It’s a good thing he was there. Had he not been, I may have thrown a club. His presence, not more than 10 feet away, made all the difference. I didn’t want him to see me come unhinged, unglued, undone—any of those unbecoming adjectives. And so, I held it together.

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We were enjoying a beautiful day on the golf course, father and son. My eight-year-old, relatively new to the game, was thrilled to be outside with his dad taking a few whacks at the golf ball, or as I like to call it, the dimpled urethane.

Watching him swing and make contact filled me with a sense of pride. He wasn’t nervous or paralyzed by complicated swing thoughts. He was just playing, and he couldn’t wait to take the next shot. I captured videos of his swing and stills of him taking in the scenery; it was a gorgeous day. I must have been relaxed myself, because I was playing beautifully. Draining long putts and flushing iron shots was my M.O.—at least, on this particular day.

And then the ninth hole happened.

I started thinking about how well I was playing. Big mistake. On the verge of shooting my best score, I couldn’t calm my nerves. I found myself too much in my own head and then my game collapsed.

I self-destructed. Any observer watching the carnage on #9 would’ve concluded I hadn’t played much golf. It was as if I had completely forgotten the mechanics. Nothing felt right. I could feel a lump forming in my throat, a burning sensation exacerbated with each successive error. Seething inside, I wanted to smash my club.

I’m not a swearer—it doesn’t tempt me much, but I’d be lying if I said I’d never snapped a pitching wedge. And I was close. Eight holes of solid golf completely overshadowed by an abysmal finish—a wasted opportunity. Time to launch that wedge.

Only I didn’t.

I couldn’t. I couldn’t let him see me do it. He was having a blast, oblivious to my score and completely unaware of the struggle raging within. And so I did my best to quell the anger, or at least mask it.

We were there to have fun, a truth I lost sight of on that final hole.

After an embarrassing chunk, a donation to the pond, and a slew of other lackluster swings, I finished with a quadruple bogey. It stung. Oh, what might have been.

I’ll always wonder, but I know snapping that club in a childish tirade would have spoiled everything. What would have felt gratifying for a second—and maybe even justified in my own ultra-competitive mind—would have cost me much more. My son saved me that day.

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What would he have said after witnessing the melt-down? How many people would have heard the tale of my behavior by week’s end? What questions would I have fielded on the ride home?

I don’t even like to think about it, but it’s important that I do.

He watches my every move. If Dad comes undone, why wouldn’t he?

He deserves better. The importance of reflecting Christ in one’s conduct, regardless of circumstances, is something fathers cannot afford to forget, and I almost did. While his presence alone was enough to hold me accountable that afternoon, something I’m unquestionably grateful for, I was much too close to the proverbial line. And that’s not good enough. If the goal is to teach my son how to handle adversity, frustration, really any anger-inducing moment with self-control, it starts with me.

Thank you, son, for the joy I see in your face when we’re together.

And thank you for helping me rediscover mine.

Patrick Danz

Patrick Danz is a follower of Christ, husband, father, educator, and sports enthusiast. He lives in Trenton, Michigan, with his wife, Nicole, and their three children: Keason, Carmella, and Alessandra. When he's not teaching, Patrick spends his time writing, golfing, grilling, and quoting lines from Groundhog Day. His work has appeared on Parent.co and Fatherly.