Mac Bledsoe says it's harder to be the parent of a Little League baseball player than to be the father of a National Football League quarterback. He speaks from experience, having seen his older son, Drew, become a star with the NFL's New England Patriots.
"I'm his father but he's not trying to please me, and my opinion of how he plays is probably not very important. He has much higher standards for himself than I had for him," Mr. Bledsoe says during an interview in the Bledsoes' Yakima, Wash., home.
Bledsoe coached Drew at Walla Walla High School in Walla Walla, Wash., before Drew went off to Washington State University in Pullman and Mac, his wife Barbara, and younger son Adam (a freshman quarterback at the University of Colorado) relocated to Yakima.
The family is very close. Barbara, a former schoolteacher, serves as Drew's office manager, handling interview and appearance requests. Mac, meanwhile, was named in May to head the newly formed Drew Bledsoe Foundation, which will use the quarterback's fame to spread the father's lessons on parenting.
Mac Bledsoe has been teaching parenting classes for 18 years.
Sitting in a family room, lined with family sports photos, Mac Bledsoe looks like a gentleman rancher in jeans, western shirt, and boots.
He skips dinner to explain how his work as a high school English teacher and coach has led him to take a yearlong leave of absence in order to get the foundation up and running. It starts operation this month.
The senior Bledsoe began exploring parenting concepts earlier in his career when ill-behaved pupils populated his classes. After seven or eight years spent complaining about problem students, he decided to take action.
"Too many adults talk about the younger generation as if we had nothing to do with them," he says. "They say, 'These kids have no respect.' But wait a minute. Respect is not genetic. It is learned."
Bledsoe figures his own generation has a role to play in rectifying society's ills. He has worked diligently to acquire and share many of the skills he believes are needed to nurture young people.
He started off teaching behavior management techniques to classroom teachers and eventually developed a model of human performance. "The controlling factor in how any human performs or acts," he says, "is what they think themselves capable of." This message permeates his many classes and speaking engagements.
Once the foundation starts, PTAs, youth organizations, and juvenile court services will be targeted to receive Bledsoe's parenting curriculum via videotapes and satellite.
On the night of this reporter's visit to Yakima, Bledsoe shared his approach at a nearby prison work-release facility.
Having a star athlete in the family can facilitate conversation, but Bledsoe does not play it for more than it's worth. In terms of social consequence, he says, Drew realizes that what he and Drew's mother have done as schoolteachers "probably has a bigger impact on the quality of life in this world than any football player could ever hope to have." By the same token, he says, Drew realizes he can use his sports fame and fortune to good advantage.
"Drew can make some positive things happen and thus have a social significance in his life," Bledsoe says.
One of Mac Bledsoe's core parenting philosophies can be summarized in his list of ways to "Send a Message of Love." He says "nothing connects better with a person's sense of self-worth than a confirmation that they are worthwhile, that they are loved."
Some parents, he says, mistakenly assume that this can be achieved by spending "quality time" with a child. "There is time, period," he says, "and you give your children lots of time, loving and caring time. Some of it will be quality and some will not. You can't run to your kids at 5 o'clock and say, OK, it's Thursday, it's our day, we're going to go have some quality time.
It doesn't work that way. It's not an appointment. You must give lots of time and it must be given graciously, unconditionally."
When dealing with youngsters in sports, one must be especially careful, Bledsoe says, because they are "still so fragile. Their self-esteem is being molded." His suggestion for parents attending youth-league games is to tell their child, "I didn't come to watch you win, I came to watch you. I came to watch you and delight in seeing you on the bench and what you do in your sportsmanship."
And what happens when a youngster fails, whether in baseball or in the band?
For starters, Bledsoe says, a parent can acknowledge the obvious: " 'Wow, you had a tough time didn't you?' " the parent might begin. 'I know about that. I've been through some tough times, too. The only thing that's important is not whether you fall down, but whether you get up, what you learn from it, and how do you change the next time.'
"Another thing you do is hug them and tell them, 'I could care if you ever play a trumpet, but I'm sure proud of you for getting up there."
Sometimes, Bledsoe says, young people need the counsel and encouragement of outsiders. He received plenty himself from two men, Alden (Punky) Esping and Buck Minor. Esping was a guiding light to Bledsoe and numerous other elementary-school-age YMCA members. Minor was the hired hand on the Bledsoe ranch when Mac was growing up.
Caring about the journeys others make in life seems part and parcel of the Bledsoe family ethos. Bledsoe believes his oldest son's generous contributions to the schools and YMCA in Walla Walla indicate that he grasps the essential value of this activity.
"It's not a matter of trying to be a role model to somebody else," the elder Bledsoe says. "It makes sense to Drew. It brings happiness and peace of mind to him. It makes him feel like his life is fulfilled."