My father gave me golf, with its chilled, dewy mornings and its fog hovering over the fairways as the summer sun comes into full view. He gave me club selection, and "keep your head down," and "smooth, easy swing."
My father gave me golf etiquette, which, with minimal adjustment, is life etiquette: "replace your divot ... we'll let these folks play through ... mark your ball but don't walk across the other man's lie on the green ... don't cheat ... we're just playing for fun today, so take a mulligan."
My father and golf gave me hope: "a couple of good putts and you'd have had a great round ... you keep hitting that 4-wood and you'll be shooting par ... tough round, we'll get 'em next round."
My father and golf even gave me accountability:
I'm perhaps 14 years old, playing nine holes with Tim, my cousin, buddy and serious golf competition. I'm using my Uncle Bob's clubs. They are good clubs, but it's a bad round. Somewhere in mid-round I prepare my approach shot to the green. I choose a 5-iron ... I address the ball ... relax ... head down ... swing ... follow through ... clunk, shank, splash ... water shot. Aargh!!! The club leaves my hands, by way of me throwing it, and is propelled into the sky like a blade that lost its helicopter, as I simultaneously beg the Great Father to manifest a miracle, turn the clock back five seconds, and return that club to my offending hands. Too late. In one of those "what are the odds of this ever happening" moments, the club spins all the way to the green, hits the pin, and snaps off right between the shaft and the head. I don't recall my exact reaction, but I imagine it was something on the order of a churning stomach and an "Oh, s..t."
No amount of masking tape and Elmer's glue would fix that club. I retrieved the dismembered and dishonored stick and half-heartedly finished the round.
As I am writing this story, my first impression is that I returned to my aunt and uncle's home that afternoon with more than a little fear of my parents' response to my violence on the links. Looking deeper, I can connect with the great sense of embarrassment that I carried in the door. I had desecrated a sacred place, the golf course. I had destroyed a sacred, ceremonial object and on top of all that, it was one borrowed from a respected elder. But worst of all, my momentary lapse of conscious control exposed a piece of my dark side, my Shadow (as the Jungian psychologists label it); an aspect of my personality that I believed I had previously kept well hidden: my impulsive and explosive anger.
I prepared for my father's anger, which could be formidable. I'm sure I told my story with as much truth as I could muster, although I have no clear memory of this humiliation. Then, as I awaited my father's wrath, dad breathed, looked at me and calmly asked, "You have a 5-iron in your set, don't you?" "Yes." "Well, now that club is Uncle Bob's 5-iron." Maybe more was said, maybe not. I truly don't even remember relinquishing the club formerly known as Chris' 5-iron. Frankly, I'm not even certain this incident took place quite like I've recited it to you. None of that matters. What matters is that in my memory, in that moment, I received from my father a crucial lesson in accountability, a lesson that has stayed with me always. I have not always lived the lesson, but when I have, it has guided decisions of great import in my career, my marriage, my fathering. The message: A man had given a boy his trust. The boy, struggling to become a man, had literally and figuratively broken that trust and there had to be a cost; a personal price to be paid that had meaning in the boy's life.
Since that time I've wounded others with my anger. But, I've returned many times to the lesson given to me by golf, and dad, that day. Since that day, and thanks to the assistance of other good men and women, I have gotten better and better at thinking before I act or attack, owning my errors, cleaning up the emotional messes I occasionally make, and making amends to those I have harmed.
So, some of you have thought that golf is just a game, and a fool's game at that. No, golf is a sacred ceremony with much wisdom for those who will listen. Golf is sensual and spiritual and chock-full of life's best rules. Accountability is one of them. If I hunch up my left shoulder, I will slice. If I break a man's 5-iron, I will give him mine. This type of justice is often painful, and in our world hard to find, but it can be found ... on fairways and greens, in sand traps and thick, green rough.
I'm looking forward to teaching Nathan to golf. I hope I am able to gift its lessons to the next generation.
This story is an excerpt from FatherTime: Stories on the Heart and Soul of Fathering, by Christopher Scribner PhD and Chris Frey LCSW.
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