Brazil’s fatherless national team: Six of eleven starters on World Cup squad grew up without their biological fathers

Gabriel Jesus
Paulinho and Gabriel Jesus spent their childhood far from their fathers. AP
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Paulinho and Gabriel Jesus spent their childhood far from their fathers. AP

Note from BW of Brazil: For me, today’s piece is a very timely article. I won’t say coincidental because I believe that things often happen exactly as they were supposed to happen. I say timely because over the past few days, a dear friend of mine and I have been discussing the issue of fatherhood, what it means when you have children as well as things we would have liked to have changed in our relationships with our own fathers. The 2018 World Cup in Russia is now in its 12th day, and while media focus is most often focused on players’ performance on the field, their stories off the field are often just as intriguing and important if not even more so. As I’ve never intended on focusing on sport in itself here as that is not the aim of this site, you won’t get many detailed statistics on any athlete from one year to the next. But the experiences, stories and events involving futebolistas (soccer players) and other athletes often times provide excellent insight into what it means to live in Brazil, and within those wide parameters we also often learn a lot on how the issue of race and class play out in these stories. Check out the stories below and I’m sure you will be able to identify with them either personally or through the eyes and experiences of someone you know. I know I did!

The National Team of children without father

Six of Brazil’s 11 starters in the World Cup grew up distant from their biological father. Mothers like that of Gabriel Jesus had to work twice as hard, alone, to raise their children athletes

By Breiller Pires

Gabriel Jesus (Alô Mãe)

When he scores goals, Gabriel Jesus makes the sign of a phone with his hand and his thumb pressed to his ear. The celebration known as “Alô, mãe” (Hi mom) is a tribute to Vera Lúcia, the woman who raised him alone along with the three siblings. “She has always been a father and mother,” says jersey number 9, who is part of the group of six of the starting 11 national team members (Miranda, Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Casemiro and Paulinho) in the World Cup who grew up without support from their biological fathers. A common reality in the country of futebol. According to a study by the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea), 40% of Brazilian households are headed by women, and “in a high number of families” – about 12 million – they don’t have spouses to help in the raising of the children.

gabriel-jesus-mama-Vera Lúcia
Gabriel Jesus with mother Vera Lúcia

As a conclusion of the data analyzed, based on the National Household Sample Study (Pnad), the study evaluates that this scenario aggravates “the risk of social vulnerability, since the average income of women, especially that of mulheres negras (black women), remains much lower not only to men, but also to mulheres brancas (white women).” However, Dona Vera, abandoned by her husband, who went to live with another woman even before Jesus was born, never left the youngest without anything. “When I went to the games and saw my friends, I was envious because I didn’t have a father present. But, the way my mother raised me, I soon forgot that I had a father,” the attacker told The Players’ Tribune.

250px-Jose_Paulo_Bezerra_Maciel_Junior_2013 (Paulinho)
Paulinho

The family plot of Jesus is similar to that of Paulinho, his teammate and player of Barcelona. The midfielder bears the same name of his father, José Paulo Bezerra Maciel, but rarely sees him. The last time, he still played for Corinthians when the team faced Náutico at the Aflitos stadium in Recife in 2012. José Paulo was in the stands and got the shirt that the midfielder used in the match. Descending from the Xukurus Indians of Pesqueira, a city in the interior of Pernambuco, his father separated from his mother, Erica Lima, shortly after Paulinho’s birth. His contact with his two sons was rare – and he practically restricted himself to brief phone calls since the then aspiring jogador de futebol (soccer player) was thirteen, when his father left São Paulo to return to Pesqueira, where he now works as a feirante (fruit/vegetable market vendor).

With Corinthians, Paulinho, who came to leave futebol after suffering racism and being ripped off in his first passage through Europe but was convinced by his mother not to give up, shared the dilemma of his father’s absence with Cássio. Third goalkeeper of the seleção (national team), he never met his father, who, according to his family, disappeared and moved to Mato Grosso as soon as he learned of his mother Maria de Lourdes’s pregnancy. Television programs came to him for the purpose of promoting a meeting, but the goalkeeper always rejected the possibility. “I don’t want to mess with it. It’s been a long time,” he said in an interview with Placar. “My childhood was difficult. When I needed my father, he was not present. I don’t know what the circumstances (were) or why he didn’t want to register me, people make mistakes. But it’s past. For me, that’s a closed subject.”

Like Paulinho, who was raised from the age of three months by his stepfather, Cássio had the support of his uncle, João Carlos Kojak, whom he helped in a car wash in Veranópolis. “More important than the paternal support is the support of values,” says sports psychologist Suzy Fleury, who has been a member of the coaching staff of the Brazilian team. “Often, the mother or someone else, like the stepfather, uncle and even a coach, can take on the role of host that would fit the biological father. So there are several stories where paternal absence does not stop a player from achieving success in futebol.”

This is the case of the full back Marcelo, starter for coach Tite’s national team and Real Madrid. His parents split up very early. At age four, he moved in with his maternal grandparents. His grandfather Pedro assumed the role of father. In addition to providing the livelihood of the house, he took the boy to trainings in Fluminense and attended all his games. “He practically gave his life to a boy of 13, 14 years, not knowing if I would become a player,” says Marcelo on his YouTube channel. Pedro died in 2014, on the eve of the Cup in Brazil. “My grandfather was father and mother, because of everything he did for me.”

Paulinho e a mãe Erica
Paulinho and his mother Erica

Midfielders also grew up without a father. Miranda lost his at age 11. Maria, his mother, had 11 other children to support when she became a widow. Thiago Silva, at age five, lost his father to the world. He never saw him again after he separated from his mother. When she was pregnant with the defender, Angela considered having an abortion because she could not raise another child – she already had two. She was persuaded by her family to change her mind, took the gestation to the end, but the marriage collapsed as financial difficulties arose at home. She married again with Valdomiro, who looked after Thiago Silva as if he were his son. So much that the defender did not hide his emotion when mourning his death, in October of 2014. “If I got where I got in my career, it was thanks to you. The man who was my father, friend, partner, he is my superhero. At every moment I needed (you), there you were to help me.”

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Marcelo with grandfather Pedro

For Casemiro, the separation from his father happened even earlier, at the age of three. He grew up with his mother Magda and his two brothers in a poor house in São José dos Campos (interior of São Paulo state), but he had the encouragement of Nilton Moreira, a futebol school coach in the city, to take off in futebol. In turn, Taison, a reserve of the seleção, soon had to go to work to help guarantee food on the table for him and his 10 brothers in the neighborhood of Navigantes, in Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul. His father, falling victim to alcoholism, separated from Rosângela, that depended on donations of a church in order to not to let her children starve. “All I have today is because of her,” Taison told the Jornal Nacional. Before becoming a player on the Inter team of Porto Alegre (capital city of Rio Grande do Sul), the half-striker worked like flanelinha (street car parking attendant), painter and auxiliary of mason. He didn’t hesitate, in his first interview before the World Cup, to rebut the criticisms of his invitation to the team. “I’m a hard worker. I didn’t make the seleção by accident.”

The team of present fathers

The Brazilian team also has players who are very identified with their father figure. Fagner, for example, was raised by his father after he separated from his mother, with whom the right-back had almost no contact. In addition to his father, Zé Carlos, midfielder Philippe Coutinho was supported by the older brothers, Leandro and Cristiano. Willian relies on the inseparable company of Severino da Silva, who has always intervened in Corinthians’ internal affairs at the time that his son was in the base categories, including the episode in which he demanded punishment for a coach accused of sexually abusing boys at the (sports) club.

“The family nucleus is very important for the formation of the personality. And, in that sense, paternal absence can leave enormous gaps in the psychological development of an athlete,” explains sports psychologist João Ricardo Cozac. “On the other hand, the over-influence of the father limits the self-knowledge and generates a certain dependence on the part of the son. It is necessary to seek a compromise, so that there is neither extreme absence nor extreme presence.”

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Neymar Sr. with son Neymar Jr.

Neymar Junior, the national team superstar, who inherited his father’s name, is perhaps the best-known example of paternal ancestry in Brazilian soccer, since Neymar is also responsible for managing his son’s finances since the time when he was still a promising athlete on the Santos team. But for Reginaldo Fino, one of the first coaches of Brazilian jersey number 10, the influence of the father was a differential for him to become a successful player. “Neymar always had confidence and tranquility to play, because he knew that, off the field, his father took care of everything.”

Source: El País Brasil

 

About Marques Travae 2894 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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