America loves a comeback, and Mike Tyson is the ultimate Cinderella story.
The former heavyweight champion went from childhood castaway to the best professional boxer overnight. Then over the past 30 years, he has gone to court, gone to jail, gone broke, gotten married, then divorced, then married again, he’s bitten ears, faced worldwide criticism and addiction. Now, the former ‘baddest man on the planet’ is one of the most beloved thanks to a memorable role in the Hangover, a series of hilarious Funny or Die videos, a recent run on Broadway, an upcoming autobiography and a memorable musical number at this weekend’s Tony Awards.
Through it all, the one constant anchor in his life has been the advice he received as a young man from his adoptive father and first trainer Cus D’Amato.
In honor of Father’s Day, Iron Mike shares intimate stories with CocoaFab’s Amy Elisa Keith and talks about his adoptive dad, lessons he’s learned, and the kind of daddy he is to his seven children.
How did you first meet your adoptive father, Cus?
“I met Cus because he saw me box for like 6 minutes, 7 minutes and he said, ‘If you listen to me, you’ll be the youngest heavyweight champion that the world has ever known.’ Probably the greatest! I said ‘no way!’ This guy just gave me so much support and I was such a bad person back then; I was a thief. He was the only one who treated me with respect.”
How has your upbringing influenced the kind of father you are?
“I would instill into them confidence the way he instilled confidence in me. You have to protect them and love them and educate them as much as you can. And after you no longer exist, that knowledge that you’ve given them will inform their personality and their experiences and they’ll take things to the next level.”
You have gone through a remarkable transformation. Can you believe it?
“When you look at me I’m a good guy and I was definitely a strong guy back in my prime back then, but I only reached my highest levels because I believed in myself. I’m only here because I believed in myself. You can only reach that zenith level when you believe in yourself. It transcends almost anything. It sounds bizarre but it’s true. You have to believe in yourself especially when you’re not as talented as everyone else.”
Is it true that you don’t believe in using the word “Can’t”?
“I was never allowed to say the words ‘I can’t’. Never was allowed to say that when I trained with Cus.”
Do you allow your children to say the words ‘I can’t’?
“My children say whatever they want <laughing>. Whatever they want. They say anything. I’m not as tough as Cus. I’m still tough but not that tough.”
How many children do you have?
“I have seven children. I’m just so happy that they all love each other. I’m just so blessed to have my children all in my life. I never thought that I would be like this. I’m just so happy that they have the capability to love and to have compassion. They really love each other. I don’t have to worry about their relationships. They respect one another. They have such different beliefs than I do. I look at my kids and they go to such nice, good schools. I never could have imagined going to the schools that my kids go to. I’m just so grateful. And that’s what I’m trying to tell you to show you, I’m just grateful.”
What is Mike Tyson the daddy like in a house full of kids?
“They are a force. They do what they want to do basically. <laughing> What can I do. My four year old daughter told me ‘no I don’t want you to push me up there, I want to go over there.’ And I said ‘No Milan, you have to be careful.’ And she said no. So I said, ‘okay do it yourself then.’ And she said, ‘I need your help.’ And I said, ‘Well, what do you say?’ And she said, ‘Can you push me daddy, please?’ I said alright then. That’s how we do. <Laughing> What can I do? We fight and the we do bribery. That’s how I get them to say please and thank you. Nowadays, kids think they are entitled to stuff. Man! I come from the days of beating. If I touched something in the store I got knocked out. So I had a different upbringing. Now if I even attempt to raise my voice, the women in my family will go off. That’s not who I am. No way.”
How old were you when you had your first child?
“I was 23 years old and she lives with us now. We never got along in her adolescent years, in her teenage years. Now we’re living together. That’s just a big growing point in my life that I never thought I’d be able to have. I never thought I would be able to have and be blessed to have the life I live now. I never thought I would be able to be with my children like this and God has really blessed me at this stage of my life.”
What advice would you give other dads?
“As a father, every one’s kids get in trouble. The President’s kids, a billionaire’s kids, but you have to guide them in the right way and know that it can get better. You can help them make the right decisions.”
(Read more of my interview with Mike Tyson in the June issue of Ebony Magazine)