In recognition of Father’s Day as celebrated in the U.S., Bringing Back the Beautiful Game presents the following reflection on Pele’s relationship with his father:
One of the remarkable things about Pele’s biography is the clarity with which he articulates the closeness of his relationship to his father, Dondinho, an attacking center forward that played closer to goal than Pele preferred to play. Dondinho was a classic number 9 whereas Pele, as number 10, opted for a deeper role where he could orchestrate attacks as well as come forward. In his autobiography, Pele recounts his father’s support of his childhood ambition to become a professional pilot. Instead of pouring cold water over his son’s excitement, Dondinho nurtures Pele’s ambition and reminds him of all of the skills he would need to acquire to realize that dream as illustrated in the passage below:
“I remember talking about it and being surprised that he thought it was a good enough ambition. I expected him to dismiss the idea, but instead he cleverly reminded me of the skills I would need to acquire to achieve this goal – reading, writing, navigating and the rest. It was one of the first times I recall him treating me like a man, and taking me seriously, and it made a big impression. As well as being a footballer he had a good head on his shoulders – he was always the one to rein in Dona Celeste’s fireworks – and I knew instantly that I should listen to what he was saying. It made school seem more relevant, more useful. Even when skipping school I knew that I’d have to get some sort of education to be able to fly.” (22)
Pele’s boyhood dream of becoming a pilot was cut short by an unfortunate incident when a local plane crashed, killing the pilot. The young Pele went to the hospital to view the autopsy and, upon seeing the pilot's corpse, decided that a career flying planes was not for him. As luck would have it, his father’s nurturing trait extended to football as well, and Dondinho became Pele’s first professional football coach. Dondinho taught Pele how to pass accurately, dribble, use a shoulder feint to leave defenders for dead, and change pace quickly to outmaneuver defenders. And over and beyond the technical aspect of football, Pele notes how spending time with his father was marked by pleasure and the experience of learning about being a man: “And I loved spending time with my father, learning football and how to be a man." (41) The young Pele derived joy and passion from the playful back and forth exchange he had with his father. Moreover, he loved the way his father took his opinions seriously, as if he were a man.
Source: Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pele), Duarte, Orlando and Bellos, Alex. Pele: The Autobiography. Trans. Daniel Hahn. London: Simon & Schuster, 2006.