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Ricky and his father, hashing it out.

I don’t watch sports. I don’t care about football or the NFL. I have no interest in hot chicks. But for reasons that are hard to explain (even to myself), I watch HBO’s Ballers.

In Ballers, The Rock plays a former NFL player who stumbled into the financial advising industry to help other players avoid pissing away their income during their brief stints playing professional ball (a lesson he learned the hard way).

One of the players The Rock’s character represents is Ricky. Ricky is impulsive, temperamental, and selfish. He has talent but a lot of growing up to do. He also has daddy issues, as his father bailed on him and his mother when he was still in diapers. Toward the end of the first season, Ricky gets real during an interview and shares his resentment toward his father with the world. Sure enough, Dad—a former NFL player himself who saw the broadcast—shows up to confront Ricky and an interesting conversation ensues.

Ricky’s pissed, saying that Dad bailed, wasn’t there for him or his mother, and that he struggles with feeling abandoned and unloved and that’s contributed to his anger and his issues. Dad’s counterargument is that Ricky’s angst and anger toward him was the very reason for his success on the playing field, that his own father did the same to him and it fueled his success. Son thinks Dad’s behavior hurt him; Dad thinks it helped him. So who’s right?

They both are.

Anyone who’s ever talked about their mommy or daddy issues or read a book on the topic knows that we tend to focus on the negative aspects of bad parenting. Bad parenting can have long-term consequences that can’t be fixed overnight. However, we don’t often look at the positive side of a bad parent or a bad childhood. The pros are there, if you look for them.

I was raised in a blue-collar family where luxuries were scarce. We had enough, but we rarely went out to eat and never had family vacations. My sibs and I were on our own if we wanted clothes, a car, car insurance, gas, or spending money of any kind. Minimum wage jobs made it hard to afford much of anything. When my transmission went out during college (on a truck I still owed money on), I had to pay with a credit card and spend a year paying it off. No matter how hard I worked, I could never “catch up” financially. Far from a terrible situation, but it had some interesting effects on me.

I inherited a very tight, fear-based, “lack” mentality about money. It was always “there’s not enough and that’s life” instead of “if you’re willing to do X and Y, you can prosper.” I still struggle with this to some extent and spent a lot of my adulthood being broke despite lots of education, and my mentality has caused me to miss opportunities.

On the other hand, I also inherited a certain amount of grit. I know how to get by on very little. In a culture that lives on credit cards and borrowed money, I’ve always lived within my means and had far less debt than anyone I know in my age bracket. And, I don’t live in fear of going broke; I’ve been there and I know I can survive.

Growing up in this old-school, lack mentality had its ill effects on me, but it also had its positive effects. The same goes for the challenges your parents and upbringing offered you.

  • That abusive father of yours may have dented your self-esteem, but his abuse may have taught you to have greater compassion and respect for others than most people have.
  • That critical mother who always found something to nitpick about your appearance may have given you a complex about your looks, but you probably learned to place value on things other than physical appearance in yourself and others.
  • Your overly strict, achievement-oriented parents meant you lost out on childhood fun in favor of good grades or becoming a champion swimmer, but maybe you learned the discipline required to run a successful company or you wound up competing in the Olympics.
  • You know Eminem, the white rapper? He grew up in a harsh environment of poverty, abuse, and neglect. He’s had a tough road, but his struggles led him to creative expression through music, and a new life to go with it.

The truth is, our successes can make us a little stronger, but it’s our failures and struggles that help us grow the most.

No matter what parenting ills you were exposed to, find the positive. It’s there, if you look for it. And it’s given you strength that no one else has.