This is No April Fool’s Joke
We sat on the couch as a family and watched “King Richard”. Each year, we pick Oscar-nominated films for family movie night. And fortunately this year, we watched “King Richard” – about the early life of Serena and Venus Williams and the role their father Richard played in their tennis careers – before Will Smith channeled Mohammed Ali and slapped Chris Rock (which we were all asleep for).
As we watched the movie, I thought about a conversation I had had with Serena last year – not least of all because my oldest daughter was crouched in the corner of my office.
In my previous career, I interviewed a lot of interesting sports figures. I learned over the years to overprepare, which kept any nerves at bay. Tiger Woods? I had so many questions for him that the conversation made its way to curling. Cal Ripkin Jr? When he called, he introduced himself as if I didn’t know who he was, and that got us both laughing. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey players – I got to talk to a lot of them. Any disappointments? Sure, Roger Clemens – who had been a hero until I saw him signing ball after ball, blond highlights in his stubby hair.
But Serena is in a league of her own – more than Tiger, maybe more than Michael Jordan. Her longevity, her drive, her willingness to embrace being a role model for young girls who idolized her. Hence why my daughter, a tennis enthusiast, crouched in the corner. Serena was on the Zoom! Wait, that’s crazy!
What did Serena and I talk about? Her love of comic book characters – and watches. She was helping promote the first collaboration between Marvel’s Black Panther and Audemars Piguet, the Swiss watch maker.
But by the end, our interview had turned to chatting about kids and parenting. Her daughter is the same age as my youngest daughter. Her husband, Alexis Ohanian, is a #LeadDad and advocate for paid family leave. We laughed about sibling dynamics.
“My father never said whether he liked me or Venus more,” she said.
“I love my girls equally,” I said. “I just don’t always like them equally!”
“Where’s your daughter?” Serena asked.
I had seen her walk quietly out of the room 10, 15 minutes ago.
I said she left, explained that she was shy.
“Go get her,” Serena told me.
I thought about it. How cool for my daughter? Serena is the GOAT. But then I paused. I couldn’t fathom leaving Serena hanging out on Zoom while I went to find my daughter. It seemed unprofessional to run off to find her. So I thanked her for her offer and for her time.
When I told my daughter that Serena had asked to talk to her, she said, “Why didn’t you come and get me?”
“Sweet girl, that’s not how it works. If you were there, she would have talked to you.”
“Why would she talk to me?”
“Because she’s a mom and a daughter and a good person. You’re not the first young girl who got stage fright in front of her hero.”
I could see it sinking in. She got it.
Since then, hiding from Serena has become the stuff of family legend. Can you believe you hid from Serena Williams? She can’t but to her credit she laughs with us. And we laugh with her, not at her.
And after watching “King Richard,” my middle daughter naturally assures us that if she ever gets the chance to meet Serena Williams she won’t hide, no way, no how. What else would a younger sister say? Serena can surely relate.