Travis Browne focuses on becoming devoted father
LAS VEGAS – The real work for Travis Browne comes when the workday ends. Browne is a mountain of a man with a nose that twists across his face like a windy country road.
That crooked nose provides a none-too-subtle hint about the type of job he holds and the dangers he faces regularly in the workplace.
He's an idol of many for his ability to fight, and he's one of the top contenders in the UFC's heavyweight division. He'll fight decorated veteran Josh Barnett on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden with a potential 2014 title shot riding on the outcome.
He's recognized daily because his job puts his face in front of millions of people, and his two sons are sometimes confused how their friends' fathers seem to know so much about their dad.
His job is extremely important to him, and he has the kind of goals that most top-level professional athletes share.
But his most important accomplishment might be the way he's raising sons Kaleo, 7, and Keawe, 5.
Browne divorced the boys' mother, Erin, nearly four years ago and is now a single father.
But he's a single father by only the strictest definition of the term. When it comes to understanding what is important, few have a better grasp on it than 6-foot-7, 240-pound behemoth Travis Kuualiialoha Browne.
His ex-wife is still a major part of his children's lives. They're no longer married, but they agreed they would do everything for the best interests of their children, even if it happened to be tough on them.
The kids, he said, thus get to spend their time in happy, positive environments, with two parents who are very much involved and love them very much.
"I live in San Diego, but I train in Albuquerque, so when I'm training, the kids are with their mother," Browne says. "She's doing a great, great job with those kids. We had our own issues, but as a mother, she does a great job with them. When they're with me, I try to think of what is best for them and to do the right thing."
Things didn't work between Browne and Erin, his now ex-wife, and he was unhappy far too often. Many parents in similar circumstances stay together for the sake of their children, and Browne seriously considered it.
Ultimately, though, he rejected it because he didn't want to live a fake life in front of his children, and then have them discover years later their parents hated each other.
He wanted to raise his children with morals and values, and for them to believe what their parents told them.
"I wasn't happy for whatever reason – and I'd rather not go into that, because it's personal – but I wasn't happy in my marriage and I knew the time had come," Browne said. "People would try to be helpful and they'd say, 'Oh, stick it out.' But I've also heard from kids whose parents divorced after they turned 18.
"And they said, 'You know, our entire childhood was a lie. They didn't love each other and tried to stick around for us to have a better life.' I didn't want that. I wanted my kids to see their mother absolutely happy, living the life she wanted, not stuck with someone she didn't want to be with. She needed to be with someone who treated her right, and it got to the point I wasn't treating her the way she needed to be treated."
Divorce is a highly emotional, frequently difficult process that is often toughest on children.
But Travis and Erin didn't want their divorce to negatively impact their children. Happy with each other or not, they knew their children's lives were most important.
And so they agreed to team up. They divorced and moved apart from each other. But they realized they had a lifelong bond because of their kids.
They didn't want to badmouth each other. Travis didn't want the kids to think less of Erin because he had difficulty with her, or vice versa. And so the former spouses agreed to a partnership.
"I think it's important for the kids to spend quality time with their parents, and to see their parents happy and loving life, even if it so happens that they live apart," he said. "That's a lot better than having them stay together and be miserable. That can be a toxic situation for the kids, and I didn't want to expose them to that."
Browne's father was a gang member in Hawaii who seemed to be in and out of trouble with the law. He remembers a big gun on his father's lap as they drove around in his Jeep. Drugs were constantly in sight.
He loved his father, and he believes his father did the best he could to help him. But he wants more for his own children.
"I had a tough life, and I wanted my kids to have better than what I had," he says.
So, when he's in camp, the children live with their mother. When his fights are over, the kids tend to stay with him.
And Browne does the things that any suburban father would do with his sons.
"I take them to school and pick them up from school and run them to practice and pretty much, I'm just a big, old soccer mom," he said. "I guess you could call me a soccer dad. I'm pretty undercover, though. I coach my kids' football team, but nobody on the team knew what I did until the very last game, when one of the parents asked me, 'What do you do, anyway?'
"I didn't want to lie. I don't like to talk about myself, so I've said, 'Oh, I'm a personal trainer.' But when one of the parents asked, I had to be honest. I said, 'I'm an athlete.' They went and did their own research and came back and said, 'Hey, you're a big deal.' "
If being one of the best in the world at one's job makes one a big deal, then Browne is, indeed, a big deal.
But Browne downplays his famous job and wants his children to see him as a role model for the man he is and the morals and values he lives by rather than for his athletic ability.
He wants to beat Barnett on Saturday, and his long-term professional goal is to capture the UFC heavyweight championship, but there is an overriding theme to everything he does: be a quality person and set an example for his sons.
On Christmas Eve, just four days before his fight, Browne reached out to UFC staff to find out if they knew of any families in Las Vegas in need. Told of one, Browne and his girlfriend delivered a series of gifts to help make Christmas a good day for the family.
"If I could only have one thing in life, it would be for my sons to grow up to become quality men who are interested in doing the right thing," he said. "I want them to be highly moral people who care about what is happening in the world around them. The best way to do that as a parent is to set the right example. That's what I try to do."
No matter what he accomplishes in the Octagon, if Browne is successful at that, he'll be an undisputed champion in life.