A Strong Father-Son Bond
Friday - May 12, 2006
The recent death of Earl Woods, father of Tiger, provoked a number of thoughts. First, despite the aura of mega-super-stardom surrounding Tiger, there was something incredibly humanizing about watching him deal with the grief of losing the person who’d been closest to him since the day he first drew breath.
Watching the tableau of still shots of Earl and Tiger from their earliest days through Tiger’s late childhood into adulthood, I was struck by the bond, and by what Tiger had really learned from his father. While Earl taught Tiger the basics of golf, the technical parts were turned over to professionals. The real lessons that Tiger received were more about life. The nature of competition, how to behave, how to handle adversity, to win and lose with grace, and perhaps most importantly, an understanding of the relationship between how hard you work and what you achieve.
These thoughts were swirling for me because I just returned from my youngest brother’s wedding where my entire family was gathered. I don’t get to see my own dad very often these days. Just a few months younger than Earl Woods, my father is in relatively good health, but I was shocked at how visibly he is changing. He’s put on some weight, and moves more slowly now. I was joking with my brothers that he seems to rise off the couch in sections.
As the oldest of five, I was the first to receive lessons about sports and life from him. After he came home from work and on weekends, I learned how to field ground balls, to catch a football with my hands rather than my body, how to execute a cross-over dribble and to shoot free throws (“bend your knees, it starts with your legs.”)
I was not gifted athletically, except for pretty good speed, and my father let me know early on that to be successful I was going to have to outwork my peer group. When I enrolled at a large Catholic high school with an exceptional basketball program, we both knew it would be an uphill battle to make the freshman team.
I did, however - the last man on a roster of 15. I remember my father driving a half hour to watch the six-quarter scrimmages in which I would play the last four minutes of the sixth quarter, and we’d review those minutes possession by possession. I kept improving and advanced to the J.V. and then the varsity, but rarely playing. When I would sometimes complain about the lack of playing time, my dad never let me believe it was the coach’s fault. He’d say the other players were better for now, and I’d have to work harder. We devised a program that required nearly three hours a day during the summer and 800 jump shots each session. I remember watching all my friends driving past the schoolyard on the way to the beach and wondering if it was worth it. Every night, we’d talk about the workout, often going into the back yard so he could critique my work.
When I watched the tape of Tiger embracing his dad coming off the 18th green after a Master’s victory, I was reminded of my own coming to fruition moment on a stage far less grand. I remember when I was announced as the MVP in basketball at the awards dinner my senior year. Going over to my father for that hug and thinking his eyes looked a little wet. Must have been the lights.
Now I have two young boys of my own, I don’t know what kind of aptitude for sports they’ll have, but I know I will try to teach them not only the basics, but those more important lessons, like perseverance and grace, and understanding that what they achieve is related to how hard they work, that they be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.
I suspect that if Tiger is similarly blessed with children, he’ll be looking to impart those same values.
It is, after all, the best way to say thank you to our dads.
May the circle be unbroken.
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