The 13th hole at Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City is a challenge. There are several tee-boxes and two separate greens that the course manager has to choose from. I played yesterday with a friend and we teed-off from the elevated tee-box about 178 yards to one of the groomed greens. My tee-shot went left and I got a lucky bounce that ricocheted the ball back on to the edge of the green, resting in a little bit of rough. The green is surrounded by water with just a tiny ribbon of earth that goes from the cart path to the back of the green. My short game was working pretty well so I was able to chip on close to the pin and sink the putt for par. My playing partner wasn’t as lucky and put two balls in the water.
We had a great day out. The weather was nice, and the conversation was rich. But I got a funny feeling as we pulled up to the 13th hole that maybe our conversation was about to go a little bit deeper. It seems that the 13th hole, no matter what course I’m playing, has become a trigger for me, in the best way.
I love golf. It’s my “thing.” I enjoy playing with all of my children, but golf is a particular enthusiasm for me and my son Emmett, so we play frequently. At our home course we rent a golf cart, decide what tees we’re going to be hitting from that day (black, green, white) and do our stretches before we start. We’re always optimistic that it’s going to be a great day out on the course. Generally we play in the evenings, but not all the time. We always try to play 18 holes, but that doesn’t happen consistently either.
Some days we’re playing well, some days not. The first four holes on the front nine sit on the border of the course with city streets or private property to the right. If we’re able to get past those first four holes without hitting a ball out-of-bounds we know it’s going to be a good day. That doesn’t always happen, but regardless, we love the game and play as much as we can.
One day, when Emmett was very young, we were playing and we’d finished the 12th hole – my favorite – and walked to the 13th. I can’t remember what we discussed on the tee-box, but it was something deeper, much more personal, and with more meaning than our normal chitchat. It was an enriching conversation, and I felt myself grow closer to my son, which is every father’s desire. When we played a few day’s later, just by coincidence, as we came to the 13th hole another subject came up, equally as telling. Whether it was about his schoolwork, or about my mother’s health, or about what he wanted to become in life, I don’t remember, but the conversation was had, and our hearts got a little bit closer once again. The father-son connection grew stronger.
Without any anticipation it happened a few more times. Honestly, I wasn’t trying to bring up particularly heartfelt questions only on the 13th hole. In fact, I’d rather have an entire round of that kind of talk. But whether it was just the natural rhythm of our pace of play, or maybe just something particularly sweet that arises after you spend a few hours together, it just seemed that the 13th hole brought something deeper out of both of us. It was a little bit of magic. And it’s remained that way.
So, it didn’t surprise me that on the heels of a few of those conversations Emmett looked at me on the 13th tee as we were assessing the fairway in front of us, and said, “Well Dad, what do you have for me?”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said with a grin, “This is the 13th hole. This is where we share the heavy stuff. It’s like our vault – secret stuff for you and me. So what do you have?”
Now the 13th hole is our vault, as he so aptly labeled it. It’s where my son and I share the real meaningful stuff. Stuff just between us. The Bible and the Book of James encourages us to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16). In the Old Testament in the Book of Jeremiah God says that when we pray to Him He will listen to us, and when we seek Him we will find Him when we seek with all of our heart (Jeremiah 29:12-13). All throughout Scripture God encourages us to go deeper with each other and Him. Not to be superficial, but be authentic. When we share the things in our heart with someone we love and trust, breakthrough comes and often times healing follows.
I can only assume that every father wants to have that kind of relationship with his children. God certainly wants to have that kind of relationship with us. What a beautiful reminder the 13th hole has become for me. It’s an encouragement not to be superficial, but to share a few chunks of truth about myself with somebody that I care about, and by doing so, I give the other person an opportunity to do the same. I’m so lucky to have the 13th hole with my son – our vault.
So, I got a par on the 13th hole at Finkbine – I was happy. As I said, my friend lost two balls in the water. But that was just a game we were playing, and the hole we were on. Wouldn’t you like to know how the rest of the conversation went?