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George Foreman’s fatherhood secret: ‘Spend time’

The two-time heavyweight champ turned minister and entrepreneur said the title of which he is most proud is “Dad.” “You just got to spend time,” said the father of five girls and five boys. “Don’t be afraid to love your kids."
/ Source: TODAY contributor

When it comes to raising a family, George Foreman is in full agreement with the Beatles: All you need is love. And that, he says, is spelled T-I-M-E.

Foreman is a two-time heavyweight champion and the oldest man to ever hold that title. He’s a minister and a highly successful pitchman for the George Foreman grill and mufflers. But, he told TODAY’s Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, the title of which he is most proud is “Dad.”

“You just got to spend time,” said the father of five boys — all named George — and five girls. “Don’t be afraid to love your kids. Tell them you love them. That will ring louder than anything.”

His third son, George III, better known as “Monk,” joined his father on the set, cringing happily when Dad threw a hug on him and asked for a kiss. He said his father was never one to preach “Do as I say, not as I do.” “That doesn’t exist for him,” said Monk, a grown man. “It’s ‘Do as I do.’ ”

Foreman, who was raised by his mother in the toughest part of Houston, has put his philosophy of parenting in a book, “Fatherhood by George.” In it, he writes, “Being a good father is a lifetime thing. You just have to take the time.” It isn’t easy, he writes: “Being a loving, fully present father takes courage.”

Religious roots
Foreman talked with Kotb and Gifford about how his faith now guides his life. It took a long time for him to come back to his religious roots. As a kid, he was a street thug who was drinking and fighting himself straight to jail. But he was saved by an appointment to the Job Corps, which sent him to the Pacific Northwest, where a counselor saw his potential as a boxer.

He rose quickly through the amateur ranks, making the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team.

The Mexico City Olympics that year were fraught with protest and controversy. That was the year black track athletes sparked outrage when they took the medal stand and raised gloved fists during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was the year Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated, the year that race riots started tearing through America’s ghettos.

But when Foreman, then just 19, took the pinnacle of the medal stand, he waved a small American flag. Many in the black community called him an Uncle Tom for that.

Winning that gold medal, Foreman told TODAY producer and allDAY blogger Dan Fleschner in a backstage interview, remains the biggest moment in his boxing life.

“I was a 19-year-old boy, and I had never had a dream come true. I couldn't believe it,” he said. “I stood on that platform, they put the gold medal around my neck with the national anthem playing in the background, I'll never forget that. It's like it was yesterday, and there has not been a moment second to that one.”

Frazier and Ali
Foreman went on to become the heavyweight champion of the world, beating the seemingly invincible Joe Frazier before losing his title to Muhammad Ali in Zaire in the fight known forever as “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Even though he lost, victimized by Ali’s famous “rope-a-dope” strategy that tired Foreman out, he says he’s proud to be associated with a classic moment in sports.

“I hear more about that boxing match than any match I've had, because it was a historic event — one of those phenomenons in sports that people never forget, like the first Super Bowl, the Rumble in the Jungle, the time when the United States won the hockey gold medal,” he told Fleschner.

After losing to Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico in 1977, Foreman, who was suffering from heat exhaustion, had a vision in which he believes God told him to become a minister. He retired, became a minister, and took to street-corner preaching. Ten years later, at the age of 38, he returned to boxing, but as a kinder, gentler — and fatter — version of his old scowling self.

By the time he won the title back at the age of 45, he was as beloved as any figure who had ever climbed into the ring. It was during that time that he and his wife, Mary, had their fifth and final son. After a family vote, they named him the same as the other four Foreman boys — George V.

‘I decided to name them all George, because as a boxer, I wanted to get ready for memory loss,” he joked with Fleschner.

‘Leave a little love’In truth, there’s nothing wrong with Foreman’s memory or his mind — or his values.

“You gotta leave something in this world, and you can’t just leave money — they spend it,” he told Gifford and Kotb. “But if you leave a little love, it’s going to be there for a while. If love dies, nothing else is important. But if love is there, you’ve got something.”

But, Kotb interjected, it’s tough on families these days with the price of fuel soaring along with the price of just about everything else.

Foreman said you have to keep things in perspective. “There’s going to be always a world of ups and downs in finances. You can’t fix that. You can be rich tomorrow, as some of us are, and broke in no time flat,” he said. “But you can always find time for your kids. Money will return. Fame will return. But you lose that love with your kids, that might be a lasting thing. Always find time to hug your kids. They don’t care about the money and the gas anyway. They just want cartoons.”

That made Gifford think of her father, the late Aaron Leon Epstein, and how he would sometimes turn down jobs that required him to leave home, saying “My kids need their father more than they need a new TV.”

Foreman nodded an amen to that.