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Bob Fouts : Like Father, Like Son?

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Happy Fathers Day?

What kind of attitudes does it take to be a winning parent, to raise five children into responsible adults, at least one of them as highly principled and accomplished as Hall of Fame Quarterback Dan Fouts (San Diego Chargers)? To find the answer, I flew to San Francisco where Bob Fouts worked both as Public Relations Consultant to the Social Security Administration and as a Sportscaster for CBS. This article first appeared in Winners Magazine in the early 1980′s. I am re-featuring it this month in honor of Fathers everywhere… Happy Father’s Day to all Dads everywhere.

It is my happiest day of the year and I thank Trevor, Tyler and Dylan for that …

Bob Fouts began by challenging his being honored as a “Winning Father”…

The thrust of this “winning father” idea seems like somehow I did everything right and that is why Dan and my other children are successful today. Well, I can’t see that. I can’t point to anything I did or did not do that is responsible for the way they are.

But you are proud of them?

I am extremely proud of them because in spite of family problems, which we had, they all hung together. My oldest, son, Bob, is a banker, married with four children. The next oldest, Patty, lives in Spokane, married to a lawyer with five children. My next youngest, Nancy, also married, has a child. She is an extremely talented interior designer and Dan’s most rabid rooter.

Then comes Dan and, after him, my youngest, John, who is 21 and handsome young man. He’s settling down now into a sales career. He could have been a great athlete, also, but he’s a free soul. He is not dedicated.

I am proud of all of them and my wife, Julie, too. Not too long ago she wanted to work again. She started out as a typist and now, in only a few short years, she is an executive with Southern Pacific Railroad, in charge of employee benefits.

Was Dan that much better an athlete than other members of the family?

All my kids were athletically inclined, they’re all great kids, but Dan has something special that goes beyond mere ability. He is self-motivated.

In what way?

Well, as far back as I can remember, I never had to tell Dan to do something. When he wanted something he instinctively prepared himself for it.

In seventh grade, when he decided he wanted to play football, he placed himself on a weight-training program and began taking supplements, which supposedly build you up.

In high school, he would get better grades during football season when his time was of the essence. He performs best under pressure.

Does that make him less effective without the pressure?

No. It means his self-motivation is such that he is never unprepared for a situation. And he is mentally tough. In any losing or pressure situation, he has the belief that he can do it if he can just get the chance.

Are you the same way?

I believe in being prepared. If the network sends me out on assignment, I won’t go back empty-handed because my equipment broke. As a professional I would have a back-up unit. I can’t tolerate excuses.

Did this self-motivation drive him as a kid to prepare himself for professional football?

Dan never set out to play professional football. It was always whatever he was doing at the time. I don’t think anyone sets such a goal.

When did he decide on it?

I don’t think he would have thought of it until college. In high school he was wondering what college would take him.

I personally think that you do the best at whatever situation you’re in and then whatever happens is going to happen.

Doors open?

Right. Just do the best you can at the time.

In an earlier interview with us, Dan said, “Losing is losing. Winning is the only thing that counts.” How do you feel about that?

It isn’t just Dan, but his brothers, too. When they’re playing a game, nobody is backing down. But, Dan hates to lose at whatever it is – Scrabble, Chess. He’s very competitive but nobody gets mad at him. Playing basketball with his brother, Dan will knock him on his ass in an effort to win. But the brothers won’t back down either.

Well, I know there’s a similarity there to you, as well. In WWII you went thru a cadet program that was very tough. Everyday there was the explicit threat either you or the guy next to you would wash out. As I understand it, that pressure only made you more determined to make it. You exhibited the same mental toughness you attribute to Dan.

Well, underlying Dan’s attitude is a complete dedication to doing the task at hand well. It is the importance of doing this which makes losing difficult for him.

In our earlier conversation, you looked uncomfortable when I asked you a question about your reaction to failure. A look passed your eyes that said “Failure” is not a word you like to repeat. In fact, you avoided using it. Am I correct?

I don’t know how to define the word failure except that it seems to happen over a period of time, so that you are left with the feeling you really blew it.

I’m not sure I understand your interpretation of the difference between failure and a mistake.

I think we all make mistakes. But when you make a mistake and you dwell on it and keep your head hanging down so that you wind up repeating it again and again – why then you wind up being a failure.

You’ve got to be able to shake off mistakes. You may not like them, and in retrospect, when you’re recapping the year, or the day, or the game – you may really and truly feel badly about the mistakes. But, the mark of the champion is to recognize that you can overcome these mistakes and go on rather than to dwell on them.

I think the perfect example is a golfer where every shot is crucial. The top golfers in the world make mistakes on taking shots but they’ve go to erase them from their mind or they’ll fall completely to pieces.

What distinguishes a pro is that when he makes a mistake, he erases it from his mind and begins planning his next shot.

So a quarterback throws an interception. Well, the law of averages says that if you throw so many passes, you will throw an interception.

Another example is James Brooks in the ’82 Cincinnati game when he fumbled on the kickoff return – a big, crucial mistake. However, he followed it with a big play and played well after that.

I know your son, Dan, shares that attitude because he told me, “If I have another shot at it, I can put the loss aside and say I’ll get it next time.”

As I said, it is the mark of a true champion.

There are a lot of similarities between your attitudes and those of Dan. Yet, he is alone in the power of his self-motivation and dedication to performing well. Why only him and not any of your other children?

I really don’t know. I can’t think of anytime he wasn’t like that nor of any incident that might have triggered it.

Did he get more of your attention than the other children did?

Not really – at least not before this trait was evident.

Because of his already existing dedication to football and my involvement with CBS as the play-by-play commentator for televised 49er games, I got him the position of 49er ball boy while he was in high school. He had the opportunity to be around champions, to learn from them.

But I was not a stage father. I do not subscribe to the Little League mentality that winning is all-important. I did not put pressure on him to win.

Losing a game is not a real loss – that belongs to tragedies like death. It is not final. It is simply a wound to your psyche and there’s always the next game. I really can’t remember him coming home devastated by a loss, thought I’m sure he suffered disappointments in the area.

You mentioned that your family hung together thru adversity. I am also under the impression that you retired a Colonel in the armed forces.

Yes, in the reserves, my active duty was in WWII.

When I think of a military father, I think of a strong disciplinarian. Perhaps this and the adversity your family suffered when combined with Dan’s ranking as second youngest, somehow was the catalyst that shaped his special traits of self-motivation and dedication – a rebellion against authority, a need to prove, or some other similar armchair psychologist’s perspective.

I don’t know. It’s hard. t know how things affected him. He was a child.

How disciplined a family is yours?

We are a disciplined family. I think I was most strict with my firstborn, Bob, because I wanted him to be perfect. I think I was tougher on him than anybody.

I think part of it, though, is my children grew up in the 60′s when there were moral values, acceptable codes of conduct, and that’s what we were all about.

I can remember at the dinner table, where, after a couple of glasses of wine, I would start lecturing, and, invariable, one of them would make like they had a violin and would pretend they were playing it. So there wasn’t any temerity about them.

I think there was a sort of peer understanding in the way the kids reacted. More than myself, if one of the kids was having a problem, one of the other kids would help them out. That’s kinda the way it worked.

I didn’t allow excuses in school or elsewhere.

None were allowed?

No. You either did it or you didn’t do it.

So you worked hard teaching your children to accept responsibility as part of that  discipline?

Yes. There would be no situation in my house where someone came home and said, “Boy, that teacher is really mean to me” and I would side with them against the school.

I’m more likely to side with the teacher because I believe that parental interference damages a child’s respect for authority and spoils them.

Typically, parents ease up on discipline with each new child born until, in comparison, they seem lax with the last born. Were you, therefore, more lax with Dan?

It’s hard to recall, but I think the discipline for Dan was pretty much the same as for the rest. Not only did he have me but also three older brothers and sisters to guide him.

Out of respect for your family’s privacy, I won’t ask you what the adversity was that you conquered together. However, can I assume it had a gravity comparable to death, divorce, or similar tragedy?

Yes, of comparable gravity.

What was the biggest factor behind your family’s conquering of adversity?

It really was the kids. They all rallied around me.

Why did they?

I don’t know. They rallied around to help one another. By doing this they indirectly helped me.

So you had built a sold family base and it weathered the storm?

But I don’t want to take any credit for that. I don’t know how it turned out so positive. There are other people who affected the way it turned out.

I read somewhere that a child’s personality is formed before they’re two years old. So whatever positive assimilation there was, I don’t think it should be attributed to me.

Where, then, did Dan acquire his strength and self-motivation?

I don’t know.

I was reading in the paper today about a guy in the Washington, D.C. plane disaster. He was an older guy about 50 or 60. The helicopter pilot said they would throw the rope to him and he would always put somebody else on it. He directed the saving of the lives of five people. When they finally came back for him, he had slipped away and drowned.

What he did reaches some kind of ultimate because he didn’t do it for any sort of self-aggrandizement. Nobody knows who he was. He saved the lives of five other people and, consciously or not, gave up his own life. He is an unknown hero and everything we’re discussing pales by comparison.

So I don’t know what all comes together to make him, or Dan, or any of us the way we are. We assimilate not only form family but also from external pressures – maybe somebody my children met, or a teacher, or some other person motivated them.

Did you make a complete, conscientious effort from the beginning to be a good father?

I don’t think so. When you’re a young husband and father trying to make it on a day-to-day basis, I don’t think you give a great deal of thought to the results of whatever you’re doing.

One of the things that amazes me is when Nancy is talking to the other kids and I can hear them saying, “Remember when Dad said this or Dad said that.” Hell, I don’t remember saying it, but, apparently, what I said had an influence on them.

I think you are what you are – a product of your own parents, your own environment.

I’m neither a calculated person nor a Machiavellian motivator of people.

You’ve raised five wonderful children, one of them a celebrity, all of them mature, accomplished adults. Do you consider yourself a winning father?

Well, I consider myself a very fortunate father.

In the same way Dan is fortunate to be a pro quarterback without having ever set out to do so?

I think I’m happy that it worked out I wasn’t a bad father, I was concerned for my children and I worked hard.

There is a measure of my success in their happiness. If they’re happy with what they’re doing, then that makes me happy that I didn’t do the things that might have had an adverse effect on them.

I think they have done more for me than I have for them.

Are you a father that has been able to tell his children that he loves them?

Absolutely. We always kiss.

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9 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Salvador – Oklahoma said:

    I was impressed, engaged and felt like the piece was written quite well.

  • Randi - Hawaii said:

    Bob is about as humble and kind hearted as they come. He clearly loves his children and is proud of their accomplishments. I enjoyed the “interview” style of the article. It was informative, but very conversational. I really enjoyed Bob’s definition of a mistake vs. failure. At the end of the day, we all make mistakes, but what we do with that experience and how we manifest them in our lives is what makes the difference (a synopsis of Bob’s words, but no truer words have ever been spoke).

  • Eric - Vietnam said:

    I felt that this article was much the same as most of the articles: worthwhile questions that are to the point of the article, but lacking any real hook or distinguishing characteristic.

    From what I see on the site, you have some amazing participants in your articles. Some of these people are universally known and are sure to catch people’s attention. That being said, I felt like I was reading the same interview again and again. They could really stand to have a little bit more analysis to make them standout.

  • Czarli - Colorado said:

    I don’t read a lot of sports driven articles, so I don’t have much to compare the work to. A number of your questions told readers what you know to be a true statement but didn’t give readers any indication that what you know is in fact true or relevant. Your question about the cadet program Bob Fouts went through received no clarification nor confirmation from your interviewee. You asked several questions about where Dan’s self-motivation came from as though you wanted to hear that it came from his father, but Bob gave you the same answer every time. He doesn’t know where his son got all that self-motivation. That answer is good enough for me, while the later questions were redundant and told me more about the author than about the interviewee. Given all that, I enjoyed this article as I got to see the personal side of an athlete, both in the father and the son. I’m not into sports, so seeing the personal side of an athlete is something that can inspire me and that I can really get into reading about.

  • Rahkee -- Hong Kong said:

    This topic no doubt is very interesting and pertinent and every parent would find it a good read . It was in Q&A form so it naturally answered the questions in reader’s mind . The content was precise ,however I feel a little humor added to the blog would have been like icing on the cake .

    Further its always good to involve the reader by asking a few questions for instance , ” we all try too hard to being great parents , don’t we ” and thats another plus point of the article.

  • Martin - London said:

    This is one of the finest interviews I think I have ever read. The questions were unusually probing, and the subject seemed forthright and direct in his responses.

  • Manuel Vanhuss said:

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is great blog. A fantastic read. I’ll definitely be back.

  • Joan Campion said:

    This is one of the finest interviews I think I have ever read. The questions were unusually probing, and the subject seemed forthright and direct in his responses.

  • Katharyn T -- Washington said:

    The difference between mistakes and failures that he makes — “…when you make a mistake and you dwell on it and keep your head hanging down so that you wind up repeating it again and again – why then you wind up being a failure.” This will stay with me forever.


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