Tiger Woods’ dad

Obviously events have overtaken the content of this blog.  I sometimes feel like this blog jinxed Tiger.  The greater point that involving our children in our hobbies remains a solution to the problem of making time for one’s hobbies while making time for one’s children hopefully remains valid.

I have played two rounds of golf in my life and found it more boring than frustrating–a good walk spoiled indeed.  Televised golf I find inexplicable.  Yet a father I often reflect upon when I think about my custody cases is Tiger Woods’ dad.  I’d have to google to determine his first name (I just did: it’s Earl, and I didn’t even realize when I started writing this blog that he’d died in 2006) but the story of how he instilled a love of golf in his son, and his son’s recollections of their relationship, always inspires me.

I think American women could learn a lot from observing men and their outdoor recreational hobbies.  Men use their outdoor hobbies (golf, tennis, fishing, surfing, in my case kayaking and bicycling) to get away from their daily responsibilities and enjoy the natural world.  Taking a break from the work-a-day world and enjoying nature are vital to mental health.  However, it’s hard to carve time out to engage in these activities, especially when one has a job and young children who need looking after.  For that reason, few of the more diehard bicyclers or kayakers in Charleston have young children.

Few of the mothers of young children that I know have such outdoor hobbies.  Taking a half day or more on a weekend to indulge in such recreation is a luxury they will not afford themselves.  It smacks of selfishness to take time away from the family.  As their husbands take off for their weekend excursions I can see these mother’s thinking to themselves “it’s all well and good for you to go run off and have fun but someone needs to take care of the children; how selfish of you that it’s always me.” And, after they think those thoughts, they go off to the gym to get their exercise in concentrated doses (what fun is that?) and often turn to anti-depressants to combat their sense of being overwhelmed by life.  Meanwhile both parents (though, more often, mothers) spend parts of their weekends and evenings watching their children participate in organized sporting activities that they deny themselves.

When these marriages go kablooie the fathers often perceive their failure to get shared custody as latent sexism in the family court system while the mothers feel martyred by the overwhelming responsibilities of single parenthood.  Nobody is well served by a culture in which the choices appear to be care for one’s children or care for one’s self.

Then there’s the example of Tiger Woods’ dad.  A lover of golf and (at some point) a father of a young child, he once faced this same dilemma and devised a solution that figuratively sliced the Gordian knot.  When Tiger was young, Earl had to decide “is golf an opportunity to spend hours drinking with my buddies and avoiding my family?” or “is golf an opportunity to spend hours enjoying outdoor recreation?”  Earl decided it was the latter, developed a habit of taking his son golfing, and molded a son of whom any parent would be proud.  For a successful professional athlete, Tiger appears remarkably well adjusted and intelligent.  One doesn’t get into Stanford (even on a golf scholarship) without being thoughtful and studious.   He’s a 21st century celebrity whose avoided a wild domestic life, comical or adverse dealings with the law, or tabloid-ready tales of woe.  I doubt it was merely, or even primarily, Tiger’s athletic success that made his parents proud.  Tiger frequently spoke of his warm and supportive relationship with his father.  Isn’t that how we’d all like our children to think of us when they are adults?

Earl’s solution to the dilemma of balancing family and self doesn’t seem so difficult.  In fact, it seems kinda obvious.  Yet how few parents of either gender follow his example.  Instead many parents become observers of their children’s outdoor recreation while gaining their exercise, if they exercise, alone or in the company of other adults.  If we developed a mindset of engaging in outdoor recreation with our children, we could spend more time exercising with our children and less time observing them exercise or exercising without them.  Spending time in a tandem kayak or bicycle with my younger daughter may not provide the same thrill level as the more intense workouts I can do alone or with other adults but it allows me to engage in these activities without feeling selfish and provides excellent bonding opportunities.

Mothers: stop martyring yourselves to your children’s activities and start engaging in outdoor recreation with your children.  Fathers: stop using your outdoor recreational hobbies as a method of avoiding your children and use them instead to connect with your children.  And may your children grow up to speak as well of you as Tiger Woods speaks of his dad.

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