Golf and the Game of Life

Last Friday, I had the honor of golfing with my friend Keith Froehling in the Children’s Miracle Network Golf Scramble in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. It was a 4 man scramble, and as I haven’t golfed in a year (regularly in about 6 years) I was a little apprehensive. I grabbed the clubs out of the shed, cleaned off the cobwebs and loaded them in the van, not sure what to expect. I had never met the other two guys that made up our 4 man team so I was a little worried about how the day would turn out.

I’ve had those days where you get placed in a situation where you feel completely uncomfortable and you smile (falsely) waiting for the day to come to an end. I’ve golfed with some guys who take the game real serious and some guys who should just put their clubs in the next church yard sale (I’m closer to the second group than the first) so I was relieved when, upon meeting our team mates, none of us had the intentions of taking home the trophy. We were there to support our friend and the cause.

As we all addressed the ball at the first tee (hole #10, it was a big scramble), I’m certain the team behind us shook their heads, maybe in frustration but mostly to avoid laughing out loud, as each of us took our individual turns shanking the ball into the woods, rough and anything other than the fairway. I took a deep breath and thought, This is gonna be a long day…, and it was, but it was more than that. I learned a great deal about life and myself during those 18 holes of self-induced hilarity.

#1 – Never lay down on the tee box or the green because people will assume you are having a medical emergency. All I wanted to do was take a few good action shots, gheesh!

#2 – No matter how loud you yell “FORE!” the guy watering the greens can’t hear you when he’s wearing headphones and hooking up hoses.

#3 – No matter how bad the golfer, we all try to act like Tiger Woods when there is a crowd of people watching or a free driver to be awarded for the longest drive. At least we made a lot of people laugh!

The fact of the matter is, none of us were professionals and I know that the only pressure we had was the pressure I put on myself. Whether it was to impress my team by showing them how good (LOL) of a golfer I was or to impress the people who were watching the various holes or to impress myself, I had a lot more fun and a much better time when I stopped trying so hard and I just hit the ball. It didn’t matter where it landed, we were there as a team and one of us would help the others make it to the green.

We managed to accumulate the highest score by 11 strokes last Friday. Jerry Rice would be proud, 80! But you know what, we all had a blast. How is that possible? We are playing one of the most frustrating games man ever invented and we are failing miserably. I’ve never laughed more on a golf course or enjoyed a round of golf more than I did with the 3 guys I played with, my 3 friends.

So Eric, Charlie, Keith – here are some of the real life lessons I learned this past Friday:

#1 – Golf and life are about avoiding the hazards and traps along the way to the goals we set and surrounding yourself with a team to help you get there. Whether you’re talking about work, marriage, raising kids or your walk with God, the traps are easier to avoid when you’ve surrounded yourself with good people.

#2 – In most cases, the only pressure you feel is self-imposed. On the golf course and in life, we tend to over estimate what we can accomplish and place ourselves in stressful situations that we could easily avoid if we’d just use the tools we have around us. My Father-in-Law always tells me to let the club do the work and you know what, he’s right. When I relaxed and just swung the club, I made better contact and got a far better result than when I try to accomplish more on my own than I am capable of. The same is true for life. God gives us tools and yet we think we can come up with a better plan. If we’d just use what He’s given us, things would go much more smoothly and we’d avoid a lot of those pressures we face daily.

#3 – This may be the most important. Make the most of every opportunity. Not only did I make two new friends, but I got to meet a lot of great people from the companies that were there sponsoring the event. We didn’t win the tournament, but I think we did the things that position us to win in the long run.

Golf, it’s a wonderful game. It’s humbling, yet every once and a while, you make good contact with the ball and you get a glimpse of what you can do with a little effort. It’s those moments that push you through all the sand shots, water hazards and lost balls in the woods. It’s kinda like life, we get a glimpse of what could be, and it drives us to do more than we ever thought we could accomplish. God gives us those moments so that we can see ourselves as He sees us. It’s up to us to make the most of the situation. Step up to the tee and take a swing. That next shot might just be a hole in one! “FORE!”

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Fatherhood… It can be Scary!

I remember a time not so long ago, when my daughters needed me for everything. I would hear their calls of “Daddy!” morning, noon and night. They depended on me to feed them when they were hungry, to clean them when they needed it and to keep them safe from harm. When they were afraid, they would come running, sometimes in tears, and jump into my arms. I was their bug killer and noise detective. I cleaned their cuts and scrapes and comforted them while they were sick. They were certain that there was nothing I could not do. I had purpose.

I knew what my role was when my girls were young. It was second nature. Protect and nurture them. As they’ve grown, my role keeps changing. It becomes harder to know what to do, what to say. Sometimes I make them cry and I don’t know what I’ve done. Their emotions are unpredictable, explosive! They act goofy one moment, the next sad. It can be very confusing. It definitely doesn’t make sense.

I heard a comedian talk about the affects of drugs. Drugs can make you irrational. Under the influence of drugs, people laugh when they’re sad and cry when they’re happy… I totally get it! Now I know, hormones are to blame with my girl’s occasionally irrational behavior. I get that, I’m just saying. I know that they are going through changes physically and emotionally. I wish they gave you a manual for dealing with adolescence when you register your kids for middle school.

I knew the answers when they were little because the problems were typically simple. Baby needs a diaper change, change it. When a 5 year old is hungry, feed them. When a 13 year old is crying and looks at you saying, “I don’t know what’s wrong! I just feel like crying!” it can make you tremble with fear. I’m a man after all and I generally know why I’m crying. It’s a scary place, the mind of a teenage girl and I’m glad I’ve never been there.

As my girls grow older it doesn’t mean that they need me less. If anything, they need me more. The answers aren’t always easy. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense. It’s definitely more work emotionally. I can’t fix everything and I have to be okay with that. I have to let them cry. Sometimes I cry with them. And you know what, in a strange way, it helps. I’ve discovered that sometimes just being there is as important as providing a meal or a new pair of shoes. I still have purpose in their lives even though I don’t always know what to do or say. And even though I don’t always understand them, goofy or sad, I know my role as a dad isn’t going to get any easier. In fact, it’s probably going to get way more confusing with boyfriends just around the corner.

DUN-DUN-DUNNNN!

3:30.

Any minute now the sense of order that I am currently enjoying will be disturbed. In the distance, I hear the sound of a vehicle, a large vehicle, pulling away from a stop. Occasionally, the sound is accompanied by the joyful chatter of young people busily expounding upon their day.

“Did you hear about what happened at lunch?”

“Did you see what she was wearing?”

“I think he likes me?”

The voices grow steadily louder and a slight apprehension fills the air. It’s uneasy, a disturbance in the force if you will. The sound of the door handle jiggling is accompanied by an explosion of high-pitched, excessively loud barking that can only mean one thing, the girls are home from school!

Dun-dun-dunnnn!

Sometimes it feels like a scene straight out of Hitchcock. The door bursts open and the commotion of real life begins. They seemed to get along fine on the other side of the door but as soon as they cross the threshold, something changes. Having 2 young ladies in the house on similar schedules needing to use the same items at what seems to always be the same time is terrifying! When their mom is added to the mix, I have no hope!

Occasionally, I consider installing a small air conditioner in the shed or living in my van in the driveway but I’ve come to this conclusion, they need me. Tweenager and teenager, both incredibly smart and attractive (they have good genes); though sometimes they think they know it all, they still need me.

I hate to imagine what life would be like in the Swager household if I weren’t there to occasionally bring some order to the chaos. I’ve spoken with both children on numerous instances, trying to help them see what a blessing their sister is, usually to little or no avail, but I try! I’ve cried, gotten angry… gotten angry, laughed then cried. I’ve pulled my hair out (proverbially and physically, explains the slight bald spot) and, according to my wife, I’ve even developed a few gray hairs. No matter what I do, with the exception of buying them each a separate home on opposite sides of the street, which isn’t a bad idea now that I think of it, they are going to find some reason to irritate each other. Even if they lived in separate homes, I’m pretty sure they’d still fight over the bathroom.

As much as I dislike admitting it, I can’t stop them from irritating each other. I can’t make them be nice to each other. I know they love each other, I do, but sometimes, I wonder! I’ve accepted the fact that occasionally, they will drive me to the brink of insanity with their constant bickering. I understand that, from time to time, they will compete for our approval, driving me a little nearer the edge. I appreciate the frustration they feel towards each other when one helps themselves to the others belongings, but is it worth fighting about. I have even come to grips with the fact that my peaceful home will be disrupted by the sounds of sister throwing a hair brush at sister on occasion.

There are times as a dad that my job is more like that of a referee than of a father but I’ve come to the realization that sometimes, I have to let them fight it out. Now I don’t mean coming to blows and if they ever did my money is on the little one because I think she would fight dirty, what I mean is I have to let them work it out on their own. If they can’t learn how to deal with conflict and move on, they’ll avoid it entirely and that is far more destructive.

So here I sit, whistle in hand, ready to ding the bell for the start of Round 3 wish I could just ding them on the head instead. But what will that give them besides a headache? My job is to teach them to come to a peaceful resolution. To show them how to have a disagreement without destroying a relationship and to stress the need for addressing situation, not just ignoring things hoping it will go away. After all, every so often, I leave them at the house and I’d like to be confident in knowing that there will still be a house when I return! And while I daydream about a time when they will walk hand in hand whistling zippity-do-dah, I realize that it’s closer to Wil E. and the Roadrunner. I just hope we can keep the ACME Products Company out of the mix!

Oh boy, that didn’t sound good. Looks like Round 3 started before the bell. Where’s that whistle, “Wwwwhhhhhttttt!”

Milestones (Not to be Confused with Millstones)

This has been a week of milestones for me! My daughters both have had significant changes in their educational lives, moving from elementary to middle school and from middle to high. My wife and I have been married 20 years. It really doesn’t seem possible that it’s been that long and yet, it’s hard to remember life before we were wed.

It’s strange how life seems to go by so fast in the moment but when we look back, it seems that it’s been ages since the milestones of the past. Our wedding was 20 years ago today but I remember each detail as though it just happened. The first time I held each of our daughters, looked into their eyes and fell so deeply in love with them seems like yesterday but for all the moments and memories in between. Birthday parties and family trips, graduation ceremonies (way more of these than I remember in my own educational path) and personal victories, each milestone sets a way point as I look back over the road that is my life. As much as those moments stick out, it seems to me it’s the time spent navigating from milestone to milestone that makes the memories I cherish so dear.

As great as the mark of 20 years of marriage seems to be in the society we live in, knowing the journey Tracy and I have traveled, complete with bumps and detours, wins and losses, that’s what makes the moment precious. I wouldn’t trade a moment of the journey because those momentary course corrections are what have brought us to the place we are today. Those frustrations we all encounter are the moments where real strength is developed.

Celebrate the milestones but remember the moments that got you there. Without the joys and trials along the journey, the milestones would be empty. In the moment, it may be painful, but refining takes time, heat and discipline, so hold on and know that God is still molding you into the wonderful creation He intends for you to be. Don’t lose heart in the struggle, embrace it and thank God for it. The victories and milestones of life are so much sweeter when we realize the work that went into achieving the successes we celebrate!