I can always tell that Father's Day is coming when the newspapers become suddenly full of ads for golf products: clubs, shoes, shirts pants. That's because quite a few dads play golf--including yours truly. I discovered the game only about two years ago. In fact, I found God on a golf course. I also became hooked on the game. I try to play a few links at all the staff outings at the hospital where I work, and I also try to play with friends and family when I can.
If I can watch golf tournaments on television, I do. I also talk golf all the time with friends and colleagues at the hospital. I even took some golf lessons offered by my village park district and found them enormously helpful. Don't even ask me about the driving range. I try to hit at least one bucket of golf balls there at every opportunity afforded me. In fact, if I come home early and my notice that my wife and children aren’t home, I don't even pull into the garage. I put my car in reverse and head to the driving range.
I have never felt this way about any sport before, and even though I am an absolutely terrible golfer (I'm usually in the running for "Highest Scorer Award"), I keep coming back for more. More golf, that is. And the more I come back for more golf, the more guilty I feel as a father.
My job is very demanding on my time. I am at the hospital at 8 a.m. every morning at the latest, and sometimes I don't get home until 8 or 9 p.m. Every other weekend I am on call for our physician’s group, which means that I have to see all of our patients already at the hospital and take any new patients that we are asked to see in consultation. Add to that the committee meetings at the various hospitals at which I am also on staff, medical conferences and the like, I have very little time to spend with my family.
(And this doesn’t even cover the time I spend on writing about Muslim-themed topics for various media outlets, like this column I do for Beliefnet.com.)
For that reason, the moment I finish all my work, I consider myself to be on "family time." I feel I should spend every moment when I'm not on the job with my three young daughters and my beautiful wife. In addition, my middle daughter plays baseball, so I try not to miss a game. These moments are very special to me, and I don't want to be an absent father.
Many Muslims believe that a man's role is to be the provider and sustainer of the family. That mostly means financial support; a man's job is to "bring home the beef brisket" (we can't bring home bacon) for the rest of the family. I also believe that as a Muslim father, I need to be there physically. I need to be a presence in the lives of my wife and children. I also have a duty to raise my children as upright American Muslim citizens, because I don't believe that's merely "the woman's job." Parenting is a team effort, and, although I am not home as much as my wife, I still have a role to play in the rearing of my children. I believe that Islam demands no less of me.
But I can't shake the golf bug; it's in my system. My clubs are in the trunk of my car 24/7, 365 days a year. Not only are my clubs in the trunk, but also my golf shoes, golf hat, and a golf shirt (into which I can change from my work clothes). Last Friday I took my eldest daughter to the driving range with me. Right after my purchased second bucket of golf balls, my daughter said, "Dad, can we go home now?" I turned to her and grunted, "Soon, honey, soon." I have even taken my 3-wood and my 7-iron to my middle daughter's baseball game and have taken some practice swings while her team was practicing. If I could, I would book a permanent tee time every Sunday.
But I can't. I feel guilty playing golf on family time. On the occasions that I do play golf on Sunday, it is during the wee hours of the morning--at 6 a.m.--when my family is still sleeping. I play only nine instead of eighteen holes because eighteen holes of golf would take too much time away from the people I love. I also try to squeeze my driving range time into my commute home from work instead of after I get home. The only time I allow myself to play a full eighteen holes is at the hospital outings that I consider part of work time (thankfully, my wife feels the same way about it).
In fact, this is probably why I am still a terrible golfer. The game of golf requires a lot of time. A really good golfer needs to be at the practice range every day. He needs to have frequent lessons and to play at least once a week if not every day--after hitting about 200 golf balls at the range. I simply am not willing to sacrifice that much time away from my family in order to become the golfer I really want to be.
But you know, I would never trade my family time for a round of golf. Last summer my family and I took a trip to Egypt, and I had to come back two weeks earlier than my wife and daughters in order to go back to work (so I could pay for said trip). "Great," I thought to myself, "I will have all the time in the world to play guiltless golf!" And play several rounds of guiltless golf I did. Yet I was miserable. I missed my family terribly, and I was filled with loneliness during those two weeks. The joy I felt when I saw my wife and kids on the warm Saturday afternoon when they returned was indescribable, and even though I could no longer play as much golf as I could when they were gone, my life felt all the more sweet knowing that my family was with me safe and sound.
Such is the life of a Muslim father who also wants to be a golfer. I am often forced to choose between the two (fatherhood and golf, that is), and almost every time I choose to be a father. I have absolutely no regrets about my choice. Although I admit it--I'll still be thinking about playing golf.