Friday, September 21, 2007

Lessons from Tiger

I took the day off from work yesterday and went golfing with my youngest son. I am not a good golfer at all (my streak of never breaking 100 is intact), but I do love to play the game, especially when I'm with one or both boys.

We had survived four holes but on the 5th hole, Patrick's game deserted him and -- he being a Collins boy and all -- he was frustrated that his expectations were not meeting reality. The occasional golf club would go whizzing through the air with every bad shot and by the end of 6 holes, I wasn't sure we were going to make 9, let alone 18.

"One of the things that makes Tiger Woods great is his ability to forget about the past holes and shots, and concentrate only on what he can do something about now -- the next shot. It's a metaphor for life," I said, hoping he would understand how it applied not only to the game, but hoping that he would see how it applied to his other troubles, and hoping he understood what a metaphor is.

I said all of that as I took a mighty swing in the middle of the fairway with a 3-iron, driving a divot 25 yards and the ball about 30, as I added, "of course Tiger Woods is a pussy."

By the 7th hole -- a Par 3 -- I was in a bunker, Patrick was 10 yards from the hole with his first shot. I don't know if he got the message, or got lucky. But his game was improving; mine was tanking.

A couple of hours and Patrick's first birdie -- ever -- later, I had no game at all and the 18th hole opened with a terrible shot on the old man's part. A second shot was so bad I could only think of one thing to do. And so I threw my golf club across the fairway.

I tell this story because of a comment my oldest son made when I was telling it to him today. "Typical parental 'do as I say; not as I do,'" he said.

So now I need to come up with another metaphor; one that reveals parents not as people who think they are perfect but don't live their perfection, but as flawed creatures -- just as flawed as everyone else -- including kids -- but striving nonetheless, against all odds, to try to be, not perfect, just better. Better than an hour ago, better than yesterday, better than when we were at 20. Quite often failing, but still swinging nonetheless.

My wife tells me my kids are afraid of disappointing me, which must be an awful thing for them. If only they knew -- as they will someday -- that we are all afraid of disappointing someone, that we are frustrated by our own imperfections, and that the only difference between us all is that we are at different stops on the same journey.


The news media, sometimes justifiably so, gets the occasional incoming fire for the way general aviation is portrayed. But sometimes -- more often than aviators care to admit -- reporters get it right.

Such is the case of this morning's New York Times which has an inspiring article on soaring -- gliders as we know them.

Positive stories like this can enhance general aviation far better than any politician or any paranoid pilot's organization (are you listening Phil Boyer of AOPA?).

Perhaps it'll do for flying what the media did for men's hats a generation or so ago.

(Cross posted from Letters From Flyover Country)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A river runs through it

It's amazing, really, how little things can suddenly occupy your "brain time." There are big issues in the world to consider. Thomas Friedman wrote in his column yesterday, basically, that nothing we do to conserve energy (oil) is going to make a difference. The Red Sox are in the process of losing a massive lead in the American League East. And there's a little pin-prick of a hole in my rain barrel.

Want to guess which one is driving me crazy?

Figuring we'd have a drought this summer (we did), I bought the rain barrel from Aaron's Rain Barrels last spring, mostly to keep my new perennial garden in bloom during the dustbowl season.

It worked really well.

This picture was taken fairly late in the season, so you can't really see how much the butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds (and me, of course) enjoyed the oasis on McKinley Drive.

We had a day of rain earlier this week and when I got home last night, I found this.

Talk about your water torture! It's just a little pinhole there... somewhere. But I have no clue how to fix it. I'm pretty sure duct tape won't work.

Update: Got a note from Aaron this afternoon while I was out having a great day of golf shooting a bad game of golf with #2 son (108).

Yes, you can easily fix that, if barrel(s) go dry sometimes the metal hoops loosen, what you need to do is get a hammer and a flat piece of metal and tap the hoops up tight. I use an old railroad spike to do this at home before I ship the barrels out and every once and awhile I get an email about this. I have yet to have a barrel out there that someone is not happy with but if after repair this is the case feel free to let me know.

Makes sense to me. Let me clarify that I'm completely happy with this barrel. It's the coolest thing, and I don't even mean because I water my plants and get a whiff of old bourbon at the same time. I highly recommend Aaron's service. I just don't know much about barrel construction in order to handle these things. Now I do.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The irrelevance of fatherhood

When my kids were small -- very small -- and I'd take them out somewhere, inevitably some person would stop to pinch their cheeks and look at me and say, "awwww, are you babysitting today?"

It drove me crazy and I'd say to them -- as politely as I could -- that, "no, I am fathering today."

But back then, I was naive, fighting the societal norm that, for the most part, fathers don't matter. I first suspected this when the same kids would run for mom when things got tough. I told myself it was nature; there's a physical connection with a mother that no father can duplicate.

I was playing catch with my youngest son once and I tossed him a "fly ball." The normally sure-handed lad badly misjudged it and it hit him in the nose. He went... screaming... for mom. Perhaps he thought it was the first salvo in a Dad attack.

I am rarely disappointed in my children -- far from it -- but I find myself quite often disappointed in myself where fatherhood is concerned. I always envisioned myself as providing a somewhat moral or ethical compass; one that my kids would follow, if not unquestioningly, then at least hesitantly.

Kids don't do that. Or, more accurately, I guess, my kids don't do that. They, like me, go off and make their own mistakes, suffer their own disappointments privately, and never seek counsel or help unless it's somehow associated with money. On those occasions, my relevance becomes my checkbook. A father should be more than that. I should have given something to my kids that didn't have a dead president on it. At the very least I should've given my kids the knowledge that Dad once struck out on his own, not quite sure who he was, made a stupid mistake or three, and wondered why everyone else seemed to "get it." If I had, then maybe how I navigated my way through that would count for something; maybe there'd be a credibility that my kids could've counted on.

I thought about this last weekend when I read Jeff Opdyke's Wall Street Journal column, in which he talked about the decisions he has to make now that his kids have reached an age where the things they ask for are more expensive than the "old days," when it was only a candy bar. The gentleman has determined that the kid could learn a lot by his saying "no."

Good for him. I wish I had.
As fathers, the one job we have is to get the kids out the door when they become adults, able to understand and handle the world, which includes handling money and making good decisions. The tragedy of it all is we don't get a second chance at it.

I was at the Twins-Indians game the other night with my youngest son, with whom I've always thought I had an honest relationship. We watched the game and then drove around Minneapolis at midnight (it was an extra-inning game) trying to find the 10th Avenue bridge, so we could stop and get a look at the I-35W bridge collapse.

I dropped him at his apartment around 12:30 a.m. and not once during the evening did he mention that he had a problem -- several problems -- that let's just say, "affect" his future. Not a word, until he called his mother a night later and dumped it on her.

I'm obviously disappointed that -- as it turns out -- I'm not a father that can be turned to for counsel. I'm not a father who can be listened to when I say "drive carefully," or "choose your friends carefully" or even "stay out of trouble." I don't blame my son for that; I blame his father who, as it turned out, didn't adequately prepare his son for the "real" world, and didn't teach him that there are consequences to actions back when they were minor, and the lesson could be learned less painfully than when you learn them as an adult.

Now they're not minor consequences, and there's little I can do about it, but sit and worry, wish I could have been a better father and generally wonder how I could've been so stupid to miss so many opportunities to teach my children something that would help them later in life.

It's true, of course, that as the nest empties, our offspring need to be free to make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences. It's how we learn. But it's the irrelevant father's hell that he has to watch.