Dear Friend Who’s About to Have a Kid: Life is About to Get Simple

Dear Friend Who’s About to Have a Kid,

As an expectant father, most of what you’ve been told is that parenting is really hard. Other synonyms: difficult, tough, challenging, life-altering, impossible, a grind. But “hard” seems to be the adjective of choice for the modern, unsolicited advice-giving parent, usually along with a sigh and a head shake.

Sleepless nights, maddening carseat scenarios, nightmare plane rides, strain on marriage, strain on space, strain on body, strain on professional life…just a lot of strain, really.

So I’m not going to sit here and regale you with the countless other reasons why having a child will be the hardest thing you do. On the contrary, I’d like to make the case that, on balance, parenting will actually make your life a lot simpler.

Some reasons:

You will always have an excuse to arrive late, leave early, or not show up at all.

No more hemming and hawing when you get these texts:

Colleague: “See you tonight at the Christmas party?”

Boss: “Can you stay late to finish the project?”

In-laws: “Wanna pop over to watch the latest Meryl Streep’s vehicle?”

Friends: “Moving again. Help me lift the couch?”

A simple “Can’t make it. Kid thing” will suffice. No explanation necessary. Keep responses vague and you don’t even have to lie.

Best part is you can always hedge with something like: “Gonna do my best to make it, but if so, will probably need to leave early. Kid thing.”

Better yet, don’t respond at all and no one will hold it against you. No one gets the benefit of the doubt like a parent.

You won’t need to set an alarm.

It can be glorious when they shuffle in with bed-head and snuggle you on a Saturday morning. It can be maddening on a Monday when you were up with them until 3 am and you’re trying to get 20 more minutes of uninterrupted sleep before a full workday. Regardless, it’s one fewer item you need to worry about. Congratulations, your wife will birth the world’s most sophisticated alarm clock.

You will become more efficient.

My folks watched my boys the other day and I accomplished more in three hours that my pre-kid self would have in two weeks. Something about having finite amounts of time that ramps up your productivity.

You won’t need motivation to get (or stay) in shape.

There’s a reason we’re built to have kids in our twenties: millenials can eat nuclear waste between Fortnite binges and still stay fit. At 40, a trip to the post office saps most of my energy. But for the first few years, 90% of parenting is getting your kid tired enough to sleep, so physical fitness is as important as emotional resilience. If I don’t stay in shape, the nightly game of “Dinosaur King on the Mountain” in my basement could put me back into physical therapy.

You will never need motivation to go to work or to stay at your job.

Mouth to feed = “I don’t need this job.” Mouths to feed = “I can’t lose this job.”

You will become a better person.

Imagine life with a parrot on your shoulder and a mirror in front of your face, both reminding you, incessantly, of your faults.

Actual exchange from this morning in the van:

Sam: “Dad, can you put on the Superman song?”

Me: “Buddy, I can’t use my phone while I’m driving.”

Sam: “Why?”

Me: “Because it’s not safe.”

Sam: “But you just did it back there when you turned on the Batman song.”

Me: “I know buddy, but…(stammering). Hey, look at that excavator over there!”

It’s not even that you become a better person because you necessarily want to become a better person. It’s just less of a hassle.

So friend, as you await this miracle, take comfort knowing that just because something is more challenging, doesn’t mean it’s more complicated.

I leave you with the words of one of my favorite minimalists, Henry David Thoreau:

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

Fatherhood will afford you to let alone pretty much everything.

Except what matters.

— Rory

Wanna hear interviews with dads? Check out The Detroit Dadcast.

How wrong I was: golf as a dad

adapted from the “Against the Grain” column in the August 2016 issue of Golf Chicago Magazine

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. — from Self-Reliance, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today we call this “flip-flopping.” Politicians are skewered for this. It’s how I justify being completely wrong.

Last year, just before the birth of my son, I wrote a letter to my wife pleading that she allow me to maintain my regular golf habit once I became a dad. My friends, family, and the seven people who read this column assured me I was delusional. Exactly one year later, I’m playing much less and much worse. But I wasn’t delusional; I was just naive. Here are six realities I hadn’t anticipated:

I don’t want to play as much as I used to.

It’s not that I don’t still love it; it’s just the cost is so much greater than before. A year ago I might miss Game 4 of the NBA finals to play 18, but then I could always DVR it. You can’t DVR fatherhood. Every moment passes, every milestone is reached, every smile and new discovery happens with or without you. Cliché, also true. How would I feel if I had missed Sam’s first words: “Dada” and “Garbage,” which he uses interchangeably.

I’m getting worse.

The day I published that letter, my handicap was 5.6 and dropping. Now it’s 7.9 and rising. I’ve played 18 holes five times this year, which puts me on a pace to play 10 times total — the lowest since Charles Howell III was relevant . The other day, following a gaggle of blades, shanks, and chunks — the kind that are commonplace when you don’t play — I actually mumbled: “I should quit this stupid game.” It was both a terrifying and seductive thought, to have an out from this expensive, maddening, paradoxical sport.

I struggle to stay in the moment.

The other day my buddy asked me where his ball went and I was too busy checking my nonexistent text messages to watch. I’m compelled to check my phone — a practice I’ve railed against for years — every few holes to make sure Sam hasn’t fallen off a table or swallowed a beetle. I know being present is paramount in golf, but the moment can feel trivial, even distracting, when your progeny is elsewhere.

I’m exhausted.

Another friend warned that parenthood brings a new meaning to the word “tired.”

A child’s brain and body are in perpetual motion, which means that, by default, so are yours. The energy you had to clean the house or meet your buddy for beers is usurped by this little dictator, who is relentless in his thirst for stimulation. Leftover energy is spent trying to translate his whines, grunts, and shrieks. If you’ve ever traveled to a non-English speaking country you understand the fatigue at the end of a full day trying to figure out what the hell is going on. So if this is happening for two thirds of the day, one third of the day loading clubs, unloading clubs, checking in, hitting balls, and walking for 18 holes playing a game at which you are getting worse, sounds exhausting.

I can’t manage my time.

Having children puts a different dimension on time. This year felt like three months, and a full day often feels like three hours and all you’ve done is walked around the block, picked bananas from your hair, and helped your kid open and close a garbage can 30 times. Sam wakes at 6 am and goes to bed at 7 pm. If I golf in the morning, I miss the most fun part of the day — playing with Sam and mom, eating breakfast, putting him down for a nap. Playing in the afternoon means forfeiting Team Nap Time from 2–3:30. And If I play in the evening, I miss the hardest time to be a single parent: dinner, bath, bedtime.

I feel guilty.

My friend says, “Guilt is self-inflicted” every time he drags in a five-footer, and while I don’t agree with its use in that context, he’s right. My wife is actually encouraging me to play, partly because she knows it’s fundamental to my being, but partly because every round, prorated, is costing us $200. But the deeper issue is wired in our nature. Our ancestors left the nest only for a purpose — to, say, hunt a mastodon. Chasing a white orb though a man-made field seems trivial and selfish by comparison. The same buddy whose push-slices I didn’t watch: “Man, I even feel guilty being out here and my daughter is at a friend’s house all day.” A year ago I would have scoffed, convinced his wife had eaten his manhood; this time I nodded and checked my phone again.

If Emerson is right, a year from now I’ll feel different. Maybe I’ll argue abandoning your sacred hobby will cause resentment toward your family. Or that you appreciate golf more when you play less. By then maybe every round will cost me $300 and maybe it will be worth every cent.

Maybe by then Sam will no longer be confusing me with garbage.

This is worth playing worse.

Can you make your kid love the sport you love?

Adapted from the “Against the Grain” column in the April 2016 issue of Golf Chicago Magazine

The indoctrination begins.

Within seconds of my wife saying she was pregnant — after a few joyous expletives — one of my first thoughts was, “I hope he loves golf.” Actually, at the time it was more like, I hope “it” loves golf. To be clear, my thought wasn’t, “I really hope it wins the Masters” or even “I hope it beats all the other kids,” although I‘d be fine with either, or both.

But yes, initially it was a purely selfish thought, in the same way all parents want their kids to like and do the things they like and do. But this obsession with our kids following our passions is a relatively recent phenomenon. Historically, people had kids in order to milk more cows and shuck more corn so the family could survive the winter; children were utilities rather than embodiments of our desires. Remember, a baby goat is called a kid.

Now though, pop into any youth soccer match or baseball game or dance recital, and what you’ll see is a bunch of adults swelling with pride (and sometimes envy, and sometimes even shame) over their kids’ performance.

This is not to suggest that all parents use their kids as pawns to carry out their unfulfilled dreams; it’s actually more insidious. I think we’ve been sold that the more our kids are “involved” in “activities,” the more likely they’ll become as passionate as we are — and if they snag a D-1 scholarship in the process, we’ll take it.

Which brings us back to my son Sam’s future as a golfer. My uncle, who introduced me to the game, says “don’t push.” He did everything he could to get his son hooked, and the more he pushed, the more his son pivoted to other pursuits — he became a triathlete-pianist. My father-in-law wanted so badly for my wife to play that he taught her with the intensity of a tour-level coach, breaking down the nuances of the swing and critiquing her every move until he completely squeezed out all of the fun of the game.

When I ask my father-friends for the key to getting my kid into something I love, they respond with some version of: “Your kid is going to do what your kid is going to do. All you can do is expose him to a bunch of things and support him in what he likes.”

I might be naive, but that answer doesn’t sit well. I want Sam to be an avid reader. Doesn’t that depend on how much I read with him? I want him to eat healthily. Doesn’t that depend on how I eat in front of him? I want him to not be a jerk…you follow. So how is golf any different? If he grows up around the game and sees the spiritual, emotional, physical, and social benefits it provides his father, will he not adopt it as part of his DNA? I’m sure that finding the balance between pushing too hard and not pushing enough is not easy in sport, let alone child rearing, but I want to believe that certain passions are just too good to not love. Yes, I’m biased, but it’s not like I’m hoping he grows up to love Grand Theft Auto or reality TV.

As any parent will attest, having a child completely reshapes your world. It’s like going from an old, blurry 13-inch standard definition television to a 65-inch HD. Your priorities and your weaknesses come into such sharp focus that sometimes you have to look away or your eyes will water. Extraneous interests and relationships begin to fall by the wayside and what’s left is what really matters.

But I submit that the guys who say “You’ll stop playing once you have kids” never loved the game the way I do.

Our pediatrician said something before Sam had even left the womb that has stuck with me. Andrea and I were asking her recommendations of great parenting books. She smiled as if she’d heard it a thousand times. “You want to know the key to parenting? Enjoy your child. Just have fun with him.” Any golfer knows that the same principle applies to playing well — if you focus on enjoying what you’re doing and stop analyzing and questioning every decision, you tend to play better. Less wind-checking, more grabbing a club and swinging. Less plumb-bobbing, more having a quick look at the line and trusting your instinct. Less shaking your head over a birdie putt, more smiling at the bladed chip-in for bogie.

If there’s another activity that is so clearly a metaphor for life and allows me to spend hours at a time with my son, I haven’t seen it. Fishing is a close second, but I’m bad at it, and I have a compulsive fear of getting lost in the woods.

Sam is eight-months-old now, so he’s starting to develop a little personality. I try to imagine what kind of player he would be, what kind of disposition he would have on the course. He strikes me as a Freddy Couples or Ryan Moore type: laid back but laser-focused when it matters most.

Or maybe that’s just how I see myself. There I go, awash in self-indulgence. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to put a golf ball in Sam’s crib.