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Disclaimer: I’m proud to be a partner with Dove Men + Care, title sponsor of the Dad 2.0 Summit, on the “Journey to Comfort” campaign. I was compensated for this post. Stay tuned for more posts sponsored by this groundbreaking brand.