Without planning it, I have read three books in a row that have had a common theme. All three books were complex stories about the strained relationships between fathers and sons. I read Father Fiction by Donald Miller and loved the book as I shared here. I read a second book in which the author, a professional athlete, lived with incredible emptiness because be desperately sought the affirmation of his dad but never received it. I chose not to write a review of that book as its content, at times, was crude. That brings me to the third book, Open, the autobiography of Andre Agassi. I did not have any expectations of this book but I read it because it was highly recommended to me from a friend. I like sports but have no interest in tennis yet it did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying this book. I love autobiographies that are open and honest (no pun intended) and this book provided it in spades. I find the level of Agassi’s transparency inspiring and instructive.
Open is the surprising story of one of tennis’ greatest players ever and his passionate hatred for the game. Repeatedly throughout the book, Agassi says, “I hate tennis.” The reason he hates the game become obvious as he unwinds his life tale of a bullying father, Mike, who is obsessed that his son will become the number one tennis player in the world. Mike Agassi wins the award for “how to best mess up your kids as a parent.” The dysfunction of his home sets the scene for everything that transpires in Agassi’s life. In many ways his life seems tragic. The press label him. Some try to take advantage of him. But Agassi, through a process of time, builds a team of people who surround him and support him and love him. From those relationships, Agassi find himself, his inspiration and his purpose.
Agassi consistently battles with a paralyzing perfectionism and fear as revealed throughout the book. Through his battle with his fears, he comes to recognize that he needs inspiration for his life and his career and eventually he finds it through helping others. He comes to believe “the only perfection is the perfection of helping others.” This leads him, ironically, as he quit school at a very early age, to start a charter school for under privileged kids in Las Vegas. His purpose for playing tennis, and really for living, becomes his family and his charter school.
Typically, books written by high profile athletes become revelations of the sport and its player’s lifestyle and excesses. This book is not about that. It is far better. It is a candid self-revelation of a famous athlete’s struggle to find peace and meaning in his life.