I remember when I first got the call from my girlfriend (who's now my wife), telling me that I was going to be a father. Her voice cracking, tears brewing, she laid it on me. It was news that would change the course of our lives forever. What the hell was I going to do? All I could think was I was a 23-year-old without a clue about how to raise a kid. I had no job, just a tryout with an NFL team.
At the time, I was chasing a 7-year-old kid's pie-in-the-sky dream of being a professional football player (a dream that has crushed the hopes of 99 percent of children who have ever attempted it). So I guess you could say I'm one of the lucky ones that I not only hit the genetic lottery, but had people around me who believed in my dream. I had also somehow had the luck and wherewithal to keep my nose clean and do just enough in school to get by. And I had a wonderful woman looking at me with love and support, who must have been wavering back and forth herself. That's it. That's all I had.
When my daughter Zeniah arrived, I had a little ball of life staring at me. How could I teach her that hard work separates winning from losing when I leisurely procrastinated my way through life? How could I teach her to dream when I didn't put everything I had into mine? How could I teach her to be a loving kind human spirit when at the time I was so bitter at life (I had just been passed on by every team in all seven rounds of the NFL draft) that my motto was "turn your back on the world and let them stab." Hypocrites don't make good superheroes and that's what parents are supposed to be ... superheroes. So I vowed to unlearn what I thought to be truth and completely humble myself to this experience.
I've thought long and hard about the values that I want to try and teach her. I'm sure this list will change as we both grow, but as of now this is what daddy wants his princess to learn from him before she tucks him away into her memory.
1. Happiness. This is probably the most cliché virtue on the list, but the most pivotal to her success. She needs to understand that "success" is a voyage, not an "x" on a map. I believe strongly that smiles are contagious, so I fill my home with as much laughter as possible. I do this in hopes that this mindset bleeds into her heart. You can't teach happiness, per se, but you can teach perspective and let her see that the situation she is born into is unique and the things she is accustomed to are not everyone's reality. I grew up in some rough circumstances, but in a very honest and humble way, was content with what I did have because I knew there were others out there that had less than me. This leads into the next thing I need my princess to understand.
2. The value of a dollar. I remember sometimes taking sponge baths as a boy because the water had been turned off, or my mother crying and asking me to go to bed at dinnertime because there was no food. But the most vivid memories I have were things like when my dad let me wear his favorite hat on my 8th birthday while he taught me how to make perfect scrambled eggs (which I would challenge anyone to a cook-off with). Or when my parents wanted to spoil us, we'd go to Blockbuster to pick out a movie and have family movie night. Moments like those I will hold in my memory bank for as long as my blood pumper is pumping. So how do I teach the daughter of a millionaire what money even is? The best way I've found for now came up after she asked for a Dora the Explorer video game that cost $34. I explained to her as best I could that daddy and mommy work hard to get these things that we call dollars. If she wanted it, we'd get it for her, but she had to earn it. We told her she had to do "chores" and every time she completed a task we marked a tally on a piece of paper hanging on the fridge. When she got to 34 "chores", we'd buy the Dora game. She was so excited, and so was I. She really understood and took to the concept of earning and the fact that one chore meant one step closer to getting that game.
3. Know your why. Any time anyone comes up to me with any kind of idea or business proposition, I always ask them "Why?" It seems simple, but it's actually an intricate question. Nine times out of ten, if someone's why is to make money, they'll fail at what they are trying to do. Here's why I believe this: "Successful" people are usually self-vindicated people. They don't need pats on the back. They don't need compliments. The merit of their work is endorsed by what they see in the mirror. They drive themselves until they are satisfied. People who are monetarily motivated often tire of their occupations and eventually lose focus. But if you are in love with what you do day in and day out, it's not work. Every day you're adding a piece of joy to your ethos. So find your passion, and fall in love with your why.
4. Kindness. It is a virtue that you must have if you are around me. Negative energy sucks the life out of people, and we're here to smile! You must treat people kindly. No one is any better than you are and you are no better than anyone else. We are all doing the best we can to figure out this thing we call life, so humble yourself to the fact that you know very little. I'm no different. I know very little, but I do my best to learn. I've learned things from a man with a PhD, a man who lived under a bridge, and a child. Treat everyone with kindness. It goes a long way. I was taught that people will rarely remember what you tell them, but they will always remember how you made them feel. In that same breath I'll let her know not to let people take advantage of her. Weak people prey on weak people. I'm not into the turning-the-other-cheek business. I firmly believe there are times when people must stand their ground. Pick your battles wisely, but don't initiate any unwarranted hate.
5. Men and her worth. (loads shotgun) A sore subject for any man with a daughter. I will teach her that she is a young goddess. Help her understand her worth. Let her know that she must hold every man accountable for who they are and how they act towards her. There will be a day when I give her away, and they say that a woman spends her life looking for her father in her groom, so until that day I will try to be the example of a man that she eventually will seek out. Men tend to be motivated by one thing. Don't fall victim to a prince charming. If he cares for her, he'll act accordingly. If not (aims shotgun), well, I guess it just wasn't meant to be.
6. The flying spaghetti monster. There are billions of people on Earth with hundreds of religions and sects that trickle off each other. I will never tell her what to believe in. I know parents are very influential on kids' spiritual beliefs and that can be a positive or negative thing. I can give her a basic understanding of religions when she starts showing interest and asking questions. But I will remain silent otherwise. How can I make a young mind believe this is the truth for them when they don't yet have the capacity nor the cognitive desire to delve into something like this? If she shows interest I would advise her to fully investigate a religion and see if it fits her. And if she chooses none of the above, I'll be fine with that as well. The values I instill in her should guide her to her decision. What's most important, I believe, is to support her decision no matter what.
Arian Foster is a loving father, devoted husband, philosopher, artist, poet, philanthropist, health warrior, and fashion enthusiast. He also is a three-time Pro Bowl running back for the NFL’s Houston Texans and will star in the upcoming Ivan Reitman film "Draft Day." He currently lives with his wife, Romina, 4-year-old daughter Zeniah, and 4-month-old son Khyro in Houston.