At the beginning of the school year my teenage daughter was given an assignment by her eighth grade home economics teacher to write an essay about a person (living or dead) who represents "exemplary character." When I learned about this essay I was excited; after all, character is something we should showcase and instill in our children. I assumed my child would select someone like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., maybe an astronaut, athlete or a president, or possibly my favorite, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
My daughter's choice for her “character essay" was Steve-O. What? I must admit that when I first found out about her choice I was kind of puzzled, but later I had a good laugh — only my kid! If you've never heard of Steve-O, which until this year I hadn't, he is one of the stars of Jackass and the hit movie spin-offs, Jackass 1, 2, and 2.5, all of which include ridiculous, pain-inflicting stunts and embarrassing pranks.
I have to point out that I am no fan of the Jackass movies and could never quite see the fascination of it all. However, I did watch an hour-long documentary, Steve-O: Demise and Rise, based on his personal life. This documentary is a "brutally honest one-hour special about his descent into madness and the consequent intervention that saved his life", which premiered on May 3, 2009 on MTV. While some reviews have labeled this documentary as "a cautionary tale and/or as exploitation," my take is mixed and when I viewed it I was somewhat squeamish, but then again, reality can have that effect.
Here is an excerpt from my daughter's "character essay":
Stephen Gilchrist Glover, more commonly known as Steve-O, who some may refer to as a “professional idiot”, however, there is more to his story than just ridiculous stunts that people laugh at, are shocked by, or get disgusted with. I have done research on his background and have uncovered much more. Don’t judge until you know the whole story because underneath the laughter you will find darkness and a tale about a young man, who in the end, triumphs!
This may seem a weird pick for "someone with good character;" however, quality of character includes humility, courage, and perseverance, which Steve-O has demonstrated through his experience with drug and alcohol abuse and his desire and tenacity to get “clean” and live a sober life. This is a story of triumph over darkness. I would highly recommend watching Steve-O: Demise and Rise. It’s a touching story of a boy following the wrong path that took him to the depths of darkness and despair and with the help of his friends he found the light and is still fighting to stay sober today. It’s an ongoing battle between right and wrong, light and dark, and Steve-O has shown me that drugs and alcohol are not the answer to dealing with life’s problems and challenges.
Character development doesn’t necessarily come from our successes, but more so through our trials and failures. He has taught me that learning from our mistakes is a huge part of life which can shape one’s character toward good and can be used to deter others from making the same mistakes. When it comes to drugs and alcohol, I’ll look at Steve-O’s story and make my decision. Do I want to end up a suicidal maniac, a person that people find repulsive, or viewed as a disappointment to my friends and family because of the poor choices I have made? Do I want to live in the dark or the light? The answer is obvious. — Angelica Lakatos, September 2009
Although I do promote “tolerance” (a subjective term) and encourage my children to choose their friends wisely, I have “zero tolerance” in my household for drugs and, of course, alcohol for the under-aged. In my opinion drugs are "evil" and the abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol carry their own depravity that can only lead to serious problems. That said, besides being proud of my daughter's writing skills, it is very inspiring and moving to see her profound stance on drugs and alcohol — something that goes deeper than anything she learned from the D.A.R.E. program in elementary school. This is also a testament that we can find character in those of us who fall and rise again to do the right thing. Failure can also tutor our kids in “what not to do” — prevention is best. I hope and pray that Steve-O stays clean and sober and my daughter never travels down that dark path of drugs and alcohol, and forever remains the angel she is today!
I think the home economics teacher was somewhat shocked by my daughter’s selection, but had this to say, “Her paper was well written with good support for her reasons for selecting Steve-O as someone who demonstrated exemplary character,” and she gave her an A — sweet!
There was a popular saying when I was growing up: “It’s ten o’clock — do you know where your children are?” As parents we should always know where our children are and what they are doing, and we should also patrol what they are up to on the Internet. But since we now find ourselves in a culture of “celebrity worshiping” we may want to ask this question: Do you know who your children’s role models are? Perhaps you’ll discover things you didn’t know about your child, as I did mine.
With a smirk, I will end by saying that I am grateful that my daughter's "character essay" choice was not Britney Spears or Paris Hilton — thanks, Steve-O!