Danell Leyva and John Orozco: Fathers deserve medal in parenting

Danell Leyva and John Orozco have both received unwavering support from their fathers, who both set a standard for modern parents trying to connect with their kids through sport. Where's the gold medal for parenting?

Matt Dunham/AP
US men's gymnastics member Danell Leyva's stepfather and coach Yin Alvarez, right, celebrates after Leyva, left, won the bronze medal during individual all-around competition at the 2012 London Olympics on Aug. 1. Both Leyva and teammate John Orozco received support from their fathers during the competition.

Danell Leyva’s dad is not afraid to hug, hop, whoop, fist pump, weep, ear tweak, and give stern looks that telegraph to his son, “You can do better!”

John Orozco's father sits stoically in the stands, looking down on the US men's gymnastics competition and willing his son to persevere.

Both fathers' ability to connect with their sons via sport is the gold standard for modern dads, according to a study released this month by the University of California.

The study, "Fatherhood and Youth Sports: A Balancing Act between Care and Expectations," released this week by University of California, Los Angeles, takes a look at “how men juggle two contrasting cultural models of masculinity when fathering through sports – a performance-oriented orthodox masculinity that historically has been associated with sports and a caring, inclusive masculinity that promotes the nurturing of one’s children.”

The fact that dad/coach Yin Alvarez is Mr. Leyva’s stepfather adds a whole new dimension to the story, and it goes a long way toward removing the stigma stepfathers can often suffer when they are portrayed as disconnected from children who are not theirs biologically.

Danell’s mother is Maria Gonzalez. His biological father, Johann Leyva, lives in Spain. Both his biological parents were members of the Cuban national gymnastics team. Yet what we have seen in London is a bond of fatherhood born of a level of parenting through sport that should be a model for any man who wants to build a parental relationship with a son or daughter.

While the study does not specifically mention Mr. Alvarez, the next study probably should. It is easy to see more than the admiration and respect an athlete gives a coach when Leyva looks at Alvarez – that's love.

Watching Leyva and his father, we can see that for this father, at least, there is absolutely no holding back in the emotional department and that’s a great thing.

Not all fathers are fortunate enough to be right there on the floor during the action for the world to see. Take for example the story of John Orozco, born in the Bronx, N.Y. now of Colorado, whose parents William and Damaris Orozco have been in the stands, weeping, cheering and stretching their arms toward the son who has struggled so mightily in these Olympic games.

The obvious differences in skin tone between John and his parents has given rise to internet buzz asking if he is their biological or adopted child. His official bio on the USA Gymnastic website does not say he is adopted. 

"While we do get calls from people asking if he's adopted, John has never talked to us about this issue," says Kevin Loughery, a USA Gymnastics media rep. "He refers to them as his parents and everything he puts out shows how tight knit this family is. It's the family part that's important. Right?"

Right.

Personally, I don’t think it makes a difference who you were born to as much as who you were raised by.

One of the most tear-inducing tales of these games is that of how, when the family began to struggle in this economy, John Orozco took a part-time job and handed his first check to his father – not mom – and told him it was to pay the mortgage. The fact that his father both accepted it with good grace and pride and not defensiveness or anger is clear in the way the family tells the story to the world.

NBC ran the clip of the mortgage story right before Orozco's mistake-ridden performance in the all-around last night. Having had my own home in foreclosure this year and having a son who helped out in the same way, I did not stop crying long enough to see Orozco falter and then had to cry again again for his sorrow and that of his family.

Acts of selflessness such has his come from a nurturing environment wherein a child grows up knowing that all has been given to him or her and that the thing to do is shoulder what you need to in return. That was Team USA Family long before he was on the Olympic team.

Both Leyva and Orozco are cases that prove that better than genetic codes. Sure, the natural talent came from biology, but the spirit, strength to win, and the even greater strength it takes to cope with losing, comes from the father and mother who are there doing the hugging, hopping, whooping, ear tweaking, and weeping for the children they knew were theirs from the moment they laid eyes on them, no matter who bore them.

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