Friday, May 19, 2006

They grow up so fast

Caiden is almost done with his first year of school. He's already tired of school and would drop out if I let him :-).

The thing is, I have to realize how much I smother him and just back off a bit as he gets older as it could hurt his own self-image in some ways. He already knows it's not "cool" to give your parents a hug, even though he'll do it a lot when no other kids are around.

This morning as I dropped him off at school, we were standing outside the truck, but still protected from the open door so no kids could see. I went to give him a hug and noticed him kind of pull away quickly, making sure no other kids could see. I felt so badly that I wanted to hug him like he was a little baby again. I still somewhat remember when I was 6 and all the pressures you face among your peers even then. I want him to be comfortable and do what he would prefer to do.

I can still remember when I first dropped him off at pre-school when he was 3 years old. He was so adorable, so shy (he is still pretty shy) and he would not let go of me. He was almost stiff with fear as he looked at all the other kids in his class.

Now it's the opposit. Now he just wants to run to school and not show the fact that he does love his daddy (which I know he does). The saving grace of it all was cute in that he was one of the last kids to run into school and as he walked he kept turning to me and giving me the "I love you" sign with his hand. He did this about 20 times as he walked to the door. He smiled big and waved the sign over and over. However, one thing that he did made me even prouder (is that a word) as a father is that when he opened the GIANT door going in, he looked back and noticed a girl getting out of her car to get to class. He stood there and held the door open for her. I was so proud of him for doing that.

Anyway, I always wonder if the want to show your children love, ever wears off? If not, it must kill my parents to not get to hug me as much as they want. Of course, they have a lot of kids to hug, so maybe they get to "give" as much as they want.

I read this article (I'll post it below) by Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly about Tiger Woods' dad and the kind of father he was to his son. I had always figured he was the kind of father that pushed his son to no end (because he was always in the news) when it turns out he was the opposite. This gave me even more respect for Tiger himself, because I believe that for someone to be as great as they are, they need SOME sort of pushing/prodding/encouragement from someone.

Pop's Last Lesson

I suppose we could celebrate the life of Earl Woods with a whiskey and ginger ale, which he loved. Or with jazz, which he loved. Or with a long drag on a cigarette, which he also loved too much, seeing as how smoking probably figured in his death last week at 74.

Or we could do it with tears, since with Earl there was always more crying than on the first day of kindergarten. Every time I saw him get up in front of a crowd to talk about Tiger, he'd wind up bawling. And every time, Tiger would hop up, grab the mike and go, "That's my Pops. I love him."

I suppose we could remember Earl as perhaps the most famous black man in America who is celebrated solely for his fatherhood. In sports, all we hear about is the black father who runs, but Earl was constantly there, famously there, lovingly there.

Hell, Earl couldn't leave the kid's side. He never left him with a babysitter. Wound up quitting his job for the kid, mortgaged the house twice, took out home equity loans. He couldn't bear to punish Tiger -- that was his wife's job. Earl was hopelessly in love with the boy he called the chosen one.

You wondered what Earl's other kids thought of that -- the chosen one. Because those three kids from his first marriage -- Earl Jr., 50; Kevin, 48; and daughter Royce, 47 -- were not the chosen ones. They hardly knew him. A career Green Beret, he'd be gone for six months to a year at a time. "I wasn't around," he once told me. "I'd come back, and I'd find three totally different children."

Maybe Earl didn't know how to be a father the first time around. He was the youngest of six kids, and both his parents were dead by the time he was 13. He learned to be alone. But when he married Kultida, a Thai secretary, and got a mulligan for fatherhood at 42, he made the most of it.

Earl was fun to play with -- gave me a lesson once, too -- and even more fun in the bar afterward. And Tiger loved his burly playmate from the start. Even as a toddler, he had his Pops' phone number at the office memorized, so he could call and beg to play together after Earl got off work. Earl had 1,000 crazy games to play on the course. He needed to. Tiger was beating him by age 11.

But it killed Earl to be called "the dad who built the greatest golfer ever." No, he was trying to build a kid who would be kind and happy and responsible. He gets an A+ for that. But much trickier still: He kept his Mozart from burning out.

Never once did he tell Tiger to practice. Never once told him to try harder. He and Tida would withhold golf if his homework wasn't done. Golf was the dessert Tiger got when he ate all his vegetables.

Together, father and son started a fund of trust. Tiger trusted his dad when Earl tried all his psychological training on him -- dropping his golf bag as Tiger swung, calling like a crow on his backswing, rolling stray balls at his putter. And Earl trusted Tiger, who would put his pop four feet in front of him at clinics, have him hold his hands up like goal posts and hit full flop shots between them.

You think Earl did all this to get rich? Then why didn't he ever leave that little house in Cypress, Calif., the one he was living in when Tiger was born? No, Earl did it because golf's Stevie Wonder fell into his big lap. He did it for the three kids' childhoods he missed. And maybe he did it to make up for all the father-son days he missed when his own dad died.

And when Tiger hit his mid-20s and started to pull away -- moved away from that little house all the way to Florida -- Earl nodded proudly, but secretly ached. "It's sad in a way," Earl was quoted as saying. "This is what I've prepared for. Still, it leaves a hole because he's not there."

Now, Tiger must know exactly how he felt.

But more than all else, the thing Earl will be remembered for is his hugs. He did for hugs what Mrs. Fields did for cookies.

Remember the one he gave the triumphant Tiger coming off 18 at the 1997 Masters? That hug always chokes me up. Earl swallowed him in his huge arms and reminded us that this baby-faced, ice-blooded hit man was still somebody's little boy. From then on, those hugs became the one place this new god in spikes knew he could go to hide from the cameras and the pressure, the one place he knew he could feel loved and wanted and safe. Bet Tiger could use one right now.

And that's the best way to celebrate Earl Woods's life, by finding your kids right now -- no matter how old -- and giving them one of those great, smothering, lungbuster Earl Specials. See if you can squeeze the Skittles out of them.

Because all kids need to be reminded that they don't have to be Tiger Woods to be the chosen one.

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