Father’s day has arrived once again here in the United States.
As I reflect upon my life as a father and son, I wonder what sort of world my children will help shape for their future generations. What I have done, and where have I disappointed my childhood dreams in my attempt to contribute to the world my father has made for me?
One way I think my generation has fallen short is in safeguarding the liberties that have been the birthright of the American people for two hundred years. We stepped back and let the politicians handle things. The result, to say the least, has been very disappointing.
Recently, someone very dear to me suggested that the way we react to our politicians says more about who we are than about who they are. This gave me pause. It made sense. Perhaps that’s why I get so passionate when I comment how both George Bush and Obama have disappointed me. Then, I pondered further, if our reaction to politicians reveals us, could this also be true of our reactions to sports personalities? Recently, as the horrible truth about the American government hiring private contractors to spy on its own people was being revealed, you in Bangladesh were getting horrifying revelations of your own. We had our disappointment with Barack Obama and you had your disappointment with Mohammad Ashraful and the match-fixing scandal.
Why are these two seemingly unrelated topics occupying my mind as I head into the Fathers’ Day weekend?
I remember back in November of 2008, as I watched the Presidential election results, I was excited that we Americans had finally elected a statesman, not a politician like George Bush, and that after eight years of running slipshod over the Constitution, after eight years of a government headed by a man with a tiny brain, and his Vice President, a man whose heart was literally two sizes too small, we would finally get back on track as a nation, and the Constitution would be protected and defended as it should be.
I was wrong. Recent events have proven what many suspected all along. President Obama’s policies have consistently violated the spirit, and perhaps even the letter of the US Constitution, continuing a trend that George Bush began with the infamous “Patriot” Act.
But such is politics — that game of smoke and mirrors. The talent of the politician lies in the ability to hold the faith of the people despite objective measures, such as their actions. Politicians temper our expectations just enough, hoping we’ll forget the promises they made to get into office. As long as we don’t regret not voting for the other guy, a politician is doing fine. After all, we do not elect our most talented people. Politics isn’t about merit, it is about connections, and to a certain extent, it is about an ability to manipulate those connections, for personal gains, which hopefully overlap with the common good.
I never expected drone strikes and extrajudicial killings from our Nobel Peace Prize laureate. I never expected a president who taught Constitutional Law to so blatantly violate the Fourth Amendment to that same document.
And so when I talk about Obama disappointing me, perhaps I am merely shining a light on myself. Perhaps my expectations, upon Obama’s election, blinded me to the nature of my President’s authentic character. Expectations of hope and change made us all a little lazy about vetting our candidate before voting. The result is that we didn’t get what we had hoped for.
So I guess, with Fathers’ Day on my mind, it is natural for me to think about expectation and disappointment. I think about my own father, a man of great integrity, who, in all my fifty years on this earth, I’ve never known to break a promise. Maybe that’s a task which is easier for an academic than it is for a politician.
My dad’s work and sacrifices allowed me to pursue my own dreams with a safety net, knowing that I could reach for that trapeze swinging high above me, try every flip and twist I chose, and if I missed the mark, my fall would never be fatal. I would live to climb again. Maybe that has made me more careless about my own integrity, but that was a shortcoming in me that he refused to judge.
My father never asked me to be anything but who I was. He always says, when he talks about the differences in career and personality between my siblings and me, “I got North, South, East and West.” He has never made me feel like I could disappoint him. I was always confident that, whatever I did, as long as I remained true to myself, he would be proud. In this way, his expectations never blinded him to the nature of my authentic self.
See, that’s the whole problem with expectations.
Which brings me to Mohammad Ashraful.
When it comes to athletic prowess, the cream always seemed to rise to the top, and in sports talent is much easier to spot than it is in politics. It is impossible to fake sport ability, or feign success. The measures are objective. In this important way, sports and politics are very different.
Sports is the great equalizer. I remember in Argentina, despite huge social differences, men and women of every social stratum could always discuss the pros and cons of a particular soccer team as equals. Great stars were as likely to come from the shanties as from the upper echelon. In its purest form, sports is a meritocracy.
The only way sports can be corrupted is either by the taking of performance-enhancing drugs, or by intentionally playing below par, which, to me, seems like spitting on God. In the social activity where rich and poor have near-equal opportunity to excel, what a sin to be found to have corrupted this opportunity!
Here in the US, many of our overpaid baseball players have been found guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs. This is terrible. Major league records were set through the use of steroids and these records will always carry the stigma of shame. However, I think it is much worse, on some spiritual level, perhaps, to disappoint fans, many of whom I know have their own big league dreams.
So when I read about the case of Mohammad Ashraful, I wondered what could possibly drive an athlete to throw games. I read his history and understood the level of expectation people must have had of him early in his career, when he set records and became such a phenomenon. The pressure to live up to the near-impossible expectations of his fans was incredible. The record-breaking way he began his career, where could go from there? His star inevitably faded, and he didn’t handle it well. The expectations weighed too heavily on his shoulders.
As his spotty career continued, he must have heard the same old saw a thousand time, “When is he going to live up to his potential?” The harder he tried, the worse he got. The worse he got, the more frustrated he became. This is my guess, what I imagine happened based upon articles and records spanning Ashraful’s years as a cricket player.
Maybe Ashraful, by age 28, had given up altogether on ever living up to the hype he’d generated as a 17-year-old, and sabotaged himself as a way to escape.
Or perhaps the truth is that in order to successfully pursue the expectations of others, both Ashraful and Obama had to cheat themselves out of something intrinsic to their better nature, namely their own personal standards. This is the nature of the politician, and the reason that so many politicians are corrupt: They care more about the adulation of the voter than they care about their own measure of right and wrong. Once they have abandoned their, all other forms of cheating are more easily accomplished, simply as a reaction to the expectation of the masses.
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On this Fathers’ day, I reflect upon my own father’s good example, and confess that perhaps I am guilty of foisting my expectations upon the shoulders, not just of my politicians, but maybe I’ve done something even more destructive, something my dad would never do.
Maybe I’ve forced my children to bear the burden of my expectations as well.
Success, as I measure it is such a natural thing for any father to desire for his children. But perhaps this Fathers’ Day I could take a play from my own father’s book, and dispense with my expectations, relishing instead the fact that my children have their own standards of success that are particular to each of them, and simply relish the disparate cardinal points where the journey of their unique souls has taken them, be it North, South, East or West.
Frank Domenico Cipriani writes a weekly column in the Riverside Signal called “You Think What You Think And I’ll Think What I Know.” He is also the founder and CEO of The Gatherer Institute — a not-for-profit public charity dedicated to promoting respect for the environment and empowering individuals to become self-taught and self-sufficient. His most recent book, “Learning Little Hawk’s Way of Storytelling”, teaches the native art of oral tradition storytelling.