Bruce Springsteen has three children: Evan, Jessica, and Sam. One of them is an Olympic-level equestrian (which can not have been a cheap or easy interest to encourage, nor always a fun one to watch). His son, Sam, recently became a New Jersey firefighter (a scary thought for any parent). Clearly, Bruce and his wife Patti have figured out how to help their children become who they are, and to realize their potential.
“I wanted them to see people that did a lot of other things,” Bruce once said in an interview, “be around people who would shape them and they would have a lot of options.” Perhaps his inclination to encourage them to pursue their dreams comes from his own experience. In his autobiography, Springsteen takes us back to when he was 7 years old and watched the controversial rockstar Elvis Presley’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. When Elvis walked off the stage, “I sat there transfixed in front of the television set, my mind on fire. I had the same two arms, two legs, two eyes; I looked hideous but I’d figure that part out… so what was missing? THE GUITAR! The next day I convinced my mom to take me to Diehl’s Music on South Street in Freehold. There, with no money to spend, we rented a guitar.”
Our job as parents, as fathers, is not to mold our children into our successors or into superstars. It’s to help them be what they are. We expose them to things, we let them find what interests them, and then we support those interests. We shouldn’t pressure, we shouldn’t criticize. We should show up, as Bruce did, to what must have been countless and very long and very hot horse shows. We should keep our worry to ourselves if they commit to something as selfless and courageous as being a cop or a fireman. If they choose something crazy—like being a musician or an athlete—we must remember the example of Jim Valvano’s father: Believe in them, cheer for them, be proud of them…and be ready to catch them if they fall or fail.
We must help them become who they are meant to become. We must help them realize their potential.