It started with an early morning drive to the golf course on the day before Father’s Day. It was a beautiful spring day in the Southwest, and the Man had it all to himself. However, the second half of the day would belong to others — his wife, his kids, his house, and his job. He was hoping for a quick 18 requiring no mental gymnastics beyond that of a laser-like focus on the direction and arc of a small white ball moving gracefully through the gorgeous blue sky.
Little did the Man suspect that what, in fact, he was to experience that morning would forever weld together in his mind the ideas of Father’s Day, golf, and family.
The Man’s pursuit of golf over the past few seasons had bordered upon the obsessive. Not because he felt the need to work more on a flagging game — he was playing the best of his golfing life that had begun as a teenager caddying for his father. The Man’s length off the tee routinely equaled or surpassed that of the younger men he often played with. Rather, the desperation seemed to flow from the fact that the Man’s game was going so well at a time that he had always assumed it would have started to retreat. How long after 59 years of age can one logically expect a weekend-only golf game to keep improving? He sensed that the few years ahead would be his golden age for golf. And, he intended to spend those years wisely.
At the course, the Man was paired with a Father who appeared to be in his mid-60s and a Son in his mid-to-late 20s, neither of whom the Man had met before. Theirs was to be the first group off the tee that morning. Nothing seemed out of place as they exchanged names and shook hands. However, the Father seemed to dwell on the frustration of having forgotten his golf cap. The Man reached into his bag for his backup cap and offered it to the Father. The Father graciously accepted it.
The Son’s tee shot was respectable, but the Father’s traveled only about 50 yards. Nothing out of place here, the Man thought — anyone can start off a round topping their first drive. However, after the Father’s first four shots, his ball was still behind the position where the Man’s tee shot had landed. At that point, the Man began to suspect something might be wrong.
The Man’s first thought was that he had been paired with a couple of rank amateurs and thus would disappear the Man’s morning of quick golf. The second group off the tee would likely have to be allowed to play through at some point, thus slowing the pace of the Man’s threesome even more. But then the Man noticed something odd.
The Son was staying very close to the Father. After hitting his own shot, the Son would immediately go to the Father’s location. And at one point, the Man saw the Son take the Father by his shoulders and square him up toward the green for the Father’s next shot. That is when the Man finally realized that he was in for a very unusual morning. However, at that time, the Man did not appreciate what a truly memorable and rewarding round of golf he was about to experience.
The Man’s next thought was that he would soon find a way to excuse himself and move ahead to the next hole to finish the round alone. However, over the next several holes, play proved not to be as slow as the Man had feared. When falling behind, the Son kept pace by picking up the Father’s ball at strategic points and moving it ahead to his own ball’s position. And the Father never seemed to object.
Halfway through the first nine holes, while the Father was putting, the Son quietly thanked the Man for being patient with them. The Son explained that his Father had early Alzheimer’s disease but still liked to get out to the golf course whenever he could. The Son said that the rest of the family had pretty much given up on the Father in this regard. So, the Son, a pilot like his Father had been, would fly into town when he could to take his Father out to the links. The Son had managed to get this Father’s Day weekend off.
As he realized what was happening around him, the Man began to enjoy the golf and the company more. As they moved through the morning, the Father seemed to have more trouble lining up his shots. Increasingly, he was aligning himself more to the left of the target. One time the Father lined up 180 degrees away from the target and hit the ball back toward the tee box from which they had just played. Each time, the Son would patiently help the Father realign himself back toward the green. The Man began to subtly try to help the Son keep the Father moving in the right direction.
Whenever the Son hit a good shot, the Father would shout with a big grin, “I taught him everything he knows!” At a long par three hole, the Son handed the Father a driver, and the Father hesitated and bowed his head. The Son said reassuringly, “Pops, it’s OK. You’re just not quite as long as you used to be.”
Later, standing aside while the Son was teeing off, the Man and the Father spoke quietly about their families. The Man congratulated the Father on having such a fine Son. The Father said that all his children were like that and that he had truly been blessed in being part of such a wonderful family. The Man said that he and the Father had much in common in that regard.
The round ended too soon with big smiles and hearty handshakes all around.
There seems to be some curious link between golf and memory. A well-struck golf shot landing on target can forever sear itself into one’s brain. And who is to say that the memories of golf refreshed by a round with one’s loving Son on a bright spring morning might not have therapeutic value for the many Fathers out there whose memories are slowly being nibbled away by the hazards of life such as Alzheimer’s disease?
Richard D. Sontheimer is a dermatologist.