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Should Mrs. Woods Forgive Tiger?

March 3, 2010

I didn’t watch the Tiger Woods press conference. I was away when he took the podium and haven’t YouTubed it. I have followed the story, seen images -  fleeting clips on the news. In the pictures there is something about the way he held his body that felt familiar. It was the body language: his body language broke my heart.
I remember that held-from-the-inside-out look from when my ex-husband had it. He held himself like that when we were around other people (like my parents) when our marriage was ending, – when people were watching us. You would think that the look of him would evoke feelings of rage, indignation, judgement, but for me, sometimes I was overwhelmed by a different feeling. Empathy. What I felt for my ex-husband — and what I felt for Tiger Woods — was heart-aching empathy. (Now, just to set the record straight, my ex-husband is no Tiger Woods – either on the golf course or otherwise, but he did leave our marriage for someone else.  I wrote a whole book about it called Happens Every Day, an-all-too-true story.)
Why I felt empathy eludes me. When I saw that body language in the father of my boys and in Tiger Woods, it’s like everything a woman is supposed to feel vanished. I felt more like a mother than a woman. What if someone you loved made such a big mistake? Isn’t there a part of you that feels for them even if their actions changes your life and hurts you? I could compartmentalize what was happening to me and what he was going through.  Those men seemed cosmically alone and I couldn’t help feeling badly for them. I hate feeling cosmically alone, so maybe what I was experiencing was empathy.
It makes me well up just thinking about it now. I want to reach out – to hold them, or to help them. I feel sort of badly having that feeling, maybe even ashamed, like I’m not a feminist, but then again I would have stood by Eliot Spitzer for the press conference too just like Silda. Does that make me some 1950’s pathetic woman who would stand by her man to her own detriment? I hope not. She did it for her kids, or the idea of their family, or maybe she did do it for him. I don’t know, but I got it. There were a ton of women that I encountered at that time who were furious about her choice -  incredulous.
Empathy is just one of the feelings that fall somewhere on the vast spectrum of emotions that one has about infidelity and divorce. I’ve learned there are a million of them. I have and do feel the wretched feelings too, I have felt most of them. Sometimes you experience two or more emotions at exactly the same time. It can make you feel insane, but in someways it is what keeps you sane. The wonderful part about being human are the infinite ways one can feel. It would be great if society made room for the entire experience and we weren’t all relegated to conventional reactions.      
There are also million endings to stories like mine or the Woods, and there are many roads to heaven so nobody can say that one is better than another, but here’s a thought. What if she stayed with him and he quit golf?  I think Ellin and Tiger Woods could be sitting on the edge of a huge opportunity. One that would never have come along if this whole megillah hadn’t happened. I have an image of them sitting at the rim of a mighty volcano side by side, lava bubbling below.
Both endeavors would be scary and impossible feeling. They would have to be fantastically strong and brave but wouldn’t it be amazing? Wouldn’t that say something powerful about family and sacrifice and choice?     What if she understood that people can make massive mistakes and she married one of those people (and whether or not she knew what she was getting into is besides the point now). What if he freed himself and disappeared from a life he obviously couldn’t manage without hurting his family.
What if they moved far away from Pebble Beach to Sweden and they focused all of their energy into the present and the future instead of bandaging a tourniquet on the past.  He would have to give up golf. I know it feels like the entire world needs him to play, but come on, really? Can one man be so important? What a courageous move that would be if he said, I’m so sorry everyone, go it on your own.
They have enough money, so for the time being he could find God or a really good marriage therapist and get to work. He could learn who his kids are and even who his wife is for the first time. What if he found peace? What if he atoned? What if he became one of the many, many people who have made mistakes and changed for the positive?
People say he can’t quit, but why? He’s only thirty-something. Julia Child didn’t cook an omelette until she was 43 and she changed the way the entire world eats. He could go to work at a bank or become an architect. He’s smart and able, he could do a lot of things. Tiger Woods the architect and family man. I think it sounds nice.
And she, she could do something that is one of the hardest and most beautiful acts we can do. Forgive. She could forgive him and trust him (hard to do after what he has done, but people are amazing creatures) to do the right thing. It would be hard to go forward together, and not fun, but maybe they should give it a shot, and for only one reason, the kids. Without the kids, forget it, she could go and have a life, leaving the man who lied and hurt her far behind and he could play pro golf forever having as many sorted relationships as he liked, but they are parents and if anyone can do something brave and difficult for their kids parents can.
It’s not so much the children (I don’t know them), but it’s their story. As a parent almost every move I make I am thinking about how it will affect my children’s story. What if the story that those kids get to tell is this:
“My father was a famous golfer. The best the world has ever seen. He married my mother, and then he made some big mistakes. So big the entire world was mad at him. He said he was sorry and he gave up the most important part of his entire life so we could take it’s place, and mom forgave him. It was hard, but we all got through it. It was a long time ago . . .”
They will get through whatever happens. People always do. Very fortunately I have landed on my feet since my first marriage ended and have created what is cracking up to be a good sequel with a wonderful new husband. Life is easier, I have never been so in love or loved, I’m more productive, mature, hopefully kinder. I’m happier. I am certain my ex-husband is happier- but are the kids as happy as all of us grown ups? I dearly hope so, but my deep down hunch is that they wish their parents were married.
Life is life, you don’t always get what you want, surviving adversity will make them strong and my children do have a good life. Maybe even a better life than the one they would have had. I bet you anything though, if you asked them if they could tell a different story about their parents, they would instantly answer, yes.

Source: More magazine