UFC lightweight Isaac Vallie-Flagg has had a rough time lately. An injury forced him out of his fight with Sam Stout and his dad is dealing with cancer. Ike obviously has a great relationship with his dad so, with Father's Day upon us, we gave him a chance to share a little about his about his dad and what kind of man he is, how he's doing and what he thinks of his son's career of trying to beat the snot out of other grown men inside the Octagon.
He had no shortage of love and gratitude for the man that, biologically, isn't his father but in every other sense of what a father should be couldn't fit the definition any better.
By Ike's account, Thomas Flagg, who taught psychology for many years, is "a really mellow, down to earth guy." Apparently, this includes the patience of a saint that an out-of-control teenage Ike put thoroughly to the test.
"He came into my life when I was around twelve and he put up with a ton of s**t through my teen years and that's why I love and respect him even more… he put up with a lot because he loved me and my mom."
"Beyond the usual teenage hijinks?" I ask.
"The usual hijinks, but a lot of stuff on top of that... getting arrested, drinking, winding up in the hospital... I wrecked a few of their cars... He paid for lawyers and a lot of stuff that he didn't have to deal with. A lot of people would've bailed but he never bailed on me or my mom. And he never once held it against me - or anything like that. He always showed unconditional love towards me and my mom."
While this sort of behavior from a kid who's not even biologically yours would normally, at best, garner some "'tough love" with the emphasis on tough, Mr. Flagg handled it differently.
"It wasn't even tough love; it was just love and trying to understand what I was going through and supporting me. I ended up in a couple of alcohol treatment centers when I was a kid and there was just love and patience from him.”
“My biological father passed when I was really young and that's why I consider him my father because that's the kind of stuff I think a dad should be there for." And while few would fault Thomas Flagg for not wanting to take on the paternal role to a wild teen constantly in trouble, he did, and not begrudgingly either. "He never once pulled that 'you're not even my kid' thing, which I still look back on and think is amazing. He's a really patient, tolerant person."
When Ike eventually got his act together and got into fighting, the support was still there. "Although I think part of it was him and my mother going, 'Well, at least you're not dead. Anything is better than what you were doing,'” he admits, "but this is something they saw that I loved and stayed committed to it and he supported me through it - even though I'm sure it wasn't the easiest thing to watch me doing."
A few years ago, his parents moved from his home state of Michigan to New Mexico where Ike, as part of Team Jackson-Winkeljohn, is based and they now live down the block from him, which has made them even closer not only in proximity but also in their relationship. And Ike is grateful that his dad is close by while he's been in the hospital.
"Now that he's been going through his medical struggles, I've been able to go see him and be there more. I couldn't imagine being so far away if he was going through this and still in Michigan."
After a while of talking to Ike about his dad and asking him how his own injury is healing up (the prognosis is good that he won't need surgery and will back sooner rather than later), I make sure to ask him if there's anything else he wants to say in this Father's Day "card" to his dad.
"I was trying to think what it would say and I'm grateful you're giving the opportunity but I don't know what I want to say other than how grateful I am for the unconditional love and support he's shown me. This is a guy who didn't have to stick around when I was a teenager doing messed up stuff. And the older I get the more gratitude I feel."
At the end of the day, what more could a father want than a son who's become a man he can be proud of and to know that he helped him become that man?
Happy Father's Day.