In the wake of Lance Armstrong’s confession, Mark Radcliffe offers his son, Luke, some fatherly advice.
I don’t know you, I’ll probably never meet you, and I realize right now that, as a 13 year-old, you’re probably in the middle of a hectic and ridiculous year that is the 8th grade. But, in light of your dad’s confessions to Oprah Winfrey over the last two nights, I want to say the following things:
Thank you. Yes, thank you. Because it appears that you—and not any of the other countless reasons your father had to come clean—were the one to finally make him do it. Not the testimony of fellow cyclists, or the books of esteemed journalists, or the protests of good people like Greg LeMond, Betsy Andreu, or Emma O’Reilly. But you. When your dad realized that you were defending him, it was something he couldn’t allow in good conscience. We all watched Oprah, waiting for him to break down, and the only time he got there was when we heard him tell about how guilty he felt that you were defending him. So you did what no one else could.
Your father is a deeply flawed man, but he’s also a good man. 90% of what your father did each day was noble: he trained his ass off, he supported cancer victims and the research that would help them, and he set an example to others. It was a very small percentage of his time that he spent being a jerk—lying to the public, concealing his drug-use, threatening those who dared expose him, and self-righteously denying it to the media. He was only a pathologically offensive man a small percentage of the time.
You don’t have to be like him. You might not ever be a world-class athlete like your father, or a man the entire world reveres for your accomplishments, but you also don’t have to be a liar or bully like he was in his darkest moments. It’s not baked into your DNA. The competitive spirit might be there, but so is that need to support others that your father clearly had (and perhaps still does), where he went above and beyond the call of duty to help fellow cancer victims. Bank your life on that desire to support and serve. Not the need to win, conquer and vanquish. Take from your father that need to address and help the public. Not the need to destroy your competitors.
You also don’t have to hate him. Your dad did some bad things. You seem to be OK with it for now, but in time, as you develop your own personality and opinions, you might become more resentful. And that would be understandable; you’ve grown up beneath a very polarizing and complicated man, a man with a lot of enemies. But as much as you may come to judge his actions in time (as much of America is already doing), you can also choose to forgive him.
You can transcend him. Maybe not in terms of professional victories. Maybe not in terms of global popularity. Maybe not in terms of fundraising success. But perhaps in terms of maintaining your integrity. Maybe you’ll be a middle-ranked cyclist in your local clubs, or maybe you’ll just become a really good math teacher in Plano, Texas and most of the world will never hear any more of you, but those whose lives you touch will. If you live your life profoundly impacting others, you will transcend your father and the tangled web he wove. Your father didn’t let the sins of his absentee father define him. And you don’t have to let your father’s sins define you.
You can teach him how to be a better man. Age is not the ultimate determinant of wisdom; purity of spirit and purpose is. You might be a lot younger than your father, but you can still be a beacon of integrity to him. And to others. Don’t let your age convince you otherwise.
It’s unfair, but the world is watching you, Luke, and that’s a tough place to be. But know that you also have much more of our sympathy than does your father. So relax, and be yourself. And trust your own moral compass. Ignore the bright lights and shiny trophies that got the best of your dad. Focus instead on the smiles of the people he inspired. You don’t have to win 7 Tours de France to achieve that. You just have to care about the people on the sidelines.
Photo: LM Otero/AP