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Lance Armstrong’s Hardest Conversation Wasn’t With Oprah

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Last week, my son called me a thief.

We had just left the grocery store and were on our way home when we realized that the cup of juice we served ourselves at the soda fountain had gone unnoticed by the cashier, and we had left without paying for it. The right thing to do would have been to turn around, go back and pay for it. It would have made me the world’s greatest role model for my 7-year-old, whose character and integrity is very much in development. But I didn’t. I was exhausted from working all day, and we hadn’t yet made it home to cook dinner and start homework. I admit it; I chose the path of least resistance.

“Mommy, that’s sort of stealing,” Javier’s little voice piped up from the backseat. He wasn’t letting me off the hook. “You’re right, buddy,” I replied. “But we didn’t mean to, it was sort of an accident.” After that, we dropped the subject.

Soon all eyes will be on Lance Armstrong as he fesses up to doping in a hyped-up interview with Oprah Winfrey. Some are calling it his sink-or-swim moment, his chance to redeem whatever shred of dignity and integrity he can. It’s his opportunity to fight to remain a competitive athlete, but also to win back the trust of those who sang his praises for so long—those who donned his yellow bracelets with pride, cheered him on the sidelines, both literally and metaphorically, and those who paid him millions to represent their brands.

But I don’t think that is the biggest interview of Lance Armstrong’s life. I think even the great Oprah Winfrey is a distant second to the sit-down I’m sure he had to have with his kids—the one where he looks into five young faces who have grown up believing their father is one of the greatest American heroes of all time and says, “I lied. I cheated. I took money from people who trusted me.” One week later, I still feel guilty about stealing a cup of fruit juice. I can’t imagine having to explain why kids at school and on the playground are calling your dad a fraud, a joke, a master of manipulation.

Like all clichés, this one rings quite true right about now: We truly are our kids’ greatest role models. Whether at the store or the Tour de France, having kids means being willing to accept responsibility for the people our kids turn out to be—because how we conduct ourselves is their first look at how we’d like them to conduct themselves, whether we’re there beside them or not.

As a parent I can’t help but look beyond the buzz surrounding this big interview, and wonder what Lance Armstrong’s kids will be feeling in the coming days. Because at the end of the day, Lance let down a lot of people, but I’m sure that doesn’t hold a candle to the burden of having let your own kids down.