Sugar Ray Leonard is a world champion boxer and sports icon. With his wife, Bernadette, he founded the Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation to raise funds and awareness for pediatric type 1 & 2 diabetes, and he has inspired countless young people to live healthier through diet and exercise.
He is also one of the most dedicated, thoughtful, and warmhearted fathers around. He talked to us about fatherhood; what he admires about his daughter, Camille; and his hopes for her future.
How old is Camille? 19. It’s hard to believe. I just remember her face at 3, 4, and 5. What happened?
What’s the best thing about having a daughter? The best thing about having a daughter is building that relationship. I’m not saying you don’t build it with your sons, but it’s a special bond with a daughter, a connection. And once you connect, it’s forever. It’s beautiful. It’s always.
How do you connect? I took Camille to dinner one time, just the two of us. It was all new to me. We had never had the father-daughter talk. We had never just sat down and talked about her. You open the conversation up in those moments. That is when you get a better idea of who your daughter is, what she remembers, who you raised with your wife.
Every now and then, I will go with her to Juice Crafters, or she may say, “Pop, want to go to CVS?” I don’t stage time with her. It can be so raw.
And, I don’t tell her mother everything we talk about. There’s a part of me that wants to talk to her mother, but that is our pact. Camille and I have this verbal agreement. That’s important.
What has having a daughter taught you? Patience. This is my first daughter, and having her has taught me to not respond right away, to always take a pause before I answer a question. It’s a good thing.
I’ll say something, and she’ll say, “You don’t understand Papa.” I don’t even challenge that. I say, “You are absolutely right, I don’t.” And you know, nine out of ten times, I don’t understand. Teenagers, particularly teenage girls, they think a different way, which I have yet to figure out.
It’s on-the-job training, learning how to be a father to a daughter. Communication and having an open mind are vital.
What do you hope your daughter learns from you? As she prepares for college, I say, “Camille, don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t worry about that. It’s a part of growing up.”
It’s all about confidence in oneself. Here, I can protect her because she’s in my circle. Once your daughter goes to college, once she leaves your house, you want her to be prepared for the real world.
I want her to bounce back. I want her to get up from knockdowns. I want her to be a fighter. My coach trained me in how to defend myself, how to protect myself, and told me what I should do when I get knocked down. In many ways, I am like a coach to my daughter.
I talk to her about facing obstacles and challenges. “You are going to face a situation where you are going to need to confront the subject matter,” I say. “There is no one to pick you up. You have to pick yourself up from the knockdowns. You have to get up. In life, everyone is going to experience it, and when it happens, it happens so quickly. Instinctively or intuitively, you get up or you don’t. That is indeed the start of your future.”
What is your favorite thing your daughter has ever said to you (besides ‘I love you’)? I’ll raise my tone sometimes without thinking about it. She tells me to “calm down,” and it automatically brings a smile to my face.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about raising a daughter? People would always say, “girls are complicated, complex.” Those things are true. No question. They have so many channels. It’s like men and boys have three channels, NBC, CBS, and ABC. Girls have DirecTV.
What is the best advice you can give to fathers of daughters? Be patient. That’s the best advice I could give to a father, based upon my own experience. Communicate and have an open mind. You also have to respect your daughter and respect that what she tells you, you should keep to yourself for the most part.
Dads want everyone to think everything is perfect, you know. But all kids are different. As girls become young women, they all fall into those times of being overly sensitive. They are growing up. Things are taking place inside their bodies and minds that we can’t control.
I take such pride in being a dad. It’s rewarding. Everyone has those little bumps and bruises. If it was easy, everyone would have a good relationship.
What is your hope for Camille? I want her to be independent. I want her to be resilient. I want her to pursue her dreams, and not let anyone deter her because they don’t have dreams or because they don’t want her to achieve. I want her to give back, to contribute to those who don’t have what she does. And I want her to be happy.
I have seen my daughter grow, and watched her and observed her growing into a more independent woman. I’m very proud of her.