Gator coach Urban Meyer makes a choice unlike that of many famous fathers

In 2008, the same year Joe Maddon took the Tampa Bay Rays from the cellar of the big leagues to the World Series, Maddon's son, Joey, talked about growing up with a famous coach for a dad.

"We didn't spend a lot of time on the road with him," Joey said. "It was tough. We only got to see him a couple of months out of the year. When he was there, he was a great dad."

There was nothing surprising or unusual about that comment. The annals of sports, of politics, of entertainment, of all high-profile professions are filled with stories of those who really pay the price of fame — the families of the famous.

Just the other day, musician Justin Townes Earle, who had a gig in Tampa last week, was interviewed on WMNF radio about having Steve Earle for a father. Justin said people always ask him what that was like.

His answer: "I wouldn't know any more than you would."

What level of success could soothe the sting of such a judgment?

When Urban Meyer decided last week to walk away from his $4 million-a-year job as football coach for the University of Florida, he said no degree of achievement could make it bearable.

"At the end of the day I'm very convinced that you're going to be judged on how you are as a husband and as a father and not on how many bowl games we won," he said. "I've not seen my two girls play high school sports. They're both very talented Division I-A volleyball players, so I missed those four years. I missed two already with one away at college. I can't get that time back."

Many children of famous fathers have written about the experience, for good or bad. One such relationship led to a hit song. Harry Chapin's 1974 Cat's in the Cradle was taken from a poem his wife wrote about her first husband's relationship with his father. Chapin recorded it after their own son, Josh, was born.

My child arrived just the other day

He came to the world in the usual way

But there were planes to catch and bills to pay

He learned to walk while I was away

Among the saddest of judgments leveled by a child against a famous father was that of Julian Lennon after John Lennon was assassinated in 1980. Even Julian's birth and first years of existence were kept secret from the public out of a fear that teenage girls would be turned off if they knew a Beatle was a husband and father. It didn't get any better as Julian grew up.

"I've never really wanted to know the truth about how Dad was with me," Julian Lennon said. "There was some very negative stuff talked about me . . . like when he said I'd come out of a whiskey bottle on a Saturday night. Stuff like that. You think, where's the love in that? Paul (McCartney) and I used to hang about quite a bit . . . more than Dad and I did. We had a great friendship going, and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad."

Some famous fathers have done better, reconciling with their children in later years. Such was the case for Johnny Cash, who fathered four daughters before he ended his first marriage.

Cash took Roseanne on the road with him after she graduated from high school. It was a graduation gift. She wrote about it in her new autobiography, Composed.

"Traveling the world, watching him perform, and singing on the bus were also the basis for a serious education. Early on he made a list of a hundred essential country songs, which he instructed me to learn, a wide-ranging selection that ran from old history-lesson songs like The Battle of New Orleans through classics like Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. As I was ushered into this treasury of song, it was thrilling to learn more about my father through his great love for the music. . . .

"I discovered a passion for songwriting that remains undiminished to this day and that led me into my life as a writer and singer — into my family's vocation."

Is it ever too late?

Not for Ted Williams.

The Splendid Splinter died in 2002. His son, John-Henry, died in 2004. They have been eternally reunited at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Both of their heads are frozen in liquid nitrogen.

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2258.

Gator coach Urban Meyer makes a choice unlike that of many famous fathers 12/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 10, 2010 4:53pm]

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