I rarely speak with my father anymore. It’s not something I’m happy about; it’s just the way it is.
It is important to note that my father is one of the finest men I have ever met. The subsequent unavailability of such a resource and friend is a monumental loss. We both find ourselves guilty in this disconnection, with my youthful background of poor decision making and his inability to shake off the effects of what must have been a horrible and heart wrenching breakup with my mother.
Apart from the situation, I still hold hope that someday the hands of time will morph me into a portion of the man I regard so highly. So things being what they are, I find myself utilizing the tools and skills that he taught me back when life seemed a little bit simpler.
Some fathers take their kids fishing; others may spend the afternoons shooting hoops. For my father and me, it was the outdoors, just out of town, bonding together at one the most wonderful places on the planet…the first tee.
Looking back, it is remarkable how less complicated everything seemed to be. I started playing around age 6 at this little par-3 in Rib Mountain, Wisc. It was a rinky-dink little course attached to a little Italian restaurant called Iozzo’s. Coincidentally, my late grandmother, extremely well traveled, swore that this particular restaurant had the best Italian food anywhere. Yes, even better than in Italy. It still exists today.
In retrospect, the golf shop was nothing more than a couple of bar stools and a soda machine. But, as I remember it, when I walked in it magically transformed into the starting line for what would be an afternoon of competition, bonding, and unlimited possibilities. My father always seemed to know the guy at the counter, and even at a young age you somehow come to the realization that you are now becoming part of more than just a game, but, rather a society within itself. A social order seeped with deep seeded foundations and the air of success. The affair begins here and in most cases lasts a lifetime.
I took to the game pretty quickly. My father custom cut a set of wood shaft clubs for me, pretty basic in content, with a driver, a three, and a nine. The set was complimented with a beat-up, chrome-coated straight blade. I had a kid-sized bag, and we always walked, I shouldering my load and Dad pulling his pull cart latched on to a fine red and beige leather bag.
I was relegated to teeing off on the ladies’ tees, which of course were never referred to as such, but rather designated as the ‘kids” tees. Dad was probably close to a scratch golfer in his prime, so the goal was of course to try to take him down at all costs. I got close a few times, and managed to whack it around pretty good for the most part, but it wouldn’t be until much later in life that my scorecard ever read any lower than his. This marriage of father and son, carefully combined with club and ball, soon spread to my brother as well. We all spent many an afternoon basking in the spirit of competition far into my teenage years.
As with many parent-child relationships, they reach the inevitable point in which it no longer becomes acceptable to spend large amounts of time socializing with one’s parents. I crossed this invisible line somewhere in junior high school. Always having been a sports fanatic, I found myself branching out into the usual grasp of your traditional high school sporting teams. I dabbled in wrestling briefly, played some football, and even pole vaulted for several years. Never having a close set of friends who played golf regularly, more time was devoted to other interests and less to the course. Little to my knowledge, the great equalizer of most great high school athletes was about to run its course…the growth spurt. Some get it and some don’t. Unfortunately, I happened to be one of the latter.
Undersized or not, one of the finer things about the game of golf is its ability to cater to any size, any age, and any skill level. That being said, I promptly turned my scrawny little self around and headed straight for the golf team. My golf team was a potpourri of those who had seemingly fallen through the cracks of the great machine we know as the American high school. You had your usual suspects of course, including the sons of the fathers from the country club, the kids whose parents were fortunate enough to have a little bit extra, and my all-time favorite golf team member Perry, the self proclaimed dirtball of the proud D.C. Everest High School.
It is admirable how the game attracts and accommodates people from all walks of life. Perry certainly would fit into that category. He would saunter into practice clad in his extremely faded black denim jeans, paired with the obligatory AC/DC tee-shirt and leather jacket, heavily saturated with the fine smell of Marlboro Reds, thus adding to the whole “rebel without a cause” portrait just begging to be painted. What was the most amazing aspect of the whole surreal scene was that the kid could just crush it. I often practiced next to him, watching countless balls sail with Palmer-like grace, as the cigarette-smoking outcast made a silent mockery of tradition and etiquette. For some reason I always admired him, content amidst this sea of polos and khakis to challenge his own convictions, regardless of the status quo. For Perry, it wasn’t about the clubs, the attire, or the family background. It was about a boy, a ball, and the desire to find oneself through both.
I never found the superstar success of some on the team, only playing in a few junior varsity tournaments, yet, I learned some valuable lessons. They weren’t about technique, but, rather lessons in life. These were the kind of lessons that won’t necessarily fix your duck hook, but go a long way in teaching one how the world actually functions, bringing together so many with nothing in common except a passion.
My golf team experience was short-lived and I spent the last several years of high school following other avenues and roads less traveled. Some of us took advantage of the opportunities offered to us by our respective high schools, while others such as myself, chose to take every befalling to buck the system and fight the advice of those around us. Deciding that college was unnecessary and work so unfulfilling, I would be the first to take my ultra liberal stance right past ‘the man’ and do things my own way. Needless to say, I spent the better part of the next decade hitting quite a few more bongs than golf balls.
For many years thereafter, I would find myself detached from the game. Busy being a delinquent, I never had the money for equipment, and any extra I did have was usually reserved for a long night out and a party with my name on it. I was always too embarrassed to hit the course. I carried a set of undersized clubs, had lost touch with my game, and found myself caught up in a vicious cycle of poverty, dead-end jobs, and a non-existent sense of ambition. I even started skipping the annual family golf outing, an enduring tradition amongst members of my family. The worst part was I wanted to play, but, found myself unwilling to answer the requisite questions about the status of my life from the nosy voices of reason that surely would be present.
This would start a long journey that would leave me detached from my parents, society, and anything that even closely resembled a plan for my future.
I would spend the better part of my 20s working in smoke filled bars, gentleman’s clubs, and exploring middle-management options with great frequency. It was a depressing juncture and went a long way into shaping my perspective on life. I wouldn’t take to the game again until my late 20s. You can take the clubs away from the boy, but you can’t take the love of the game away from the man.
I found myself connecting with a group of guys I worked with at a local nightclub. They were bartenders and bouncers, while I was the disc jockey. More importantly, we were all golfers. I was able to borrow a set of clubs from one the guys who was similar to me in size and stature. We would work and drink until four in the morning, sleep a couple of hours, and hit the course on Sunday morning on what was customarily our only day off. How this motley crew ever found the energy to pull this off week after week is quite remarkable, yet, there we were every weekend with our ‘bats’, talking smack and sucking Gatorade like it was gold. Contrary to what one might think, we were never a group to load up on beer and treat our 18 like a continuation of the night before. Instead, we used the time for reflection, camaraderie, and of course hard core competition. I still hold this group of men in the highest regard. We have remained friends and have enjoyed watching each other grow up, finding ourselves while becoming adults in our own right. All on the sprawling turf of god’s country.
Somewhere, as a child on that first green, a foundation was poured. That foundation has stood firm and still stands today.
Yet now, I find myself utilizing the golf course merely for serenity. Although still fiercely competitive with myself and others, just being outside in God’s country is often enough to whisk away any concerns that life might bring at the time. I prefer to play when it is quiet, and still have never understood those who need several cases of beer to make the game enjoyable.
In this case, the story always comes full circle back to my father, who once again will be a silent partner in today’s homage to male role models everywhere. I will spend it reflecting, as I already have for nearly a decade. In the meantime, I will go on enjoying the sport as my father first taught. Although reconciliation between us may be difficult, when it does happen, I have a sneaking suspicion it will include a round of the greatest game ever.
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