June 16, 2017

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Golfer shows sacrificial love is at the heart of fatherhood

Sean GallagherIt’s not unusual to see the family of a professional male athlete rush him to show their love after he has achieved greatness on the field of play.

Spectators can see such a touching display of family love, and conclude that the athlete is a praiseworthy family man. And, in many cases, that is true.

Professional golfer Phil Mickelson took this to a higher level recently. Instead of having his family come to him where he was competing for a championship, he left the field of play to spend time with them.

Mickelson had the chance to compete on golf’s biggest stage at the United States Open Championship at Erin Hills, Wis., which began on June 15.

The U.S. Open is the only of the four golfing major championships that Mickelson hasn’t won. And having just turned 47, there may not be many more chances for him to become one of the few golfers to have completed what is called the “career grand slam.”

But on the same day that the tournament began, his daughter Amanda graduated from high school in California. Mickelson chose to be with his daughter on her special day rather than compete at Erin Hills for a chance at golf immortality.

As this newspaper went to press, there was a slight chance Mickelson could attend the graduation on June 15, then fly to Wisconsin to tee off for the first round of the tournament—if there is a significant rain delay. In discussing this possibility, though, Mickelson noted that he is wholly at peace if he misses the tournament.

His dedication to his family isn’t new, though. In fact, it can be traced back

18 years to when his wife Amy was about to give birth to Amanda, the oldest of their three children.

Mickelson was competing at the time in the U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C. At the time, he had the unwelcome moniker of the greatest professional golfer to have never won a major.

During the final round, he was dueling with Payne Stewart for the title while wearing a special beeper. It had been arranged that it would only go off if Amy went into labor. Mickelson had decided that he would walk off the course to be with his wife no matter where he stood in the tournament.

As it turned out, the beeper never went off during the final round. Stewart, a great family man himself, sank a long putt on the 18th hole to win the championship by one stroke.

Moments later, after receiving Mickelson’s congratulations, Stewart took Mickelson’s head in his hands, looked straight into his eyes, and told him, “You’re going to be a great dad.”

Mickelson’s adventure of fatherhood began the next day when Amy gave birth to Amanda. And it continues now as he chooses to watch his daughter achieve her own greatness rather than compete for his own.

Self-sacrificial love. That is the challenge and the fulfillment at the heart of the life of every mother and father.

It’s a challenge because the world constantly tells us we achieve greatness only through self-assertion, not self-giving

But the experience of mothers and fathers across history and around the world tells us that they experience a fulfillment far beyond any worldly success when the place their children before themselves and witness them pass various stages of success into adulthood.

Mickelson is living out this challenging and fulfilling aspect of fatherhood on Father’s Day weekend in a way that all the world can see and benefit from.

Most parents give of themselves in ways that are hidden from the world and even their own children, doing the same chores around the house again and again, working a second job to support the family, caring for ailing little ones in the middle of the night.

But our heavenly Father sees all of these acts of loving self-sacrifice and, in fact, makes them possible in the first place through the power of his grace.

Lean on that grace to achieve greatness as a parent that our world says isn’t even possible.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter and columnist for The Criterion.)

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