One of the fondest memories I have of my dad when I was kid was spending time with him on the golf course. My dad was an avid golfer throughout his life before he had a stroke and was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He spent many Saturday mornings on the course where he learned to enjoy the little subtleties of the game; the pitch and grade of the greens; factoring in the wind, the length of the rough on the periphery or how you address the ball. He was a master at the ‘bump and run’ and I marveled at how his unorthodox swing could manage such adept ball placement when he was within 100 yards of the green.
Every Saturday morning my brothers and I would fight over the honor of being dad’s caddy because the victor would get treats while out on the links with dad, a sweet reward for carrying his bag and retrieving lost balls from errant shots out of bounds to places where only willing young feet would tarry.
I loved those days. I loved days with dad. I never had to wonder if he loved me even though there were many times when we were at odds because I was a stubborn, ill-tempered, often mean-spirited kid with a chip on my shoulder. And on the days when dad could no longer handle my sharp tongue and biting words he did what every sensible Samoan parent did in those days – he put me in my place. Sometimes with a severe rebuke, other times with a switch. Either way, I eventually saw the error in my ways and though it often took me a while to see the wisdom through teenage eyes, I came to the understanding that dad often knew what was best for me.
As my sons get older my rear-view mirror gets wider (not necessarily to match my waistline) and I’m getting a better feel for retrospection even though a lot of times I don’t like what’s staring back at me. As a son to a father who rarely expressed his feelings and emotions unless provoked I wondered at times if my dad was proud of me. Now that he has Alzheimer’s I will never know if he is proud of the man I’ve become.
I watch my boys; I listen to their conversations; I watch their interactions with other people and hear the kind things that their teachers at school say about them. I do my best to tell them how much I love them and how proud I am of their accomplishments because they need to know. But now those questions I once had about my dad have been replaced with questions I have for my sons.
Am I a good father? Do I judge and treat you too harshly? Am I being a good example and role model for you? Will you be better, less incompetent than I was as a kid and more intelligent in your choices?
I vividly recall one trip to the golf course with dad. I had pulled out his pitching wedge and threw a couple of balls out onto the fairway. I hit the first ball nicely and we both admired it as it popped up into the air and rolled onto the green just for a moment until its momentum carried it over and off to the other side. With confidence I strode up to the next ball and setup in the same manner. This time my aim was slightly off and the ball plunked down a few feet away next to the sizeable chunk of grass and dirt that flew with it.
I angrily strode toward it and setup to hit it again but before I could take another swing at it my dad said, “You need to replace that divot.”
“Huh?” I huffed, my anger concentrated on the small white ball in front of me.
“The divot…you need to put the grass back where it was.”
I stomped back towards the clump of grass, picked it up and mumbled all the way back to the divot where I threw it back into place and stamped on it a few times before heading back to the ball.
“What difference does it make its just grass,” I mumbled.
“What happens if there are twenty golfers with your attitude? Do you think this course will look as good as it does now? That divot makes a whole lot of difference to the next guy who came here to enjoy the course.”
Dad may not have known it then…Shoot I didn’t even know it when I became a dad, but that conversation has come in handy when dealing with those nagging questions about being a son and a father. Life is a lot like being on a golf course. Sometimes you hit a few duff’s along the way and you leave a divot. And as a father I know I’m going to make mistakes because I’ve already made a lot while these boys start to crowd me out of my own man cave. But if I don’t clean it up by watching my language, my behavior and set my priorities straight than when it’s their turn to walk the fairway and take a few swings at glory, the course may not look nearly as enticing as it did when I was putting divots out there to ruin the view and alter their shot at the green. My words, actions and deeds affect them just as much as they affect me. I don’t like living with the fact that I may leave them a legacy of moral and emotional divots pock marking the landscape of their lives.
This fathering business is a hard deal. I love watching my boys excel at sports and in the classroom. I marvel at their creativity, their zest for life. I believe in my heart that they will be much more successful in their lives than I will ever be in mine. But in the end, if my sons grow up to be good, hard-working, honorable men who are a benefit to their community, to their families and to God, then I think me, Super Mom and all of the wonderful people who help and support us on a daily basis, have done a decent job. I hope my dad and my sons think the same of me.