I was sitting with my kids watching CNN tonight when Tiger Woods was named "Athlete of the Year". This is not going to be an essay about Tiger, although I love the irony that he became famous, in large part, by using his wood and became infamous, in large part, by using his wood. Over the last ten years, commentators on golf spoke fawningly of his "big wood" game. More recently, others have gamely spoken of some fawning over his "big wood".
So no, no rant about fidelity, nor criticism of the super-rich, or how spending so much time away from your family can strain the bonds of any marriage. And can we agree that the news media and the entertainment industry no longer are separate professions? And finally, no, this not about heroes falling, because no matter how much you love or revile Mr. Woods, no golfer is a hero. Great athlete? Yes. On the level of Martin Luther King, JFK, Captain Sullenberger, Eleanor Roosevelt? No, not even close.
What has transpired these last few weeks is more about us than Tiger. We keep looking for role models who are flawless, who are above reproach, who don't make mistakes, who are everything to everyone. We are, it seems, seeking superhumans. But I feel we are actually seeking something inhuman, if we expect perfection from a golfer. Or a president. Or an actor. Allowing kids -- and even adults -- to put these people, or any people, on a pedestal so high, yet precarious, is a fool's errand. But we keep acting the fool. So, perhaps we should look elsewhere for our guides.
My dad, as an example. He's been gone for almost twelve years, but there doesn't go a day where I don't wish I could ask him for advice. He served in the Marine Corps for 26 years, helped raised three kids, honored his wife, respected his mother, coached Little League, and made a living that allowed all three of us to go to college and graduate without debt. He also was fashion retarded, had an old-school Irish temper, and thought doctors were for pussies. He rarely swore, so "pussies" is my word. He could fix anything, treated everyone with respect, and I can't recall him trashing anyone he'd ever met in person. He also scraped off all of the lead paint from the side of our house and stored it in a tin trash bin in our garage. He was a deacon at his church. He liked opera. He did his own taxes. He called everything "that thing", and when he sent me to fetch it, he'd say "Get the thing...on the thing, by the thing."
See, my dad was available to me. His role modeling showed me both nobility in a regular man, and the mundane life of a very regular man. He farted. He had bad breath, especially in the morning. I saw him shave. I saw him tired. I heard his stories. He taught me what I needed and what I didn't need. I didn't always get him, nor him me. When I needed someone else to show me about being a good person, I had a former OSS agent and Ma Bell line crew manager to tell me to "Don't worry, be happy." I had a camp director who had a major physical disability, who made a place safe for young men and women to grow up. When Dad couldn't get me, he sent me places where others could carry me.
I never had need of a superhero. I didn't fall prostrate for the icon of the moment. I never bought into someone else's image of a real man. I didn't idolize a shortstop, a rock star, an actor, or a pitchman. I didn't idolize anyone, or more aptly, any one. Perhaps the most significant lesson my most important role model gave to me was to diversify my portfolio. When someone I admired inevitably behaved like, well, the way we all do in our worst moments, they didn't fall far because I never held them too high. Maybe what we can learn from Tiger is that we put him in a pantheon reserved for gods. And we humans are many things, but we are not, nor ever will be, gods.