Last March, Mark Wahlberg was voted the first recipient of Acculturated’s “Celebrities Behaving Well Award,” stemming from my earlier article about his decision, at the age of 41, to return to school for his high school diploma. I’ve written also praising Wahlberg for his very vocal appreciation for our military. Now, at the risk of becoming Acculturated’s resident Mark Wahlberg fanboy, here I am again, praising the very busy actor/producer for steering himself out of juvenile delinquency to become one of Hollywood’s most upstanding, prominent role models.
In his working-class youth in Boston, Wahlberg was essentially a petty thug: on drugs at thirteen, constantly in trouble with the law, a high-school dropout, convicted of assault. He makes no excuses for that troubled start: “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and I’ve done bad things,” he once said. “But I never blamed my upbringing for that. I never behaved like a victim so that I would have a convenient reason for victimizing others. Everything I did wrong was my own fault. I was taught the difference between right and wrong at an early age. I take full responsibility.”
His short jail time for assault (45 days of a two-year sentence) was enough to scare him straight: “I said to myself, no matter what I was going to do, I was gonna make an honest living. I was gonna do something that I could be proud of and I could make my parents proud.”
In a recent CBS News interview to promote Wahlberg’s new Transformers flick, the interviewer points out that Esquire described him as having the driven work ethic of “a man with a dark past who was granted a second chance.” Wahlberg responded simply, “This is America”:
Once I got a second chance, I was never gonna do anything to mess it up. And I feel so fortunate to do what I do. It’s only right that I give it my all and I respect what I do and the people that I work with. I’m gonna deliver for them. People are taking chances on me. I make sure that I deliver.
The Esquire profile to which the interviewer referred is “Mark Wahlberg: The Modern Fatherhood of a Street Kid” in the June/July 2014 issue, which highlights the married, 43-year-old actor’s work ethic and his very hands-on relationship with his two boys and two girls, aged four to ten. Of fatherhood, he says:
I think the most important thing is to always be involved in every aspect of their life. To give them enough trust that they can share things with you. I don’t want them to be terrified of me, you know? But I don’t want them to think they can do whatever they want and get away with it, either, because they can’t.
As a father of daughters, I appreciate his honesty and sense of humor about raising girls. In the CBS interview, the interviewer noted that in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Wahlberg plays a dad trying to save his daughter: “You’re a pretty protective dad in real life—”
“Worse. Far worse. I don’t plan on ever letting my daughters date,” Wahlberg half-joked. “I’m going to try to do everything I can to prevent it. You know, it just terrifies me. It just terrifies me. I know what guys are like—what I was like until I became the father of a daughter.”
Considering his rough beginnings, Wahlberg, who attends Catholic mass every morning and takes the family on Sundays, is now concerned about the impact his massive success will have on his own kids:
The biggest thing for me is, you know, as quickly as I was able to turn it around, to get from there to here, from me having nothing as a kid to me here now, providing everything for my kids, it’s like, I worry that maybe they won’t appreciate things. I worry that maybe they’ll have a sense of entitlement. You don’t wanna give your kids everything without giving them the tools to be great people.
That level-headed, commonsense, old-fashioned parental guidance will help his kids avoid becoming privileged brats, or worse, the kind of punk Mark Wahlberg once was—before he wised up, grew up, and made the most of his second chance.