Back home with his parents, away from D.C. and the love of his life, Brent Stoller learned life changing lessons playing golf with his father.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That cliché has never been more relevant now, as my past and future have collided in my present.
Over the last few months, I have gotten engaged, I have started a new job, and I have relocated to a new city.
I have also moved back in with my parents.
While prior stints at home have been done out of necessity (see: unemployment), this tour is all business. Having lived in Washington, D.C. the last five-plus years, a job opportunity brought me back to my hometown of Houston. But because my fiancée is still finishing her master’s degree, I headed south alone. She’ll join me after graduation in December, but in the meantime, taking my old room made the most sense financially and logistically.
A 36-year-old bunking with his parents; it’s an elevator pitch for a failed network sitcom. To their credit, my parents have done everything imaginable to ease the transition to make me feel at home. And I do because I am.
Still, the arrangement is flush with regression. In many ways, it’s as if I’m a teenager again regardless of what the budding hairs on my shoulders have to say. I make my bed every morning. I tiptoe for my 9 p.m. snack so as not to disturb my sleeping roommates. I have no curfew, though I do check in to let my parents know I’m back. And then there are the chores—assigned not out of necessity-but because my mom is hell-bent on not spoiling me. And while I have no issues pulling my weight, I could do without the lecture about what I can learn from changing my own sheets. I’m in my mid-30s; the fear of me becoming Billy Madison is no more.
Overall, though, it’s hard to complain. There are benefits, lots of them. Consider the brand new TV in my bedroom (DVR included…critical), purchased so I’d have alternate viewing options during Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday.” Or that my overhead costs are negligible; or how my meals contain nutrition my organs haven’t seen since the Clinton presidency; or a grocery list whose contents appear within 24 hours of me writing them down. But the perk that’s meant the most is the one I missed the most while being away—and the one that helped bring me back:
Playing golf with my dad.
My father and I have always been close—he will be the best man at my wedding—but that closeness is made more special due to its individual quality. With two sons four years apart, my dad could’ve treated my brother and me as if one size fit all. But he didn’t. He developed stand-alone relationships with each of us.
The most well-read person I know, he can talk to anybody about anything. On his nightstand sits an assortment of reading material, from business biographies to this week’s Sports Illustrated. And he exposed my brother and me to all of it, hoping we’d become equally well-rounded. We did not.
The apples didn’t fall far from the tree, but we did fall on opposite sides of it. My brother was fascinated with finance and politics; I was drawn to golf.
Fathers and sons bonding through sports are as American as a Kardashian sex tape. And for my dad and me, golf has been our common language, a brick in the foundation of our singular bond. He inspired my love for the game, passing it down like a family heirloom. He put the first club in my hands and showed me how to hit a bunker shot (open the face, use the bounce). He instilled in me a work ethic, letting me in on Ben Hogan’s secret: the answer’s in the dirt…dig it out.
Golf was created for fathers and sons. It embodies the relationship, demanding honesty, integrity and respect. It challenges you to respond to adversity, while supporting you with opportunity. It holds up a mirror, reflecting back who you are, and teaches you to be a better person, just like your dad does. The game is the ultimate father figure, and it allows each side to give and take over four hours of quality time.
When I moved to D.C., though, the game was the least of my concerns. I wanted to get as far away from home as possible. Immaturely, I equated location with accomplishment, and Houston had come to represent the stagnation in my life. As long as I was stuck in my hometown, I hadn’t gotten anywhere or achieved anything. Country songs wax poetically about this desperation, and I was that teenage girl looking to flee her fictional “one-horse town”. So when the opportunity arose, I fled.
Doing so turned out to be among the best decisions I’ve made, I loved Washington. The history, the culture, the excitement. For the first time, my commute’s scenery was something worth seeing—national landmarks and patriotic symbols, placid rivers and eternal flames. D.C. is where I met my fiancée, and it is where I learned the secret to fighting cold weather is a proper scarf. For that, I am grateful.
Yet throughout my time there, nothing felt permanent. My parents’ house number remained stored in my phone as “Home.” Gnawing at me, just beneath the surface, was the idea that I was paying a price for living so far away. This inner voice spoke loudest during trips to Houston, where every second was treasured—but was also a countdown to goodbye. What was I sacrificing with this arrangement? Had my priorities gotten out of whack? Walking the National Mall was cool, but at what cost? Was it at the cost of my family?
As you get older, what you want out of life changes. Your system evolves, searching for what’s next. You don’t think it will, but it does. As a 6-month-old, you crave pureed peas. As a 21-year-old, you crave Jagermeister shots on a Sunday night. If offered that now, my only thought would be, “’Homeland’ is on. I’m not putting on pants.”
A wise man once said that to make sense of a dilemma, take any and all variables to the extreme. I do this on the golf course when reading greens. If I can’t figure out which way a putt is going to move, in my mind’s eye, I exaggerate the relevant slopes, which helps me better decipher the break. So when it came to where I wanted to live long-term, I did the same. If this were the last day of my life, how would I want to spend it? Looking at monuments? Or playing golf with my father?
They say you can never go home again, but that’s exactly what I’ve done. And every weekend, my dad and I load our clubs in the car and head to the first tee. I couldn’t be happier. Like everything else, this ritual takes me back to my teenage years. My dad always drives, both on the course and off. He picks up the tab. He is in charge.
It doesn’t help that we play with his same buddies that I first played with when I was in high school. Though I’m the youngest in the group, my 30-year advantage hasn’t translated to success on the scorecard. I get beat more often than not. Few things are more humbling than getting smoked by someone you outdrove by 85 yards. Such is golf, and such is life. And while I’m appreciative of my father paying my green fees, I insist on covering my gambling losses. For my mom’s sake, I refuse to grow up spoiled.
Photo: Flickr/ orange.plastic