The Christian Review 2016

10 Ways Catholics Can Elect the Next President

Deal W. Hudson

The 2016 election will be decisive for the future of our nation. Eight more years of leadership such as we have witnessed under Obama will stamp our culture so deeply it would take a century to undo the damage.

What damage, you ask? Eight more years will bring an end to religious liberty. Expressing the Christian view of human existence will become the occasion of bureaucratic and legal censure and punishment.

The fuse will be ignited by those who defend the Christian understanding of homosexuality, but the ensuring explosion will extend along an entire range of issues from the meaning of marriage, public school curricula, freedom of speech, control of the internet, radio and TV programming content, euthanasia and, of course, abortion.

To put it bluntly, if the Democrats win the 2016 election the United States of 2050 will be completely unrecognizable from the nation into which I was born in 1949.

The generations who fought and even died against the tyrants of ideology — the reduction of the human person to vacuous materiality — will have sacrificed for nought. The tyrants won without firing a shot. They took control of the culture by taking over the leadership of our basic institutions — education, entertainment, journalism, medicine, banking, social services, and religion.

To have any chance of impacting the next election, which as I have written will be difficult, Catholics should consider the following lessons that have been learned by those of us who have been actively involved in successful and unsuccessful political campaigns on behalf of life, marriage, religious liberty, and the protection of those near to death.

These are not merely my personal recommendations but represent a consensus of Catholics who have been active in leading political, grassroots efforts on behalf of worthy candidates.

1. Promote Mass attendance: All the exit polling since the late ’50s shows that Mass-attending Catholics, not self-identified Catholics, are most likely to vote for socially conservative candidates who oppose gay “marriage,”oppose abortion, oppose euthanasia, support the military, espouse traditional values, support fiscal responsibility, oppose the growth of federal power, and look upon the United States as an “exceptional” nation. If Mass attendance continues to drop, Catholic voters will have less and less impact at the ballot box. Their voting pattern will lose its distinctiveness.

2. Maximize the likely voters: Outreach to Catholic voters should focus on maximizing the identification, education, recruiting, and actual voting of Mass-attending Catholics. Effort spent going after historically hostile or indifferent groups is a waste of time and resources. Self-identified Catholics vote with the general population, as do Catholic groups bound by ethnicity. Yes, Catholics need evangelization, but that’s a long-term project which cannot be completed by 2016.

3. Watch your language: Most Catholic politicians and activists sound like Evangelicals. That’s not meant as a criticism of Evangelicals but a criticism of Catholics who do not bring the concepts and diction of their own faith into the public square. It’s also a criticism of Catholics who think they have to sound like an Evangelical preacher to gain a following or create applause. Catholics speaking about politics need to develop their own effective political language and their own powerful, persuasive rhetorical models.

4. Don’t ask for permission from clergy: The Church teaches that the Catholic layperson has a specific obligation to participate in politics, to be political all the way to the grassroots. Our clergy and religious have an obligation to vote but do not have the same obligation to engage politics in a partisan manner. Catholics make the mistake of asking for permission to create groups or support candidates when asking permission is not required. Our clergy teach us the moral-social principles upon which our participation is based, but they cannot — and should not — become obstacles to lay participation in politics. (The only exception is in the case of ex-communication when a politician is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin,” such as abortion; see Canon 915.)

5. Collect lists, stop waving fists: Too many Catholics confuse public complaining with political participation. They spend their time making impassioned comments at political rallies, or in religious meetings, about the state of the culture and the need to change our political leadership. None of these impromptu speeches gain any votes because they are “preaching to the choir.” The fury, however, can be an effective starting point of genuine political outreach, which includes list-building, volunteer recruitment, volunteer and voter education, door-knocks, messaging through media, and get-out-the-vote programs.

6. Realize Catholics play dirty: One of the hardest lessons to learn and accept is that Catholics in politics will play dirty. By that I mean they will lie about the faith, misrepresent its teaching, ignore its non-negotiable moral principles, distort the views of pro-lifers and other socially conservative Catholics, and will proclaim “Church teaching” for policies that have no authoritative standing in the “sacred deposit of faith.” We have responsibility to expose those lies in a timely manner to keep them from becoming embedded in the public consciousness.

7. Politics is about passion, not reason: Catholics will have noticed that the candidate who “tells it like it is” is not necessarily the candidate who wins. That’s because political outcomes are not determined by who tells the truth but who stirs the passions — wins the admiration — of the most voters. Voters vote, first and foremost, for the candidate they “like,” who they are “favorable” toward. Politicians and their supporters who do not get this are beaten from the start. Of course, Catholics should support a politician who tells the truth about human existence, but they should also either recruit likable candidates or convince the grouchy ones they need to smile more and frown less.

8. Take sentimentality seriously: Catholics, for good reasons, are a sentimental tribe. Any acquaintance with the last 200 years of Catholicism in America will appreciate the hardships of generation after generation of Catholic immigrants. And before that, the America of the Founders was not at all hospitable to Catholics, an anti-Catholic attitude that was still evident in the 1960 presidential election. This fact makes the passionate nature of politics even greater among Catholic voters. Candidates and activists need to tread carefully and, most of all, know who they are talking to when they talk to Catholics.

9. Master Catholic symbols: Catholics, as liturgical worshippers, are naturally alert and vulnerable to the power of imagery and symbols. For example, I was told some years ago, “never wear French cuffs when you speak to Catholic voters.” Good advice, such symbols only remind voters – even if they wear French cuffs themselves – of the Protestant elites who looked down upon their Irish, Italian, or Slavic grandparents. You will not believe the pains taken by candidates to have “collars” or “habits” behind them during their stump speeches. This is why it’s rare for an Evangelical political consultant to successfully manage Catholic outreach.

10. Happy warriors win, grumps lose: Politicians are in sales. Voters are the buyers. When you are selling, you don’t browbeat the buyer, you don’t sadden the buyer, you don’t demean the buyer. No, you befriend the buyer, meet his or her eye with a smile, learn his or her name, shake hands warmly, and talk about how buying your product will make life better. In short, be the kind of person they like and trust, who they can believe in. Anger, condemnation, self-righteousness and such attitudes and tones of voice may delight a small percentage of angry, condemning, and self-righteous voters, but it won’t win an election.

*This column is the personal opinion of its author and does not represent an endorsement of any political party or candidate by the Morley Publishing Group, Inc.

Published at http://www.thechristianreview.com, Mar 13, 2015

Will America Last? — The 2016 Election

By Deal W. Hudson

It’s tempting to say that the coming presidential election of 2016 is the most important in American history. What gives me pause is the number of times this has been said before, including by myself. But this time, I cannot help but believe it’s true. Why?

Terrorism: A storm is gathering in the Middle East that threatens to spread throughout the world, but its perpetrators hate America above all. In a nuclear age, a single person supported by sophisticated, committed network of terrorists can kill millions at a single stroke. ISIS must be eliminated militarily before it can grow any larger. If you need convincing, read the history of Germany of National Socialism in the 30s.

Character: America is losing the unity of its national character. This began when immigrants no longer felt the necessity of being assimilated, starting with the learning of English. It’s one thing for the Hispanic population to reach 106 million by 2015, quite another if the majority of them don’t speak English. Rival languages have, and will, produce divided communities and cultures. Assimilation is not a nasty word demanding obedience, it’s the reasonable request of a nation whose character has attracted immigrants from around the world since its founding. That character must be preserved with care.

Family: When attitudes toward LGBTs becomes the moral standard by which we are all judged, something has gone terribly wrong in American culture. Here I distinguish between charitable acceptance of differences, and socially, and legally, enforced approval. Nothing is more fundamental to the well-being of human society than the health of families, created by the marriage of men and women. Of course, many marriages turn into train wrecks, and worse, but that’s no reason to give up on the norm. Just as it’s nonsense for a drunk to give up on sobriety because he can’t live up to it.

Life: America keeps killing its children at a rate of between 700,000 and a million each year, and its citizens are paying for half of those deaths through public funding of Planned Parenthood. America became the most admired country in the world following its decisive entry into both world wars and was handed the torch of freedom from a decayed, battered Europe. America took the lead in rebuilding both Europe and Japan, but at home began building a culture of death to “celebrate” its new affluence and prestige. Since 1973, the year of Roe, America has killed more children than any one of the genocides committed by Hitler, Stalin, or Mao — 57,762,169 dead.

Manners: There’s a mystery in manners, as the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor often talked about. One aspect of this mystery is the way manners both produce and express 0ur true values — manners bear values into the ordinary, everyday world of social conduct. Today it has become accepted that millionaire film stars will use the coarsest profanity on a public, televised stage while presenting and accepting awards for excellence. They use the privilege of their celebrity to show contempt for their audience, while indulging their egos with the equivalent of teenage flatulence. I can’t imagine Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, et al publicly shaming themselves in such a fashion.

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Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor (1924-1964) at the time she published Wise Blood.

Faith: Barack Obama is the first American president to scowl and wag his finger at America’s Christian citizens. Hillary Clinton would become the second. Obama has fought, and shown disdain towards, the orthodox people of faith from his first day in office when he repealed the Mexico City Policy. Religious institutions have had to seek relief in court from the federal laws that would require them sin against their God. Religious beliefs that won’t bend to accommodate the LGBT standard of morality are being fashionably scorned, while law and policy being shaped to bring those beliefs under the enforcement power of the state. Religious liberty is no longer celebrated but looked upon as the unconscionable excuse of a bigoted minority to “embrace diversity.”

The year after the end of WWI, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote “The Second Coming” (1919). In this poem he describes the fracture of Western civilization, its break with the certainties of the past, the values and vision upon which the West was built over 3000 years. The first few lines suffice to explain:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

 

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William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Perhaps the reader, like myself, read this poem in high school or college decades ago, and were told it reflected the confusion following the senseless slaughter in the trenches of WWI. In other words, just a period piece. Yeats’ words in “The Second Coming” have taken on a prophetic intensity as we near the 100th anniversary of its writing. Indeed, the “widening gyre” has widened to the point that all that I described above has come to pass, all of which are a consequence of a nation losing its “centre” and inviting “anarchy.”

The election of 2016 will have a direct impact on the direction of our nation, the fate of the national character, its families, the defense of innocent life, the people of faith, and our collective protection against ISIS terror. This is why I will do all I can do to ensure the message goes out to those who love America “under God” to vote against another eight years of war on the foundation of our country.

Published at The Christian Review, January 11, 2016

How the Beatles, My Great Aunt, and Debussy Changed My Life

By Deal W. Hudson

It was the spring of 1970 when Paul McCartney announced he was leaving the Beatles. I had already grown discontent with pop music, the frenetic discord of Jimmy Hendrix touched no part of a young man brought up on Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, and Broadway show tunes. The Beatles, to my ear, wrote songs that expressed tonal continuity with the music I had grown to love.

My first year at the University of Texas, 1968, I set up an Akai tape deck on the desk of my dorm room and next to it laid a pile of reel-to-reel recordings of my favorite crooners. In my closet hung a row of Oxford cloth button down shirts next to my grey, blue, and brown wool pants. My penny loafers were kept shined, and when it grew cool in Austin I would put on my grey herringbone jacket bought for me by my great Aunt Lucile in London the previous year.

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My great Aunt Lucile Morley of Austin, TX

When Aunt Lucile met me in London at the end of my summer tour of Europe which she had given me as a Christmas present, she was not pleased with my attire. She hailed a taxi and told the driver, “Selfridges“! She led me into the men’s shop and told the attendant she was going to buy me new clothes and he could “dispose” of what I was wearing. Aunt Lucile insisted on adding an umbrella, which no “gentlemen” should be without. Once on the street, she was distressed that I didn’t know how to walk properly with an umbrella — she said, “Tap the sidewalk on every third step,” and I did, eventually.

Aunt Lucile lived in one of the historic houses in Austin, next to the Treaty Oak and the Coca Cola bottling plant. During my four years at UT, I served as her yard boy and as a waiter at her receptions and dinner parties. When she fed me breakfast after mowing her yard, she would lay out silver, china, and immaculate linen, in spite of the fact that I was sweaty and wearing gym shorts, tennis shoes, and a T-shirt.

My great Aunt had been a professional singer between the two world wars, singing mostly in Europe. She had sung the “Negro Songs” of H. T. Burleigh on the same program with Irish tenor John McCormack at Royal Albert Hall for the Queen Mother of England. In the summers, she sang with the well-known composition teacher and composer, Nadia Boulanger, at her American School at Fountainbleau. She was the one person in my family who appreciated my interest in, and passion for, literature, philosophy, and the arts. Years later, she was the only family member who read my dissertation on romanticism, concluding, “You’ve been a bit hard on the romantic poets, haven’t you?” And, yes, I had.

Back to the Beatles and my musical disorientation that followed. A few months after their breakup, I had just finished mowing my aunt’s lawn when she brought me a towel and a glass of water, and suggested I introduce myself to her new tenant who lived in the apartment on the side of the house. “She’s a new music teacher at the university, I think you should meet her.” I was anxious to get back to my apartment, but whatever Aunt Lucile wanted, she usually got. So I went around to the apartment door and knocked. A pretty young woman answered the door. I explained who I was and was invited in and offered a glass of delicious lemonade.

When she asked, I told her I was a junior philosophy major at UT. Then she asked what kind of music I liked. After I had shared my complaint about the direction of pop music, she asked if I had ever heard any classical music. I had heard some Gershwin, I told her, and had attended an opera as a high school student, but nothing had really left a big impression. “Well,” the young professor said, “tell me what you like in music.” “Melody,” I said. She went to a large stack of albums, pulled out a record, and put it on the turntable.

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French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

The music I heard over the next few minutes changed my life. It was so beautiful, the most beautiful music I had ever heard, and I sat transfixed until it ended. She saw my reaction, smiled, and said, “That was “Prelude to the Afternoon of Faun” by the French composer, Claude Debussy. I asked her if she had any more music like that, and she put on some Ravel and then some Wagner. I knew then that I would go immediately to the University Co-op and buy these recordings. I thanked her — I hope to this day she knew just how much I was in her debt.

At the Co-op, I bought a Debussy LP conducted by Pierre Boulez and played by the New Philharmonia Orchestra, along with some Ravel and an album of Wagner overtures. That day began a lifelong passion of exploring the entire history of classical music, every epoch and every form, from both played and sung, chamber music and orchestral, opera and oratorio, songs and choruses. Over the next ten years, I collected the entire standard repertoire and had started looking into the lesser known later romantics such as Delius, Vaughn Williams, Finzi, Hanson, and Pfitzner. At the end of my three years at Princeton Theological Seminary, I went on an opera tour of Europe with Aunt Lucile, the highlight being “Lohengrin” at Bayreuth and “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Munich Opera.

By the time I started teaching at Mercer University Atlanta in 1979, I knew enough to teach Music Appreciation in the prison program at the Atlanta Federal Prison. Being an amateur, I played my student/prisoners what moved me and found it moved them as well. Several cried when I played the Penitential Psalms of Lassus and, especially, “Pavane for a Dead Princess” by Ravel. My class was almost entirely African-American from cities on the East Coast, but the music built a bridge between us that made of all sad when the class came to an end.

What provoked these memories was the death of composer/conductor Pierre Boulez at age 90 whose recording served my entryway into the vast universe of great music we, perhaps wrongly, call “classical.” I’m startled when people ask me why my musical tastes are so “narrow” (I haven’t listened to pop music since 1970). I am still discovering wonderful music (Norwegian Ludwig Irgens Jenson (1894-1969) for example) that makes me realize I will be on this musical journey until the day I die. Thanks to my Aunt Lucile, her tenant whose name I, sadly, cannot remember, Claude Debussy, and Maestro Boulez, my life has been inestimably enriched.

Published at The Christian Review, January 12, 2016

The Day a Red Bird Sang St. Thomas Aquinas

I was coming to the end of my first year as a college professor at Mercer University Atlanta. I was still a Southern Baptist though I had been wrestling with that affiliation since being introduced to St. Augustine at Princeton Theological Seminary.

One of the greatest Protestant theologians, Soren Kierkegaard, had provided the base motif of my dissertation, a critique of Romanticism. But after dismantling the Romantic pretenses to spirituality, as I thought then, Kierkegaard had not offered me the tools to put my worldview back together. (The target of my dissertation had actually been my own pretensions.) Nothing much was left after seeing through the limitations of aestheticism and ethical earnestness.

Kierkegaard

What was left of the Romantic in me, however, still yearned to view the totality of things, the truth behind the appearances. This desire comported with my fledgling knowledge of the Catholic faith which had been acquired through the agency of two friends at Emory University where I spent three years getting my Ph.D. Like a Gothic cathedral, the Catholic faith appeared to teach the fundamental connectedness of things. Faith, rather than being a leap into the abyss, could be assisted by reason both before and after conversion.

That spring day I put a chair in the back yard under a bird feeder and went inside to find a suitable for book to read and relax. I noticed the red spine of a paperback by St. Thomas Aquinas on the top shelf. It contained the Question 2, the Treatise on God, from the Summa Theologiae (Gilby trans.), which I had been assigned to read at Princeton but had failed to do. Feeling pangs of guilt, I took it down and decided to settle my debt with that class on Medieval Theology at Princeton.

It look me a while to realize that St. Thomas always started out stating positions he did not agree with, but once I got a handle on reading the article form I found him easier to read than I had anticipated. Then I got to the section in God’s goodness (ST 1a.2) and, specifically, to the question, “Whether all things are good by the divine goodness?”

I’ll be honest and say that this led me to think about myself and ask whether I was good. The tradition of Christianity I knew best did not have a very positive view of human nature. The propensity to sin — human fallenness — took St. Paul’s notion of carnality, in thinking and behavior, to its extreme. In practical terms that creates a negative attitude towards oneself, especially towards one’s sinful practices.

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St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)

As I read through St. Thomas’s reply to his own question, I came to the final paragraph, “Everything is therefore called good from the divine goodness, as from the first exemplary effective and final principle of all goodness.” And as I read a red bird started to sing standing on the bird feeder overhead — it seemed as if the words of the Saint and the song of the bird merged into one. That day not only did I discover the source of my own goodness but I experienced a heaven-sent joy mediated by the beauty of this bird and the song.

What had stunned me was this: the goodness I possessed, and all creation possesses, could not be taken away from me, or destroyed by my own agency, even my sins and vices. It was goodness, St. Thomas says, added to my being by the Creator. Even the fallen angel, Lucifer, could be said to possessing goodness through he lives eternally separated from God. The connectedness of things was grounded in God’s own goodness which He chose to share with His creation.

Some might smile and think that the moment I describe was imagined, or was the product of young man struggling with his own penchant toward Romanticism, finally merging it with the teaching of a medieval doctor of the Church. I’m not given to mystical experiences, per se, but I’ll never doubt what was given me that day, a moment of sensual beauty and intellectual clarity that led me into the Church and rerouted my life completely.

I couldn’t let my Saint’s day pass without paying him tribute and expressing my gratitude.

Published at The Christian Review, January 28, 2016

Just Who Is “Us”?

By Deal W. Hudson

Recently, I spoke to a group of pro-life leaders about the 2016 election. I made the following remarks with the hope that the Trump and Cruz factions can eventually “kiss and make up.”

***

I’m going to address the question, “Who Is Us?”

In recent weeks criticism has been leveled at Trump for not being “one of us.” (I have deliberately left out a link to this criticism.)

I’ve used this phrase, but never publicly. Never as a public argument.

Now that I’ve seen it used this way, I am deleting it from my vocabulary.

Why?

Because I started asking myself just “who is ‘us?’” And, am I part of the “us” who speak this way about others not being “one of ‘us?’”

So I started making a list of questions about who could or should be called “one of ‘us.’”

Such as:

A woman who’s had an abortion?

A man who’s encouraged a woman to have an abortion?

A person who claims to be pro life yet can’t talk about it coherently?

A person who accepts the ‘three exceptions”?

A person who claims to be prolife but contracepts and defends it?

Persons with test tube babies?

Women with frozen eggs?

Adulterers?

Catholics divorced and remarried?

The rude, crude, and unattractive?

Male chauvinist pigs?

Anyone who’s been picked up drunk by the police?

Anyone who’s ever been to a strip club?

Or owned a strip club?

Those who watch porn?

The porn-addicted?

Pedophile priests?

Homosexual priests?

Unchaste homosexual priests?

Unchaste heterosexual priests?

Now, I want to pose a question about all of the above:

Are they “one of ‘us’” as long as they are not outed and their “offense” made public?

If outed, do they cease being “one of ‘us?’”

If not outed, do we think they are “one of ‘us’” but aren’t really?

If not outed, do they think they are “one of ‘us’” but aren’t really?

Or do we wait for a prominent Catholic leader to tell us who is “one of ‘us?’”

Another way of answering the question is this:

The “us,” it seems, is who we are FOR.

And the not “one of ‘us’” is who we are AGAINST.

What if “us” accounts for only 20 or 30 % of voters? (Probably far less.)

What if the “us” makes political coalitions impossible? Winning impossible?

What if the “us” turns off even those who sympathize with “us?”

What if it being an “us” makes “us” look like “whited sepulchers?” (Matthew 23.27)

One final question:

If we were all stripped naked and standing before God, would anyone qualify to be “one of ‘us?’”

Because then all will be revealed, all will be outed. The hairs on our heads will be counted (in my case that won’t take long!).

I believe, and I think you will agree, that God has a different conception of “us,” and who belongs to Him.

It’s not based upon our sins, or whether they were made public while on earth, or our erroneous beliefs — He opens His arms to all who have learned to love Him.

By repentance and receiving forgiveness.

By growing through the trials and errors of life.

By learning from the just judgment of others and undergoing a continual conversion of the heart toward Him.

In other words, A Pilgrim’s Progress.

That’s the only way I can make Christian sense of being part of an “us”: As a pilgrim among pilgrims who “for now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” (1 Cor 13.12)

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PS. Since this speech, Pope Francis issued his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. As I read it, I recognized the Holy Father was addressing the similar theme of how Catholics relate themselves to those who have committed, or remain in, “objective” sin.

Published at The Christian Review, April 15, 2016

My Son, The Gorilla!

By Deal W. Hudson

Golf prepared me for manhood. My Dad made sure of it. “This is my son, the gorilla,” he would say to his buddies on the first tee of Ridglea Country Club in Ft. Worth. “He can hit it a hundred miles.” For a kid of 12 or 13, that’s plenty of pressure.

So in the early-morning dew, I would set my feet on the grass and address the ball. The familiar “dollar, dollar, dollar” bantering would grow silent and all the eyes would turn to me.

“Jesus,” I thought, “just let me hit it solid, somewhere. Anywhere!”

I’m older now, and I realize everyone was rooting for me then, hoping I could fulfill my Dad’s expectations. Every now and then I would look up after my swing to see the ball arching its way toward the middle of the fairway, safe from the traps on the right and the out-of-bounds down the left side.

But more often, the result of my nervous backswing would be a dribble into the first cut of the rough or a pop-up that would barely make it onto the first few yards of the fairway. My Dad and his friends would pretend not to notice my shame. In time, I learned to assume the same poker face, to ignore the mistakes that threaten to infect future swings.

After the dribble or pop-up, I recall getting really good at hitting 260-yard 3-woods to within short-iron distance of the first green. I always noticed how these prodigious second shots would quickly revive the spirit of our foursome, as if the grown-ups wanted to be assured that they really had a “gorilla” in their midst.

But Dad wouldn’t stop there. He liked putting pressure on me as much as he liked me to succeed. As a former World War II bomber captain and airline pilot, Dad wasn’t affected by pressure. In fact, he seemed to thrive on it. The more important the putt, the more likely he would make it. He seemed to suddenly wake up, all his senses and energy would focus on the one task, and the ball would rattle in the bottom of the cup.

I always thought he put pressure on me simply to help me grow up. There were times it made me angry, and there were times it kept me from playing good golf. Dad and I would come home from the course and my mother would take one look at my face and say, “He got to you today, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he had,” I thought, but I never admitted it.

I was nearly 50 when I now realized something perhaps Dad didn’t even know at the time. Pressure is not necessarily the enemy of golf (or life) but can be its friend. That’s the lesson I learned from watching Dad hole all those 20-footers to win a $3 nassau. He made pressure into a kind of inspiration, a spirit — pressure became his good daimon.

My Dad was no philosopher; he couldn’t explain to me what happened, or how he did it. Like the cowboy stars of old, he could only show, not tell. But I’m glad I eventually figured it out for myself, although it took me a long time. I should have know those father-son antics on the golf course had deeper soundings.

A few times he asked me if I wanted to become a professional golfer, but I had other, more intellectual, aspirations. Dad watched in despair as I traced my route through graduate school to university teaching, and then, much to his relief, into the publishing business.

During my 15 years of teaching philosophy, golf was just about the only thing my Dad and I had in common. Golf kept us friends. As every golfer knows, if you take your personal differences, your financial or marital troubles out on the course, you might as well not be there. So, for 20 years we could talk and laugh on the golf course, even if we were barely speaking after we got off it.

Over the years the tables slowly turned between Dad and me. I learned to handle the pressure, and would often discover his knack for inspiration. We often played his course in Houston, the venerable Champions, owned and run by the champion Jack Burke, Jr., a philosopher of golf if there ever was one. And every summer we teamed up to play in the member-guest at the country club in Rockland, Maine.Father:Son

Two summers before he passed away, my Dad, who was in his 70s and still played to a 12, had an attack of nerves. It was the first time I had ever seen him routinely miss 2- and 3-foot putts. The only time he had ever missed short putts before was when he was fooling around, never in competition. For the first time in our golfing history, it was my short game keeping us in contention. We had come full circle; we both knew it, but we didn’t talk about it. Men just don’t.

After that match, I realized we had become better friends, because of his missed putts. Golfers often curse and complain that the game exposes everything about you, that golf leaves you nowhere to hide. We had received a blessing in the naked moment of those missed putts. It was almost the final chapter of how golf had make us known to each other: a son’s youth to his father, a father’s age to his son. And, because of this, we not only stayed friends, we became better ones.

I went back to Ridglea Country Club in Ft. Worth after my father’s passing just to take a quick look at the place where I learned to play golf. I noticed the first tee had been moved to the right so it faced directly at both the traps down the right side of the fairway and the out-of-bounds on the left. I thought of all those nervous teenagers teeing off with their dads who must be finding it even harder to hit the fairway than I did.

Published at The Christian Review, May 30, 2016