Friday, November 27, 2009

My New Year wish of healing for Nadal

If Nadal lived in the US, his parents’ divorce would have been plastered across the front page of gossip magazines everywhere. Speculations about the real cause of the divorce would have been rife, and lovers would have been invented for both parties, with quotes being attributed to unnamed ‘close personal friends’ and ‘insiders’, to avoid lawsuits.

Nadal is Spanish and even though I am bilingual, I’d be lying if I said that I make a habit of reading ‘El Mundo’. So I honestly have no idea how his parents’ separation was reported in his home country. But I do remember speculation starting up after he lost at Roland Garros. In June 2009, tennis writer, Peter Bodo wrote in his blog at Tennis.com that, “the rumors that Nadal’s parents are about to divorce keep popping up in the gutter press and in my inbox via emails from acquaintances and sources.”

So I gathered that the Spanish gossip rags were preying on this family drama in much the same way they would have in the US. And it seemed that Nadal’s lackluster performance starting in the middle of this year might have been at least in part due to being profoundly affected by the news of his parents’ disharmony.

It is hard to imagine a dominant sports player in the US being so affected by parental divorce that their performance declines. Within the context of a culture that is highly individualistic, we have long lost any notion of marriage as representing a union of two families. The Williams sisters, for example, seemed more torn up by their sister’s death than by the parting of Richard and Oracene. In fact, Oracene has never looked better.

At the risk of stereotyping, I believe that this is because the typical American marriage is between two individuals, which in part may explain the over 50% divorce rate. It is not uncommon for an American child to go through two or three stepparents before reaching age 18. When a couple elects to uncouple, there may be some impact on the family but only in so far as people deciding whose side they are going to take. I have friends who are divorced and who never again ever saw, spoke to, or in any way kept in touch with former-in-laws. It’s like a phase of their lives had ended and they just moved on.

Not so in Mallorca, where Rafa was a boy and is still growing into manhood. Not so on any small island where everyone knows everyone and where it is not at all uncommon for adult children to continue living with their parents, not because the economy is bad and they have no choice, but because the sense of ‘la familia’ is so deep. In interdependent cultures, the ties to family can be so strong that divorce is almost like a kind of death.

I understand island culture. I have been shaped by island culture. My values run deep in Caribbean soil. I understand why the rate of divorce was only 10% in the Caribbean in 1997, (according to the UN’s “World Women, Trend and Statistics), and why although this percentage has increased since then, it is nowhere near the rate in the US.

I was also unsurprised to discover that a similar rate of divorce exists in Spain. It is one of the lowest in Europe. And I think that this has everything to do with the cultural centrality of the family. In cultures where marriage is literally a partnership between two families, the notion of uncoupling can be very difficult. In the Caribbean it can at times be downright impossible because powerful forces will collude to keep a family intact.

So I completely understand the emotional impact of his parents’ divorce on a player like Nadal. Around the middle of this year, he started giving clues as to the nature of his private distress. Following a loss to Del Potro at the Sony Ericcson in Miami, Nadal was quoted as saying “Always is a reason because you are not playing at your level during the tournament…Always is a reason, but it’s personal.”

Recently Rafa has been more forthcoming about how his parents’ divorce has affected him. In an interview quoted by the Guardian, Nadal reveals that his loss at Roland Garros and his decision not to defend his trophy at Wimbledon both reflected the impact of his inner emotional turmoil:  “My parents’ divorce made an important change in my life. It affected me. After that, when I can’t play Wimbledon, it was tough. For one month I was outside the world. I am OK now, but you need time to accept. And it’s more difficult to accept when you are outside home and don’t know what’s happening.”

Nadal has ended 2009 on a desultory note. My New Year wish for him is that 2010 brings him healing, not just from the many bodily injuries including the tendinitis that have plagued him this year, but also for his emotional pain. A strong and confident Nadal will make 2010 very exciting for us all.


BNP Paris Tennis Open 2009 - Semi Final, Nadal vs Djokovic




4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tennischick for your words. I share your thoughts and wishes for Rafa. My wish and prayer for him is to heal both emotional and physically. Tennis will not be the same without his fire and talent, and honeslty, it won't be the same for me, because Rafa brought me back to the game, which has since 2006 changed my live. Tennis is my love and passion because of him.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tennischick for your words. I share your thoughts and wishes for Rafa. My wish and prayer for him is to heal both emotional and physically. Tennis will not be the same without his fire and talent, and honeslty, it won't be the same for me, because Rafa brought me back to the game, which has since 2006 changed my live. Tennis is my love and passion because of him. I've gotten through some tough moments in life because of his passion on the court. God bless him.

happygeek said...

Wow, how very hard for him!

Btw, nice choice of photo.

tennischick said...

thanks Anon. do leave your name next time you visit! and thanks as ever happygeek. i am sincere in my feelings. a healthy and recovered Nadal will only be great for tennis.