By now everyone has read the Wright Thompson article on the Manziel family and their difficulties dealing with Johnny’s meteoric rise into super stardom. An emergent theme from that article is both Paul Manziel’s (Johnny’s father) reaction to the stressors in Johnny’s life, and his own feelings about Johnny’s role as Texas A&M’s quarterback.
Paul Manziel was highlighted more in that article than I expected…and upon first read, I found myself questioning his parenting, and wondering if he (Paul) wasn’t one of the root causes of Johnny’s struggles this year. I know that my first reaction was shared by more than a few people. But I think we need to be careful about judging Paul as a father.
Before I get too far into this, a couple of caveats:
All parenting perspectives are my own… feel free to totally disagree with them.
- I don’t know why Paul would have agreed to that interview. I don’t know why he would openly tell a reporter some of the things he said.
- I’m not sure why there seems to be a combative relationship between Paul and the athletic department. I wonder whether Paul's feelings are shared among the entire family.
- I’m not sure what other support mechanisms he expected A&M to provide, given that Johnny was provided alcohol counseling, personal counseling and a variety of other services covered in this quote from Athletic Director Eric Hyman:
"Last fall we assembled a comprehensive team ranging from academics to compliance and legal to public relations to support Johnny Manziel and his family," Hyman said in an email Tuesday. "We certainly recognize that he is under extenuating circumstances, and there is not a blueprint to dealing with the stresses, intrusions and attention that Manziel deals with on a daily basis"
The latter part of that quote is very important. We’re in remarkably uncharted territory (as alluded to in our follow up interview with Wright). No one knows how to handle this correctly. Every victory is framed as "well yeah, that’s obviously what you should have done" and every failure is "holy hell how did you drop the ball on that." No one knows what they are doing.
Not even Paul Manziel.
So here’s where the defense part starts. The second time I read the article, I reflected back on this quote by Mitch Albom:
"All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair."
I’m a father. I have two sons (both under the age of 3). Being a dad is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Being a dad to sons is a significant amount of pressure, because you want to do everything in your power to help them to grow up to be "good men" (which is a totally relative term). I’ve always thought that we grow up as products of a parenting style, but there’s a corollary to that...my parenting style is definitely a product of the way I was parented, for better or worse. My parents loved me and did everything they knew to do to support me, yet they damaged me. I’m doing my best not to damage my kids in the same way, but I’m damn near positive that I’ll end up doing some harm whether I know it or not.
The damage doesn’t come intentionally, of course…but being a parent is a delicate art of checking your own issues at the door to make sure they aren’t passed on to your kids, but also acknowledging your personal issues in an effort to parent with authenticity. But regardless of all that , everything is done out of love. I would, quite literally, do anything for my kids. Absolutely anything. I’d do anything to keep them safe and to keep them happy. And I’m not the only one…I’m sure nearly every parent would do the same, including Paul Manziel.
So while we’re focusing in on A&M having difficulty dealing with Johnny’s meteoric rise, perhaps we should have a little bit of patience for Paul too. His son has gone from being someone who could get away with having two fake IDs (hat tip to Wright on that thought, which in hindsight is mind-blowing) to being the single most recognizable and talked about person in college football, if not in all of sports. All of this in the span of less than a year. Paul went from seeing his son toil away at practice as a probable second string QB, to being someone that shoulders much of the pressures associated with winning a national title. Paul went from seeing his son’s private struggle with the normal growing pains of being a college athlete, to seeing his son’s struggles talked about by ESPN 24/7.
I’d have a hard time with that as a dad. I’d probably wonder if I was doing everything I could to support him. I’d definitely wonder if A&M was providing the services that my son needed to be successful. I’d fear for his safety, and I too would wonder if the pressure was going to break him and fear for the worst. I might not have been so vocal about it, but then again that’s a personality difference, and were I provided the mouthpiece by which to voice my frustrations maybe I would say something. We can never know until we’re in that situation.
So I think it’s important to take the Wright Thompson article as (I think) it was intended. A brief view into the family life of the most recognizable figure in college football. But I think beyond that we need to temper our judgement about how Johnny was parented. They obviously did something right…they raised Johnny with enough confidence that he feels like and plays like he’s the best player on the field every single game, which is a large part of the reason that we are where we are right now.
Every parent damages their kid. Including Paul Manziel. But hell, as parents aren’t we all just trying to figure this entire thing out? Aren’t we all operating from some vague set of values that were passed down to us in an effort to help our kids live the best life they possibly can?
Taking a cue from Johnny, I think it’s important to note that we haven’t walked a day in Paul’s shoes. He’s trying to do his best to deal with a situation that everyone is having a hard time wrapping their head around. With that in mind, perhaps it’s best to dial back the judgment a little bit and understand that he, much like everyone else around Johnny, is doing his best to help a young man deal with the pressures of fame.