A decade after the revelation was made that Joseph Baena — the then 13-year-old son of Guatemalan-born Mildred Baena — is the son of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 24-year-old man is reflecting on how his life has changed since being publicly recognized as the actor and former bodybuilder’s offspring.
It wasn’t until 2011 that both the public and Baena found out the identity of his father, who had previously employed Mildred as a housekeeper for Schwarzenegger and his then-wife Maria Shriver. Once the news broke, however, Baena said that his life was forever changed.
“I [was] 13,” he told Men’s Health magazine of the day when the world found out about his dad. “Your body’s transforming; your mind is transforming. And now my life transformed before my eyes.”
At the time, Baena had only known his Guatemalan roots as he grew up in a “humble home” with his mother and four half-siblings, celebrating Latin culture, food and music. But he would soon come to learn that he shared many talents with his father as well after taking up an interest in bodybuilding.
Baena’s passion for the gym was something that came later in life after he experienced trial and error with athletics in high school. Ultimately, he built his confidence in the swimming pool and eventually followed Schwarzenegger’s lead when it came to fitness after the former bodybuilder gave Baena a copy of his book The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.
“Even though I could call him anytime, I was too proud,” Baena recalled of his early days of training. “I went straight to the book. I wanted to figure it out myself.”
Once he turned 18, however, Baena reached out to his dad and the two began training together.
“I was being observant, trying to see what he was doing and the way he was acting,” he said. “I was able to acquire a bodybuilding mentality — that I could shape my body however I want.”
While Schwarzenegger has taught Baena a lot about the gym and helped to inspire the young man’s love of bodybuilding, Baena maintains that his passion resides at a lower level than his dad’s. “There are so many other things that I care about more than fitness,” he said. “There’s a balance. It’s not just fitness all the time.”
The one fatherly lesson that he has directly applied to his life, however, is his work ethic, especially when it comes to chasing the same dreams that Schwarzenegger did, like acting.
“My dad is old-school; he doesn’t believe in handouts. He believes hard work pays off, and so do I,” Baena explained. “I love the word honor, and I’m very prideful in the sense that if I use my dad’s contacts or ask him for favors, I wonder what honor is that gonna bring me?”
And while some might be quick to assume he’s simply existing in his father’s shadow, Baena pointed out that it’s actually helped to have a different last name from his famous dad in order to keep his identity separate.
“When I go to auditions, they don’t know who I am, because we don’t have the same last name,” he said, noting that when the hard work pays off, “I know it’s all me.”
At the end of the day, what grounds Baena most is the understanding that he’s not expected to accomplish the many things that his dad has, but is instead encouraged to forge his own path.
“It took a little bit for me to realize that I don’t have to do what my dad did,” he said. “I don’t have to get into acting or bodybuilding. I’m very motivated and driven. I’m happy about my relationship with my dad. But I’m more happy that I am finding joy in what I’m doing and that I’m doing exactly what I’ve always dreamed about.”
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