Montreal Alouettes’ quarterback Anthony Calvillo is one of those rare sports stars admired even by people who’ve never watched him play. He’s won three Grey Cups, and three Canadian Football League most outstanding player awards.
But it’s his personal story that has won him fans away from the football field, too. His early years have been profiled in a documentary, The Kid From La Puente, in which Calvillo talks about his life with a violent, alcoholic father, the street gangs in his small community in East Los Angeles, and how he used sports, especially football, as an escape.
Five years ago, shortly after the birth of their youngest daughter, his wife, Alexia, was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma; she is now in remission. Then, In 2011, a cancer scare meant having his thyroid removed. Now set to begin his 16th season with the Als, Calvillo, 40, shares his thoughts on being a dad, and what life is like with daughters, Athena, 7, and Olivia, 5.
What is your definition of a great dad?
Someone who can balance work and home life, spending quality time with the family while teaching them the important values in life. I believe a good dad makes his kids feel safe.
What do you love most about being a parent?
The unconditional love and bond that you have with them. The small things — like when they sit with me when we are watching TV, seeing them get excited about our next vacation, and walking into their bedroom and seeing them sleep, so peaceful and happy. Knowing that they are recharging their batteries and looking forward to another day of learning and making memories together.
What do you find is the most challenging aspect of parenthood?
Being able to guide them to make the right life choices now and in the future. I’m very firm with my girls to give them the discipline they need but also try to keep the lines of communication open with them. I want to be a great dad — not be too overbearing — but I want to make sure they know they can always come to me for anything, even as they get into the teenage years.
Name three things about being a parent that you wish you knew before having kids.
How much less sleep I would have to deal with! How the kids would take over every single room in our house with their stuff, and how your priorities completely shift from “me” to “all about them.”
What are the values you most want to instill in your children?
Generosity, kindness and being trustworthy and humble.
Why are these values important to you and how do you think they’ll help your children as they grow?
I did not have much when I was growing up, so it is important that my kids stay humble with all that we have been blessed with. I believe your word is your bond, so I want to teach them to be truthful so they can be trustworthy. As my kids grow up with things and privileges that I did not have, I want them to remember how important it is to always help others (who are) less fortunate, others who are not as lucky as they are. I think we are doing a good job with that. Our kids love to give: they understand life is not only about getting, it’s about giving and loving to give.
During your football career, from school through university and into the pros, people must have given you the confidence to be the best you can. How do you encourage your daughters to set goals and do the best they can?
I didn’t always believe in myself and my abilities, but I want to make sure they always do. I will always believe in them, and will always encourage them to love what they do, and never give up.
Do your children come to your games? Do they comment on how you played?
Yes, they come to all the home games and some on the road. They are very aware of a win or a loss, but at the same time they really enjoy the atmosphere at the stadium. After every home game my girls get to run around on the field. That is one of their favourite parts about coming to the stadium. They love running around with all their friends.
How much time do you get to spend with them in the off-season?
I get to watch their sports and activities more. I am also able to bring Athena to the bus stop and drop Olivia off at preschool, and I am there to greet them when they get home. I don’t have that luxury during the season.
The football player stereotype is a big, tough guy. But dads with daughters find themselves playing dolls or dress up and turning into big softies. Can you describe what makes the father/daughter relationship so special?
I can be myself around my girls. Playing with dolls and having tea parties is very normal at home. When my kids ask me to play a game at home, I make sure I say yes.
You’ve talked about how sports helped you through your own childhood and youth, how has your background shaped the type of parent you are?
I wanted to spend more one-on-one time with my girls, and to express more emotions with them. We say “I love you” to each other many times a day and share many hugs and kisses.
Having had a difficult family life yourself, where did you learn how to parent?
I just knew that I did not want to be like my Dad — that was my motivation.
You and your wife have both had serious health issues. Did those scares change how you parent your kids? If so, in what way?
Our health issues didn’t change our parenting values, but we have learned to appreciate the little things in life. Watching them grow and reach many important milestones is a blessing.
Being a successful athlete means that lots of people want you to support their causes. How do you decide which ones to choose, and which do you feel strongest about?
It is difficult to choose causes to support because there are so many important ones, and due to commitments with football and family, I have to limit my choices. We feel strongest about the cancer charities, specifically Cedars Cansupport, since they helped us through our own cancer battles.
You’ve just signed a new contract with the Alouettes for next season, with an option for another season after that. Have you thought about what you’d like to do after football?
I would love to be involved with the game of football, whether coaching at the professional or college level.