She’s mostly known as “Shaq’s mom,” but Lucille O’Neal is a fascinating woman with an amazing life story.
I was honored to receive a (disclosure: free) copy of her book, “Walk Like You Have Somewhere to Go” and to be given the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
Ms. O’Neal is also generously offering a free copy of her book to five U.S.-based readers. If you’re interested, please email me (vered at momgrind dot com). I will pick the winners on Friday.
Would you give up fame?
MomGrind: I often hear celebrities talking about the mixed emotions they have about their fame – on the one hand there’s the terrible lack of privacy and the “faux friends movement” as you call it in your book, but on the other hand – opportunity. While you were obviously hurt by “so many people with hidden agendas” coming your way, you also say in the book’s preface that you wanted to publish the book now, while Shaquille is still in the spotlight, and “while I have your attention.” My question is, if you were offered a deal where you would get the same financial security that Shaquille’s fame had brought to your family but without the fame – would you take that deal?
Ms. O’Neal: That’s a very tough question because I would never change Shaquille’s dreams coming true. Going to into the NBA and becoming a success was my son’s dream for most of his life and all dreams have their ups and downs and good and bad. Financial security is wonderful, but being able to reach people as Shaquille has through his organizations and I have through my focus on cancer research and higher education truly benefits from having faces people are familiar with. For better or worse, people respond to the famous people and if you’re really focused, you can do a lot of amazing things with that. Yes, there have been times when I would have liked more privacy for myself and my family, but those moments don’t outweigh the wonderful times we’ve all had over the last 18 years. You truly have to accept the good and bad in life no matter the circumstances.
Life Doesn’t End After 40
MomGrind: You say in your book, “At nearly fifty six years old, I can honestly say that I’m the happiest and most satisfied I’ve ever been… As women, we are often led to believe – through magazines, movies and TV shoes – that life ends after forty… I’m a living and breathing testament that life begins and flourishes at whatever age you become comfortable in your own skin.” What advice would you give to younger women to make them comfortable in their own skin, to help them to love themselves despite the media repeatedly telling them that they are not good enough? (Too fat, too skinny, lashes not long enough, abs not flat enough – you know the drill).
Ms. O’Neal: I love to talk to women of all ages but most certainly to women of a certain age. Life is wonderful everyday you can take another breath, no matter what age you are. I love the age I am now and love that I’m not overly concerned about the things I worried about so much at 20. Things that I realize now really didn’t matter as much as I thought they did. After 40, I had the chance to rediscover myself by going back to school and challenging myself to do the things I promised a younger me I’d do at some point. By going back to school and getting my degree, I accomplished something that made me realize without a doubt that I was a smart and beautiful woman, capable of doing whatever I wanted. Nothing makes you more
comfortable in your own skin than identifying a goal and mastering it. I encourage all women to pinpoint a passion or a goal and work towards it. Focus on things that help others and yourself. The feeling that provides is something I can’t really describe. You have to like YOU and that cannot be based on magazine articles or television shows. That’s simply not reality, and by 40 years old—you should know that.
MomGrind: During your family’s stay in Germany, you say that “Race was a complete non-issue,” but that as soon as you moved back to the States, it became an issue again. I loved the way you described racism as a disease and said, “America just has to want to get better.” Do you feel that the election of an African American President is an attempt by the majority of Americans to finally get better? Are you feeling more hopeful now about the possibility of true equality and of racial blindness?
Ms. O’Neal: The election of Barack Obama was wonderful and truly a blessing. How it will impact racial relations is yet to be seen. I think this country is growing and continues to mature in its racial attitudes, which is a great thing to witness. Obviously, things are still happening around the country and the world that I wish could be better–but I have hope that my children and grandchildren will live in a world that is much more open minded and diverse than the one I grew up in. As far as racial blindness is concerned, I think it’s great we all come in different sizes, shapes and colors. The key is not to judge someone by that and to appreciate that difference for its beauty and uniqueness. How boring would it be if we were all the same?
Bullying And Parental Supervision
MomGrind: You repeatedly say in your book that the most important thing parents should do is know where their kids are, what they are doing, and who they’re hanging out with. You also describe in the book how you were a victim of bullying because of your unusual height. In recent years, there have been several cases of teenagers who killed themselves after being ruthlessly bullied at school. Do you think that cases like the recent death of Phoebe Prince could have been prevented if the parents of the bullying students had been more involved in their kids’ lives? Do you think bullying is harsher today than it was when you were a kid?
Ms. O’Neal: Yes, this is a very different day and a different time. When I was a child, kids laughed and teased you if you were different– but it ended there. There were no Facebook or Twitter sites to spread ugly rumors and falsehoods about the person to be seen all over. I feel for children today and what they must face. I had it hard for sure, but today is another level of pain and embarrassment. Still, I maintain as parents we must monitor our children, their friends and activities at all times because their lives or someone else’s depends on it. I know we are often busy, but I love what the First Lady said about not allowing her girls on computers during the week unless it’s for school work and not allowing them to watch TV until the weekend. Children respond to structure and guidance and actually thirst for it. It’s our jobs as parents to be there for them and teach them how to treat one another. That is the only way they learn.
Higher Education Meltdown?
MomGrind: As the cost of higher education keeps rising faster than wages and inflation, there’s more and more talk in the media against the very concept of the traditional four-year college. Seth Godin even went as far as anticipating a complete higher education meltdown, and argued that “there are tons of ways to get a cheap, liberal education, one that exposes you to the world, permits you to have significant interactions with people who matter and to learn to make a difference” – and that those do not include going to college. But in your book, you repeatedly say how important college education is and how important it was for you that Shaquille and your other children finish college. You also went to college and have obtained an undergraduate and a graduate degree. Do you anticipate a high education meltdown? Do you think that in the future only the very rich would be able to get higher education?
Ms. O’Neal: I am very concerned about the future of higher education as we know it. I have no way of knowing what the future holds, but I pray that it does not become a situation where only the rich can afford to get degrees. Talk about lack of diversity. There have always been alternatives to college such as technical schools, junior colleges and other training programs. All of these are needed and people should have options of how they want to prepare for their futures. My hope is that President Obama and his administration will
find a way to put more money towards higher education and continue to make it possible for anyone to get an education if they want one. I do believe our President sees and understands how imperative this it for our country to truly be a global force. To compete and survive in this world, our children need education and there is no way around that truth.
I enjoyed “Walk Like You Have Somewhere to Go” very much, especially the strong stance Ms. O’Neal takes when it comes to parenting and to parents’ involvement in their kids’ lives. Of course, getting a peek into Shaquille O’Neal’s childhood is a nice bonus :). Recommended!