Can parenting make us better golfers (or vice versa)?

half & half (kilt pic)Like parenting, golf is a humbling endeavor and a difficult game to master.  Most golfers who have a bad attitude about the game (cursing, throwing clubs) have their expectations way ahead of their abilities; this is probably equally true of parents who may expect to be expert at it, and then get angry and frustrated when things go into the rough, into the woods and into the water.

When I was young I had time to practice golf but no head for the game.  Now that I’m older, a therapist and a yogi I have a much better attitude, but no time to practice.  There is a par three course by my house and it’s the perfect place to learn to golf, because while most players want to hit the ball as far a tigerly possible but never bother to master chipping and putting, when the entire course is chipping and putting you are forced to confront the fundamentals.  This too relates to parenting because the small details and moments, if well handled, are really what add up to good parenting (not to mention a life well-lived).

Another nice thing about a par three public golf course (besides being quite inexpensive) is that one can play in less than two hours, which allows me to play pretty often with my older son (my younger one has no interest… at least yet).  Returning to golf after a two-and-a-half decade hiatus has proven interesting; firstly it teaches me that muscle memory sticks with you, but secondly, as a parent, the shift has been from trying to be good at the game when I was young, to focusing on time spent together with my kid, playing one shot at a time, and being really clear that a birdie won’t substantively change my life any more than a bogie.  Still, it’s nice to get a birdie.

Recently, my son started to play for a highly casual “golf team” at another local course, and my wife has been doing most of the car-driving so my kid can do the golf-driving.  The other day it was time to go pick him up and I was home so my wife and I drove the forty-five minutes back to the course, where we then waited over an hour for him to finish his round… and it turned out to be a great, albeit subtle, long moment.

As we sat on the lawn near the last green, the day turned to deep dusk.  Rabbits scampered in the hillside brush and the smell of cut grass hung in the sultry summer air.  As impatience gave way to tranquility, the feeling of a picnic descended upon us (a virtual picnic as far as the blanket, wine and food were concerned, but this only heightened our sense of the surroundings).

In the dimming light my son’s group finally arrived at the last tee.  My son appeared to hit a very good shot, but we couldn’t see where it landed.  As the other golfers made their way toward us, each one hit their shot and when my son kept coming I wondered if he’d lost his ball or gone out of bounds.  Finally, it became apparent that he’d hit his shot so well that it was nearly on the green of this par four hole… he chipped it up, nearly made his birdie and calmly finished with a par (and a win, it turned out).  The other kids mostly three-putted, but they took the time and care as if it were for a million dollar purse; it was all rather cute.

As my wife, my son and I walked together up the path to turn in the scorecards, he waited until the other kids were out of earshot and then recounted how he’d played well, and won.  And then he looked at my wife and I and said that he was really glad that we were there at that last hole—that it was fun to have us see him play well, and that it felt good to have us watching him.  For any of you who may be currently parenting a fifteen-year-old (or who happened to read my post on “The Killing Game”), I’m sure you can appreciate the sublime happiness of one’s growing child saying that we, as parents, pleased them by watching them (or by doing any other thing!).

Yet this underscores a fundamental law of parenting:  watching is loving.  Being seen helps us know that we matter; it helps build the bowl of self, and the confidence to make use of that self in the world.  Watching is not always easy for me (checking emails, making calls, blogging, etc.) so that elongated time on the grass was a Zen sort of forced presence, with nothing to do but watch… and it drove home once again that central point about watching that I make more often than I live.  But like golf, parenting is all about practice. 

The art of being present to the moment means realizing that every single moment is another opportunity to get it right.  The mark of a good golfer is the ability to recover from a bad shot.  So let’s dedicate today to practicing watching and being present; if you’re anything like me, you’ll fall short, but try not to get mad at yourself—just watch again, watch your own feelings and thoughts, watch your child and try to see to their sacred essence—in the service of your child and of all children (watch those other kids too… at the park, walking along the street, in passing cars).

Namaste, Bruce

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3 Responses to “Can parenting make us better golfers (or vice versa)?”

  1. Kevin Says:

    “The art of being present to the moment means realizing that every single moment is another opportunity to get it right. The mark of a good golfer is the ability to recover from a bad shot.” I love this very simple and powerful metaphor for life in general.

    On a non-metaphor issue, anybody know where I left my clubs?

  2. Art Kinsey Says:

    My Dear Uncle,

    At the risk of sounding mushy, as if I care, I love you, and I love reading this blog.


    Your favorite mushy nephew

  3. Mwa Says:

    “The art of being present to the moment means realizing that every single moment is another opportunity to get it right.”
    – I got that message from my mindfulness course, and it has transformed completely the way I parent. It is very powerful.

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