Sunday, May 20, 2007

of golf and life, part II

All this talk about golf has reminded me of a true story.

My father taught me how to play golf. He wasn't the best of golf teachers, to be honest. My golf game was pretty pathetic for a number of years until I actually took some lessons. But he taught me the game and was a patient companion when my shots went astray and I had to go off looking for them in the woods.

He loved to golf, my father. You could see it in his face. His father (my grandfather) was a pretty good golfer as well, I believe. We used to hear all about the time he hit a hole in one when we were growing up. My grandfather taught my father the game, and my father taught it to me.

Later in life, my father developed Pick's disease, a progressive dementia somewhat similar to Alzheimer's. As the disease progressed, we began to involve my father less in things. He struggled with issues of continence for one thing, and he grew increasingly less able to communicate with us about what he wanted.

But the last summer of his life, we took him with us to the golf course. He rode around in the golf cart with my three brothers and I -- and on the 8th or 9th hole, he became agitated. He got up out of the cart and started walking around.

I wish I could tell you that I (what with my finely honed clinical skills and all) picked up on what he wanted. But it was actually my younger brother with Asperger's Disorder that realized -- my father was asking to play golf with us.

So we gave him a ball, a tee, and a club. And he stood up there and hit the ball. The first shot was unimpressive. But the second shot flew far and straight, and as I cheered his effort I heard a certain, familiar grunt of satisfaction from him.

It was the first recognizable effort at communication I had heard from him in some time. It was also probably the last, now that I think about it.

Golf has this way of being a game about family, about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters -- in ways that other sports don't quite seem to match. Perhaps that's because golf can be played late into our adulthood, allowing us to continue that experience together as we grow older. Perhaps its because the relative slow pace of the game allows for communication and reflection amidst the course of the round.

Perhaps for me its because the slow and quiet nature of the game fit so well with the gentle and quiet nature of my father.

I like to think that somewhere in heaven my father is playing a round of golf with my grandfather, that they're laughing and joking with each other and thinking fondly of us. I miss my Dad. The game of golf, in its own small way, gives me a chance to feel connected to him again. Whether it's recalling the way he'd say "dag nabbit!" when he hit a bad shot, or his quiet satisfaction when he hit a good one. Or the patient way he'd listen and give advice when I was struggling.

Golf was his gift to me. I look forward to the day when I can give it to my sons.


more cows than people said...

Dear Steve,

I'm very grateful for the ways your recent posts are inviting me into parts of your story that are new to me. This is a powerful post that offers a beautiful window into your relationship with your dad. I'm glad you have the time, as you make your way around the golf course, to remember your dad "dag nabbit"s and quiet satisfaction, patient teaching, and love. No wonder your golf game is improving. That would be great motivation! You will offer a great gift to your boys with this as well!

Peace to you, S

Cecilia said...

A wonderful early Father's day post, I think! Thanks Steve.

Pax, C.

Diane said...

I'm not a golfer, but recently a woman in our congregation died after having Pick's disease for some time. She had been a musician and a piano teacher, and for as long as possible we had her still singing with a singing group.

I also wish I could e-mail your post to my brother-in-law, who is a golfer.

Eric said...

I've been thinking about golf lately a lot myself, thinking of taking up the game again. I keep returning to a Saturday afternoon about 15 years ago, when our grandfather, my dad, your brother John and I were all out on the public course in Sebastopol, and I was excited to be playing my first full round of nine holes. (You may have been there too -- I can't recall.)

I was so proud of the par 3 I hit on one of the easier holes! (My overall score is lost to the ages. The best that can be said is that it had only two digits.)

I wonder why my dad has stopped playing. I'll ask him tonight. I miss that simple, physical connection with family.