Disclaimer – I am not King Richard. The blog’s focus is the messaging about masculinity in the recent movie “King Richard.” The biopic about the father of Venus & Serena Williams, played extraordinarily well by Will Smith, raised a number of issues about fathering and masculine behavior. I’ll begin with fathering. Fathering five girls while living in a high crime environment is an enormous challenge. The need to protect and provide is a strong motivator for men seeking to live in the best of masculinity. Richard did an admirable job in protecting and providing for the girls. He constantly sought to instill success values – education, hard work, deferred gratification – and worked night shifts while coaching the girls during the day. He attempted to shield the girls from the local gang members while suffering several beat downs in the process. His fathering style also validated the self-worth of his girls which correlates with their personal success and mature attitudes about their sexuality. In addition, he was always present both physically and emotionally. He talked the love talk and earned the love in return from the girls.
He so strongly lived the archetype “King” that at times his planning for the tennis futures of Venus and Serena felt stifling and rigid and did result in family conflict between Richard and his wife. Richard’s “Warrior” was also strongly in play. In his obsessive desire to carry out his plan he at times acted like a bully and ignored the support and contributions of his wife and the girls’ coach. However, he did confront the local toughs and was fortunate that when he went after them with a gun, someone shot at them before Richard fired his weapon. He left the shooting scene as an observer rather than as an active participant. His greatest strength was his “Lover.” He demonstrated his love for his children through affirmations and behavior. There seemed to be no doubt on his daughter’s minds that they were loved and supported by their father even when his plan ran contradictory to their wishes. A bit less successful as a lover with his wife where his patriarchal behavior did at times diminish his acknowledgement of her role in raising the children.
Given the athletic, financial and life style success of Venus and Serena it is difficult to find fault with his parenting and hyper-focused behavior. The question is whether or not his approach to parenting can serve as a model for raising high achieving children? We do not often hear the stories of families who have followed a similar path to the Williams family and wound up with dysfunctional family life and burned out children.