News & Opinion

Excerpt: 'The Dad Advice Project' offers lessons on golf and life from Davis Love III, more fathers

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The following is an excerpt from "The Dad Advice Project" by Craig Kessler, the chief operating officer of Topgolf. It has been reprinted with permission. The book is available on Amazon.com. Order a copy here.

In May of 2019, inspired by a letter that a mentor’s father had written to him, I asked a few friends to write me a note on “how to be a good dad.” Unsure what to expect, the responses I received were remarkable.

The notes ranged from David Letterman-style top-10 lists that were funny yet thoughtful to letters my friends had written to their children. In total, the five or so notes that my friends created – along with an unproductive online search in pursuit of “dad tips” – helped me recognize a few things:

  • Moms have endless content on how to be better moms, but the content available for dads is thin.
  • Parenting is a humbling journey, and while most dads begin their journey with the goal of being great, there’s no manual to help us get there.
  • Most dads in my friend group agree that fatherhood is the ride of a lifetime, yet we often find ourselves flying blind with very little pattern recognition to help us navigate whatever comes our way.

As COVID hit in March of 2020, I started telling friends and work colleagues about the “dad advice” submissions that I’d gathered in 2019. Everyone asked if they could read the advice.

“I’d love to share with you, but I haven’t asked the authors for permission,” was my standard reply.

As the coronavirus continued to turn normal life upside down, and as my wife and I – like so many other families – navigated parenting our 1-, 3-, and 5-year-old boys, the dad advice submissions began to pick up steam.

Friends from different parts of my life found themselves more reflective than ever before and thankfully willing to put their thoughts about fatherhood down on paper.

And so, "The Dad Advice Project" was born.

My hope is that this collection of stories and advice, all put together by real dads whom I am proud to call friends, will help you navigate fatherhood. And, if successful, perhaps these words of wisdom will help our kids live better lives.

Foreward by George Tenet – 33-year-old son – chairman of Allen & Company LLC; former director of the Central Intelligence Agency

I had the privilege of teaching Craig Kessler in 2006 at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

He was among 18 students in a seminar called “Intelligence in Practice.” When I thought about what I wanted to achieve in the classroom, I reverted to some timeless values that I had learned from my father: the setting of high standards, reward for effort, a focus on intellectual curiosity, getting to know each student personally in order to find out how I could help them get better rather than focusing on how to get a better grade. How could I get them to listen to each other with respect and kindness and absorb opposing points of view?

It was a tough class, intended to get men and women ready for the real world of work. Much was expected of the students. The readings were unreasonably long, the grading hard. There was an emphasis on learning how to precisely use words to communicate thoughts on paper and orally. At the same time, we made time for students, listened to their needs, helped them recognize their true potential, laughed a lot, and gave them a sense that the classroom was a home they would want to return to each Monday morning.

Years later, I was in Augusta, Ga., privileged to be watching the Masters Tournament. I was standing greenside by the par-5 second hole. We were awaiting the arrival of the next foursome. All of a sudden, off in the distance I heard someone yelling at the top of his lungs, “Professor Tenet!” numerous times. Yelling at the top of one’s lungs is, to put it mildly, frowned upon at Augusta National. It took me a moment to recognize that I was the object of one of my academic children who had grown up. It was the exuberant, delightful Craig Kessler. I remember him sitting in class, eyes wide open, enthusiastically absorbing everything that was going on. He was energetic and whip smart. As he arrived greenside, we embraced. He told me all that he had done in his still very young life. I was so very proud. His one lament, said to me with a twinkle in his eye, was that I had only given him a B-plus. I remember telling him that despite my affection for him, he got the grade that he deserved. And we both laughed.

Craig and I have stayed in close touch ever since that day, and when he asked me to write the foreword to this book, it gave me the chance to reflect on my dad. I recognized that my dad had laid the foundation for everything I had tried to do in my life, whether in attempting to teach young men and women how to think, in running a large government organization, or in helping to lead an investment bank. 

From my dad I learned to always show care and respect for people, to always care for them and give them the confidence that, with effort, they could always get better. I learned the importance of giving of myself – not only to discuss papers or important issues of the day, but to also listen to their problems and guide them through a process of honest introspection to help them make better decisions.

Prior to teaching, my career in public service had led me to become director of Central Intelligence. One of the greatest sorrows of my life was that my dad had not lived long enough to see me get there. I have met kings, presidents, prime ministers, and generals, yet none of them measured up to my dad, John.

John Tenet left his home in northern Greece when he was 12 and landed in France, where he became a coal miner for six years. He emigrated to the United States at the age of 18 without a nickel in his pocket or any family nearby. He went into the restaurant business. He had a third-grade education at best and yet devoured books, newspapers, and all things related to history and politics. He loved unconditionally, listened patiently, never raised his voice, adored and respected my mother, and never spoke a bad word about anyone, ever. His dry sense of humor filled our home with laughter. All dad ever asked for was maximum effort. If you had done your best, he would accept the outcome and throw his arms around you. The worst words that ever came out of his mouth were, “I am disappointed in you.” These words were crushing. Men and women in his employ never forgot the respect and care he showed for them and their families.

When Craig asked to me write the foreword to this book, I was humbled. In reading the submissions I saw my dad and myself in so many places. The essays caused me to reflect on the kind of dad I have been to my own son and the kind of grandfather I now can be to a beautiful baby boy.

In some important ways, I graded myself in the early years of fatherhood as coming up short of the standards that my father had established. But time, experience, and reflection about my dad helped me get better over the years. Critical was my wife, Stephanie, who would always sit me down to force me to reflect on the patient values of my father and remind me how I needed to always be more like him.

Fatherhood is not easy, and none of us is perfect. We learn, with our children beside us, how to get better. If we are self-aware, curious, listen carefully, and focus on being relentlessly kind to everyone, we get better. Sometimes we are all those things to others, yet we fail to apply the same values to those whom we love the most: our children. Our children change and grow with exponential speed. Our responsibility is to keep up with them in an effort to understand and guide them. 

The essays that Craig has compiled are full of wisdom regarding the most noble title that a man can have on this earth: Dad. As I read each one, the nostalgia for my dad grew deeper. When I reflected on the values the authors wrote about, there were so many common themes: humility, kindness, and unconditional love resonate the most. Finally, I thought, what a better world we would have if we approached not just fatherhood but all aspects of our lives with “a servant’s heart,” the way Davis Love III describes his dad.

I sincerely hope you enjoy "The Dad Advice Project."

George J. Tenet
Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Chairman, Allen & Company LLC

Davis Love III – 31-year-old daughter; 26-year-old son – Hall of Fame PGA Tour player; Ryder Cup captain

In my career as an amateur and PGA Tour professional golfer, I have been blessed to have some success. Along the way, I have had countless opportunities to explain and be interviewed about my start in golf. I am always excited to discuss my career path because it lets me talk about the man who was my golf teacher, mentor, friend, and my favorite playing partner. That man was my father, Davis Love Jr.

My dad was an expert competitive golfer, a much-loved club professional, and noted golf teacher. But more importantly, he also made time to be a devoted husband and great father.

I get asked all the time about my dad’s coaching, his style of teaching, his best swing tip, or how well he played in majors. But the better question is really this: Why was he loved as much by his students, his club members, and his fellow pros as he was at home?

As the head golf professional at Charlotte Country Club and then Atlanta Country Club, he was always looking to help his members with anything that helped them enjoy the game and improve. He treated every member and employee as a friend or family member.

Even though he was always busy at the club, he found a way to include our immediate family in the experience. As expected, he taught my brother Mark and me how to play, but his best student was my mom. Penta Love went from being a girl on a farm near Charlotte, North Carolina, and not knowing anything about golf to a single-digit handicap for 50 years. She even shot her age from 73 to 88.

In our younger years in Atlanta, dad would send us out to play with mom after school or have her drop us off at the club. If we were not hitting balls or playing in his junior program, he would put us in the bag room to “work” with the caddie master or to help park carts in the barn. But the best days were Mondays when the club was closed and the four of us would play a round together.

Dad always made golf fun for us. My love for golf was not forged by his pushing me to work hard but by letting me drive the cart while seated in his lap, or bringing a fishing rod to try the lake on the fourth hole, or letting Mark rake balls out of the creek on six. He made the golf course – his office – a happy and safe place for his family, and our love for him and the game grew as a result. I learned to do this from watching how my dad raised us. Today, my 6-year-old granddaughter Eloise has a pink Scotty Cameron putter cover; she’s an expert cart driver and divot filler, and she sees golf as just a giant playground with family!

I was 14 in 1978 when we moved to Sea Island, and I had already told my dad I was committed to playing professional golf. In a new town and school, and with my dad teaching at the great Sea Island resort course, I spent most of my time (when not in school at the course practicing and playing – and even watching him teach. He would set practice rules and push me when needed, but he was always kind and fair.

As I grew older and got more serious about golf, and as my dad spent more time coaching me on my swing, he instituted a rule – a rule that made his coaching feel like real teamwork. The rule was that each time we made an adjustment to my swing, he had a vote, I had a vote, and my body had a vote. If the new swing did not feel right, my dad would try to explain the change another way or come up with a drill to help me learn and feel the proper position. I saw him do this with all levels of golfers. And he did the same in business and relationships with friends and family. He would find a way to help people improve, and, most importantly, enjoy the process of chasing their goals.

My father’s golfing life was greatly influenced by his college coach and great golf teacher Harvey Penick. Harvey not only was a role model for my dad’s teaching, but he inspired dad to always be kind to people and to respect the game of golf. Davis Jr. was passionate about the rules and traditions of the game and passing the ideal of golf being a “gentleman’s game” onto the next generation.

His personal life and parenting were defined by our mom’s simple upbringing and strong faith. He did not get to church with us very much, but when he did, he took as many notes during the sermon as he did while giving a golf lesson! His love for my mom and his boys showed in many simple ways.

The longer I am married and raise my kids and granddaughters, the more I understand and appreciate his simple acts of kindness. He would always ask my mom what she wanted to order at a restaurant, and he’d always be sure to order something different for himself. He certainly wanted a few bites of my mom’s meal in order to get a “little extra,” but he  always made sure she was happy with her meal first. In fact, on many occasions I saw dad trade plates with mom when she was not happy with her order.

Dad was genuinely excited to take Mark to soccer or football or me to 6 a.m. hockey games. While it may sound small, these selfless acts instilled in me a sense of what it means to be a great father.

When I was getting started on the PGA Tour, my wife Robin and I were recently engaged. Dad had saved up a little money to get me going on Tour, and I made some checks early and was off to a good start. Robin wanted to travel with me, but she continued to work in order to pay off her car. My dad told her to sell it and drive his car until I could afford to buy her one. And sure enough, my dad, one of the top golf instructors in the world, got a ride to and from his job each day after that. And he did it for his kids in order to help us reach our dreams.

So why was Davis Love Jr. loved by so many, especially his family? In the Bible, we hear the phrase “a servant’s heart.” In golf we do things for “the good of the game.” The two ideals have such depth in meaning. My dad woke up every day and asked: What can I do to make my wife happy, how can I mentor my boys, and how can I inspire golfers to enjoy the game? Simply, he put others first, and in that he found happiness. And so did his family.

I am proud to carry the Roman numeral III at the end of my name, but I grew up being called Trip. We lost Davis Jr. in 1988 at the young age of 53. Just weeks before he passed away, he had a new book coming out. He had a talk with me about my game and what I needed to work on for that winter, and he gave me copy of that book. Inside, his inscription read, Follow your dream, and enjoy the Trip!