Trouble in Paradise

Sometimes it seems that the stars align and I get just the information I need just when I need it.

Stated another way, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

I've been having some trouble with my heroes lately. It turns out that one of the people whom I greatly admired is not just a cheater and a liar, but also a bully. And if intimidating his fellow athletes wasn't enough, it turns out that rather than fessing up to his misdeeds, he "doubled down" each time the authorities were on his tail and coerced his team mates to be silent as well.

I loved this guy, trusted him and believed in him. Before I found out what a psycho he is. Admittedly, I was naive, but I just could not accept the evidence before it was conclusive. Besides, he looked us in the eye and told us that he was clean.

Before this guy's fall to disgrace, another of my running buddies had seven pictures of him on his wall. Rather than medical degrees, my friend had photos of our mutual hero. Why didn't my buddy have "board certified this" and "diplomata" that on his wall? "Because," he explained. "Anybody can go to medical school."

Needless to say, those photos have all come down.

Basically, this guy whom I looked up to for years, destroyed an entire sport--a sport that had been and should have continued to be filled with honorable, bighearted folks--with his blatant fabrications, his viscous enforcement of "omerta," and his quasi-psychotic insistence that he hadn't done anything wrong--"never failed a drug test"--as he so offensively put it.

Worst of all? Think of the first "clean" rider. Maybe he finished 23rd. Heck, maybe the first guy not using needles, hopped up on EPO, finished 123rd. Think of that guy who trained hard and trained fair his whole life only to finish repeatedly at the back of the pack because he was one of the few who didn't cheat. My ex-hero is responsible for that travesty as well.

***

Then this biography comes out about another one of my heroes--a rock star not a bicyclist. And it turns out that this guy too has his imperfections. He has been mean to women, thought about firing his band members, and been insensitive to employees over the years.

I was stuck and sad. These are the two guys I had always thought about meeting--maybe going for a run, having a BBQ in my backyard, introducing their kids to my kids.

Not anymore. I didn't want anything to do with either one of them. Until another one of my running buddies explained it all to me around Mile 10 last Saturday. "First of all, there's a difference between these two men," she began. "One was living a vicious lie and destroying the lives or his team mates. That's unforgivable. Any good that this fraud may have done is erased by his disgusting disregard for any semblance of truth and by his threats to the livelihoods of his fellow riders." I nodded my head in agreement. "The other guy just had a few bad moments. Basically a decent man, he had a biographer comb through his 67 years. Of course the writer was able to dig up a few imperfections. That's a big distinction--an entire career built on fraud versus a basically good man committing a few indiscretions along the way."

And here's where the teacher appeared and brought the narratives together: "If you picked the five worst things that I've done in my life," she said. "My bio wouldn't read all that well either."

Well said. And more than fair.

***

As parents, we have to try to make the right call all of the time. But we also have to acknowledge that sometimes--hopefully on the smaller issues--we are going to fall short. Consistency is the issue.

If we model appropriate behavior, our kids will be more likely to do the same. If we make the occasional mistake and forgive ourselves, our kids will come to understand that it's OK to fall short sometimes. And when they make a mistake, they'll be able to own up to it and keep going.

Without resorting to lying, cheating, and bullying to cover their tracks. Without breaking the hearts of the people who have admired them for years.

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