Father knows less

So I’m down at the courthouse with son Shey, my 16-year-old traffic-ticket-on-wheels. His violation was a moving one all right, and at this moment I feel moved to strangle the little fuzz-magnet. We’re standing behind dozens of useless children and their apparently useless guardians, sullenly avoiding eye contact. Contemplating my own parenting skills, I’m wondering how the human species has managed to avoid extinction. Looking around this dungeon it occurs to me that most children (including mine) do well just to survive their parents.

Not that raising kids is a breeze mind you, all you have to do is look at the animal kingdom to see how awkward it can be. A mother tiger has to hide, feed and teach her cubs to survive predators, the most dangerous of which is often their own father. Which brings me to the Sean O’Hair story, you know, the kid who finished second at the Byron Nelson, the one with the father threatening to, in his widely quoted words, “crucify him in the media” in retaliation for the fruitless years he spent coaching, publicity-seeking and investing in his son.

Before I get off on a rant here, I would qualify it by stating that I have no intention of acting like a therapist. I’ve paid dozens of the bastards $150 an hour to tell me I’m-right-but-that’s-irrelevant, but I’m not daft enough to think it actually makes me one of them. I could give a small dog’s trousers about your kids; I have trouble enough with my own.

But it must be very cool to watch one of your own kids succeed at the highest level in anything, especially a sport. Most of us have sat through hours of God-awful recitals watching other people’s children who seem a lot less talented than our own and are pretty damn gawky too, for those few shining moments our undeniably beautiful prodigies give us. Most parents are happy with 10 fingers and 10 toes. Marc O’Hair wants his 10 percent. And Sean will have over a million dollars in earnings in his rookie season by the time this column appears.

We might want to blame Earl Woods for the Control Freak school of prodigy-raising, and though Tiger’s daddy is a tough old fart, that’s where the comparison between him and Marc O’Hair ends. Beneath Earl’s gruff exterior there has always been a hopelessly obvious dotage. It was always about a little boy who he knew was destined for great things, of which he needed no part. In short, Earl Woods made sure his dream didn’t turn into his son’s nightmare.

I walked with Sean O’Hair for the last two rounds of the Byron Nelson, and he might be the most talented young player I’ve seen since Tiger. It’s been that long since I saw a kid hit half and three-quarter shots under that kind of pressure. Sean is any parent’s dream — or almost any parent’s. (Hey, Mr. O’Hair: This is the media. How’s the old crucifixion thing coming along?)

My Dad is 80 now, and I see him all too seldom. Like Sean, I turned pro at 17, and though my dad didn’t make a lot of money, he gave as much as he could so his son could have the best possible chance to succeed. I’ve never felt able to repay him for his faith in me, but he has always said that my success is reward enough.

Giving up your career for the sake of your children is noble all right, but it’s not exactly unusual. People do it all the time — they’re called mothers. After their children set off into the big bad world, mothers are usually happy enough with a hug, or a card and a bunch of flowers once or twice a year. Some of them even go back to work.

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