The following excerpt is from the book, Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge by Etan Thomas with Nick Chiles (who is Editor-in-Chief of Atlanta Black Star). It is reprinted with permission of New American Library/Penguin. In this excerpt, NBA great Grant Hill talks about the incredible love and respect he has for his father, former NFL great Calvin Hill.
When I think about my dad, Calvin Hill, unconditional love and support are the first things that come to my mind. He has so much personal integrity in the way that he’s lived his life; he’s always been the perfect role model.
From a genetic standpoint, in my mannerisms and things of that nature, I obviously got a lot from him. But now that I’m an adult with my own children, I’m getting even more from him: how to interact with my children, how to deal with adversity, how to be a role model myself. I now realize how fortunate and blessed I have been over the years to have him there. When I was younger, I thought everybody had that in their lives. He would tell me there’s six inches between a pat on the back and a pat on the butt—and a parent has to do both. But the key is constant contact. Whether you’re praising or disciplining, you’re involved; you’re there. He drove me to practice; he corrected my homework; he respected my mother; he was interested in my friends and the things we were involved with at different stages of my childhood. He was always in contact. Even now, as an adult, even though obviously you cut the umbilical cord at some point, he’s still there for me. I’m thirty-nine, but I still lean on him and still look up to him. When I was younger, there was the fear of getting in trouble and being disciplined if I wasn’t conducting myself in a certain way, if I wasn’t respecting my peers, if I wasn’t taking the high road, if I wasn’t doing the right thing. But even now, as an adult, one of the things that’s helped me stay grounded is the fear of disappointing my parents. He’s still teaching me, encouraging me, and holding me accountable. Nothing’s changed—just our ages.
Part of parental love is being able to balance the constant praise and instilling of confidence in your child with teaching them right from wrong. You have to be able to tell them “No” and discipline them when necessary. I might have thought my parents were tough when I was younger, but I certainly have appreciation, admiration, and respect for their approach now.
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It was huge for me to see my father be a good husband to my mother. Somewhere I read that the best way to love kids is to love and respect their mother. My parents have been married for forty-two years. My mom has been successful in business; she has a very dominating personality. Watching the way he’s treated her over the years, how he respected her and how he never mistreated her—to her face or when she wasn’t around—the way he’s loved her, has all helped me immensely in understanding the importance of the marriage bond, the strength that comes from that, and the effect it has on kids. I know I’m the first man my daughters are ever going to love. That is a huge responsibility—it is up to me to set the standard, to be an example of the type of man they should seek when it comes time for them to find a man. That’s important to me—once I get my mind past the teenage dating years that are coming! I want my daughters to find somebody who lives up to the standard—and my standard is my father, their grandfather. If they can find somebody who treats them as my father treats my mom, I’d be more than pleased.
Having children is an interesting experience for athletes. Sometimes as athletes we live sort of a selfish existence. Everything revolves around us, our season, our schedule. Those who are around us have to make sacrifices—our families, our wives. Obviously my wife and I have a great relationship, but when you have kids you experience this amazing thing called unconditional love. When my first daughter was born, I never thought I could love someone or something as much as I loved her. All of a sudden you realize how selfish you’ve been. Nothing, even loving yourself, could compare to that kind of love. When my second daughter was born five years later, by then I had gotten to know my now nine-year-old daughter and I had this great bond and relationship with her. I was worried. I couldn’t imagine having to share that love. I’m an only child, so I wasn’t used to the family dynamic of multiple children and all of that. But after she was born, I certainly learned what it was all about.
In the sports world and even in business, people who are successful get consumed with their legacy, leaving their mark, doing something that folks will remember. But I think without a doubt the most important thing you can do for your legacy is your children. If I can turn out people who respect other people, live honorably, and do what’s right in life, I can look back and be proud. That’s my biggest challenge, my biggest hope. Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. You’re constantly second-guessing yourself, constantly aware of the responsibilities at hand. But it’s also the most important thing and the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.