I took my 6-year-old son to the driving range for the first time this summer. We were about halfway into our second bucket of balls when a couple of the retired guys hitting next to us started calling him Tiger Woods.
Since then, my son has had a special emotional connection with Woods. The next time we went to the driving range, he had to wear a red golf shirt. He even hung a picture of Woods blasting out of a sand trap on his bedroom door, next to a picture of Luke Skywalker. So I guess I shouldn't have been so startled the other night when he hit me with a Woods question at dinner.
"Why is Tiger Woods' wife mad at him? Is it because he wrecked his car?"
And suddenly a nice dinner out alone with my son had turned into one of those so-called teachable moments, the ones that parenting magazines all tell us that we must make the most of so we can impart our own family's values. I took a deep breath.
"Mrs. Woods is upset because Tiger went on a date with another woman," I tried.
"So what's so bad about that?" he responded.
My first reaction was that my 6-year-old son has all the makings of a professional golf writer. My second reaction was that I was very ticked at Tiger Woods, more ticked than you can imagine.
My son is in first grade. He still believes in Santa Claus, Derek Jeter and the innate goodness of man, though not necessarily in that order. I know sports are supposed to teach kids life lessons, but I never thought they were going to make me have to talk about marital infidelity to a 6-year-old.
Some of my sports heroes growing up were no saints, but I don't remember my parents ever talking to me about Joe Namath's womanizing. The closest we ever got to the subject was after Yankees pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson swapped wives and families, but in my childhood mind it seemed like a tidy and fair trade-off, sort of like two guys from good teams being traded.
This, of course, is a different world from the Stone Age I grew up in. It's one where a 6-year-old can hear jokes about Tiger's 9-iron in between the traffic and weather report on the car radio. It's one where pictures of Tiger next to his latest scantily clad girlfriend stare out from the magazine racks in the grocery-store checkout line. You can blame the media for all this, but it would be more accurate to blame Tiger Woods. When an athlete makes a decision to be larger than sports - when he uses his image to sell razors and consulting products (whatever they are) and just about everything else under the sun - he opens life to more than just the cozy, little forgiving world of hard-core sports fans.
So what did I tell my son? I'm still working on it.