La Familia: Spain

July 2005

The day after his 19th birthday a Spanish youth named Rafael Nadal won the French Open tennis tournament. After the young Spaniard scored the winning serve he rushed over to embrace his family -- and then in his youthful exuberance he hugged Juan Carlos I, King of Spain!

Later on during the festivities as he was speaking softly to his parents, he looked up at the press and said: 'I hope all this won't change me. I would like to stay the same as I've always been, and I believe I will pull it off. I want to continue being a 19-year old youngster and play my tennis.' 

Even though this young man has already earned well over $1 million, Rafael continues to share an apartment building with his family: his grandparents live on the ground floor, his uncle Toni lives with his wife and three daughters on the second floor, his parents live on the next floor and he shares the top floor with his younger sister Maria Isabel. 

Many emerging tennis players leave their homes and families in their teen years to perfect their games in tennis academies and training centers. Nevertheless, Sebastian and Ana María Nadal decided that it was best for their son Rafael to remain home in Manacor, Mallorca, where the family has been since the 14th C. He could train with his uncle and go to a regular secondary school. Their values were clear.

Forty years ago Ruth and I were married and settled into our life together. However, I was a newly commissioned naval officer, and twelve weeks later the Navy had a surprise for us: I was sent to sea for a six-month deployment aboard destroyers, and had to leave my bride behind! However, it is an ill wind that blows no good, for my first port of call was Valencia where I had my first taste of Spain, and it captured my heart. 

Here I experienced a warm and personal way of life in which the family is most important, and children are included in all aspects of family life. I remember enjoying tapas at a roadside venta after 10:00 PM and hearing the laughter of little children darting in and out of the tables, where their families were seated!

Over the subsequent years of traveling and living in Spain with my wife Ruth and our family, I have sometimes wondered whether I have over-romanticized traditional Spaniards and the values by which they order their lives, but when I read about Rafael and his family the other day, I knew my assessment was true. The traditional Spanish values produce a remarkable people.

This sentiment was reaffirmed when Ruth and I were invited to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday with Jorge Ordoñez and his family. He has devoted his life to the promotion of artisan Spanish wines in America. 

Although we had never met them before, Jorge and his American wife Kathy welcomed us into their kitchen as if we were old friends. Soon we joined their friends and family on the back patio for a feast prepared with obvious delight by Jorge himself! Such warmth and generosity: we were included into their gathering - with no pretensions or formalities. 

While everyone enjoyed chipirones - baby squid - and a fresh-caught striped bass in his backyard Jorge told us of his life in Malaga. I sensed deep-felt emotion as he talked of his roots in Andalucía and particularly his local area - probably much as the Nadal family might talk about the island of Mallorca if we were sitting with them. Jorge shared with us his pride in the wines he had found and developed, especially from age-old vines. However, our conversation was not just about wine, it was about life together with our loved ones as we exchanged stories about our families --- with their young children Victor and Monica playing in the background. 

In traditional Spain, children maintain an intimate connection with their families well into their adult lives. It is not uncommon for sons and daughters to remain at home until they are married in their late twenties. In the United States we have the understanding that if our children hang around home much beyond eighteen, it is time to nudge them out the door. We want them to become independent and self-sufficient. I wonder if the traditional Spanish viewpoint where love between parents and their children is allowed to mature within the family might not be a healthier path to follow. Apparently that is what the young tennis player believes.

The benchmark of the Spanish culture is this warm and cordial hospitality extended to family members and guests alike. Our family experiences this generosity of spirit whenever we are with them - whether we are dining with jamón ibérico experts from the University of Cáceres, or enjoying a cookout with a Spaniard in Greater Boston. 

Best of all, this generous way of life can become contagious! 

Tu amigo,