If you’ve been a sports fan for at least 20 years, you know who Todd Marinovich is. He was once known as RoboQB, the first athlete (certainly in this country) that was raised to be a football star. Marinovich’s father Marv was a strength coach for the Oakland Raiders and an ex-NFL player. Marv became an expert on athletic training and decided to apply all of these principles to his son. Genetically, Todd had everything he needed. In addition to his athletic father, his mother was a former swimmer at USC. Marv’s plan started practically from conception. With Todd in the womb, his mother avoided salt, sugar, alcohol, or tobacco. Then, as a baby, Todd only ate fresh vegetables, fruits, and raw milk. Meanwhile, Marv saw an opportunity to use techniques, focusing on speed and flexibility, on his own son. Todd was singularly focused on being an NFL player.
Well, he did achieve that goal. Todd went to his parents alma mater (USC) where he was a star and then was drafted by Marv’s old employers, the Oakland Raiders, in the first round. But sadly, the mental strain of his unique childhood led to off-the-field challenges. He spiraled into drug addiction, his career went nowhere, and he is just now (in his 40s) starting to put his life together–without football.
Years after the Marinovich experiment went terribly wrong, I am now a parent. Now, even if we had a boy and even if Todd Marinovich had become the star his parents hoped for, I don’t think I ever would’ve entertained a Marinovich-like experiment. Not only was Todd proof that you don’t want to mess with that sort of regimen, but if nothing else, genetically, no child of mine is likely headed for the NFL. Sorry, but I know the limitations of my genetic pool. But it’s hard not to have a moment or two where you can understand what Todd Marinovich’s father was thinking. While I don’t know whether he wanted what was best for his child or to prove a scientific theory, I’ll go on the assumption that it was at least partially the former. He thought this was the ticket to his boy being something special. Obviously, as an ex-player and trainer, he held athletics in high regard and this could be his legacy (just as former football star Archie Manning can likely look at the remarkable successes of his two sons and have some additional level of pride). Well, I’m not an NFL player but I am a technologist. And like Marv, I do think of the possibilities of how I can foster the development of my daughters.
When I sit there with Iris, I am constantly confronted with possibilities. The girl is clearly bright. She is inquisitive, insightful, and anxious to learn. Ambition is no issue nor is selective competitiveness. So how does a parent deal with this? Let it slide? Just assume it takes care of itself? Or do I have a Marinovich moment? Well, sometimes, I can’t help myself.
I can’t help but try to provoke certain sensibilities and see how my daughter responds. A couple of months ago, I was reading the Steve Jobs autobiography by Walter Isaacson when Iris asked me to read it aloud to her. Now, I was a little surprised and occasionally had to do a little “editing” (Mr. Jobs didn’t always have clean language when expressing himself), but was amazed by whole engrossed she was in the story. Every couple of pages, we’d discuss what we just learned and whether it was the section on Pixar or the section on the original iMac, she understood most of what was going on. We even started talking about the products. That’s when I got the inspiration–I would get a book about Jonny Ive, the man credited with designing most of Apple’s most compelling products.
The truth is, I want her to learn about people like Jonny Ive. While he isn’t a household name like Steve Jobs, his impact and legacy on the world is dramatic. iPhones, iPods, iPads, iMacs, eMacs–so many of the products that have dazzled us over the years came from his impeccable sensibilities. But no one teaches their kids about Jonny Ive or tries to encourage beautiful design. Could this be Iris’ opportunity? I don’t know, but I loved doing something I was convinced most other parents do. Yes, other kids are taking Chinese or doing other things to increase their intelligence. But unconventional methods to stress the value the creativity? That’s my Marinovich moment. Even at 6 years old, I am trying to probe, encourage, and hopefully inspire Iris to achieve a certain level of greatness. Not sure if it’ll work, but as a parent, I can’t help but think it’d my greatest opportunity as a parent. And with that, I admit I understand Marv and hope I get luckier than he did.