Heaven knows we can’t help what we love, and my father was helplessly in love with golf. He naturally assumed that his teenage son would be too. But, as much as I liked being with him, I’ve always loathed the game, and it showed in the quality of my play. Of all our misadventures on the links, one lives on in my most vivid nightmares.
For the thousandth time, I stood forlornly over the ball as dad began his tireless litany, “Head down, eye on the ball, left arm straight, hips loose as a goose (then he’d shimmy like Shakira), backswing low and slow, swing through the ball.” It was like driving a car while reading the owner’s manual and resulted in a herky-jerky swing that produced a ball flight consistent only in its absolute unpredictability.
I was just about to hit my drive, when I noticed a course employee had stopped his maintenance cart on the path about 100 yards ahead of us. I waved him on, but he motioned for me to go ahead and hit. My father told me to swing away, there was no way I’d hit him.
Like a dimpled laser beam, the ball’s trajectory varied nary an inch in any direction. The worker dove head-first from the cart, like Pete Rose sliding into second. There was a loud clang as the ball hit the metal fender inches from where he’d been sitting. He quickly got to his feet, yelling and angrily gesturing at me.
I’d fallen to my knees as I’d watched the horror unfolding before me. Dad and I looked at each other in wide-mouthed wonder. I slowly collected myself and said from my knees, “If I’d wanted to hit him, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere near him.” My father, the astonished look still on his face, nodded in mute agreement to the absolute truth of what I’d just said.
Cynics say that parents, like my father, who push children in the direction of their own broken dreams are trying to live through their kids. The truth is, they want their kids’ lives to be perfect. And those childhood dreams of playing centerfield for the Yankees, dancing on Broadway, or playing on the PGA tour are still our ideal of perfection. So, push them we do. I ruined tennis for both my kids when they were little by doing just that.
And then one December day when he was 15, my son, Matt, announced he was going to try out for his high school golf team, despite the fact that he’d never played a round of golf in his life. I went into full parent freak out mode and bought him a specially weighted, caution-tape yellow, training golf club I’d found on the web. When I proudly gave it to him Christmas morning, he looked at it like I’d just handed him a new algebra book.
The next day, I dragged him to a driving range. As he stood forlornly over the ball holding the ridiculous yellow club, I heard myself, as if from a far distance, instructing him, “Head down, eye on the ball, left arm straight, hips loose as a goose (and then I shimmied like Shakira), backswing low and….” I stared out at the horizon for a few seconds, told him I wasn’t feeling well, and walked slowly to the car where I sat and watched him flail happily away at the whole bucket of balls using my old clubs.