The two of us used to play golf every weekend, when a small boy’s recreational choices are not solely his own. The boy enjoyed golf but mostly liked spending time with his Dad. In reality, he preferred video games. Sometimes, he would think about them on the golf course. Once, when he was about 6, the son repeatedly initiated his golf swing, but stopped at the apex of the back swing. The father asked the son, “What are you thinking about”? (Tiger Woods’ father Earl had famously asked the same question of his son, who answered, “Where I want the ball to go.”) But this son said “Mario Cart,” referring to a new video game he had just received.
The father at one point cursed the introduction of video games into the house, realizing that the hard-earned satisfaction of playing sports could not compete with the immediate dopamine-surging rewards obtained from pressing buttons in response to fast-moving objects on a screen.
Now the father and son play golf once every year and will play on Father’s Day. That is also the day of the final round of the men’s U.S. Open golf championship. Golf requires focus and calm under challenging and anxiety-producing conditions, since a single mistake can ruin the opportunity to make a career. Last year, golf star Jordan Spieth appeared to be on the verge of blowing his lead at the end of the British Open championship. “Am I falling apart?” he asked his caddy.
The golf enthusiast dad relayed this story to his video-gaming son, but the son knew all about it from what he had observed in the League of Legends Championship series, known as the LCS. “Ahhh, yes,” the son said, recognizing something very familiar. “He was tilting.” Much like in golf, the ruminations of potential failure distract the video-gamer to the point where he is unable to engage in the game anymore. He then detailed how the former NBA star Rick Fox had attended his first LCS of event with his son, and had spoken to some of the players about how to confront the pressure of competition. They went on to win the championship 3-0 in one of the largest upsets in LCS history.
The implications of Rick Fox engaging with his son’s passion are dramatic for video-gaming as a sport. But perhaps more powerful and poignant is that his engagement represents an opportunity for all fathers in their relationships with their children. His son was not going to find inspiration in the same type activity that he had. Their interests were almost diametrically opposed. Yet, as with complementary colors, the two placed side-by-side create a special vibrancy.
Why do we fathers want our children to follow in our footsteps? Is it egotism? Well, maybe, but part of the reason may also be that we experienced some very basic and important human emotions and motivations from an activity when we were young — things like joy, happiness, personal satisfaction, engagement with teammates and competitors — and we want our children to have those same valuable experiences. The context of doing that with a golf ball, a basketball or a gaming console is really secondary. While parents may imagine themselves beaming in the stands as their child wins a championship, that part withers in comparison to the alternating current of connection that is created when we offer our children the possibility to experience a joy and satisfaction that we once knew.
So fathers, sons, and daughters, whether you normally spend Father’s Day playing or watching sports, chess, or video games, remember that despite the difference in your years and the context in which you developed your passions, each of you are capable of falling apart at the next turn and each of you are capable of redemption and unexpected glory. For the content of our endeavors may be starkly different, but the struggles that we face and the triumphs that we can experience are never far apart.