Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Father’s Day musings…6/18/2023

Unlike last year my inland sea is calm as I sit on the porch waiting for coverage of this year’s U.S Open Golf Championship to begin. It’s in LA, Pacific time, so I’m trying to be patient. Part of the charm of the tournament is that it’s held every year on Father’s Day weekend.  When the son of a golfer wins it’s always just a bit more special; they seem to struggle just a bit more to get through the post-trophy awarding speech if their Dad is there. Beth is at a horse show again, which makes me feel kinda silly, being all salty that I’m on call and can’t be there. Judging by my Facebook memories a horse show on Father’s Day is a thing. It’s quiet here, indoors and out.

Father’s Day is an interesting holiday. Many (most?) Dads get a pass on pretty much all responsibilities at home and head to whatever venue they visit when they are doing the thing they do for themselves. The golf course or the boat launch. Perhaps the tennis courts or a duck blind. I’ve always taken a different approach, trying to be available to do Dad stuff with my kids, or in recent years with my grandkids. I liked being “Dad” when my kids were younger, and I really enjoy being “Papi” with my grandkids. Who knows who will be around to play with me, but it doesn’t really matter. I’ll be here and I’ll be ready.

Most of us have (or had) a Dad who played a role in our lives. Mostly good, often hard, unfortunately not so good in some cases, but undoubtedly memorable in all cases. We have memories. At some point memories are all we have. Dad’s been gone almost 8 years now. Memories are what we have left.

Most families have a “thing”, a certain activity or place or topic around which memories orbit. When it comes to Fathers it’s often a case of the child inheriting the father’s chosen sport. As I think of this, a hundred images appear of tiny children tagging along as Dad does whatever it is he does. Invisibly tethered to their father by sharing his time and his passion, all the while being infected by that passion themselves. I see little girls in oversized Wellies holding their Daddy’s hand, his other cradling a shotgun, as they trudge through a marsh. A Dad’s bare feet submerged just off the dock as a tiny son’s size 2’s dangle feet above that same pond while bobbers float just out of view.

For us it was golf, for my brother and me at least. Father’s Day meant getting up an hour or so before Dad, cramming in random calories, and then walking to the caddy shack for another Saturday loop. Except on this Saturday the caddy master tossed us a bone and put us in my Dad’s group. We were pretty good caddies, my brother and I, and my Dad was a more than pretty good golfer. He made sure to make his game with other of the better golfers on Father’s Day. Good caddies always make for better golf, and 4 good golfers squired by 2 good caddies makes for a very good round. Those are some good memories, especially on Father’s Day.

We grew to be good friends on the golf course, my Dad, my brother, and I. On one magical morning Randall and I became men, at least in the golf sense. One Saturday morning (sadly not a Father’s Day) we headed to the first tee with Dad, not as caddies but as real golfers. Partners in his foursome, with caddies of our own. In time we were joined by a brother-in-law our age as we three towed Dad along on a decades long golf odyssey. We’d found our connection, and like the little girl in her Wellies and the little boy with dangling toes, we kept ourselves tethered to our Dad through his passion.

And we made memories.

That’s all that’s left now, the memories. We’ll try to remember what we all had then, for the newer memories do not sing as sweetly, however much we try to erase them. One day, when we held our end of the tie that bound us it lay quietly against our side, empty, no longer anyone there to whom we were tethered. If we fathers are fortunate now, we reach out a hand and it is filled with tiny fingers, and we walk to wherever, tethered to tiny little legs that struggle to keep up as they chase our passion with us. We feel the stillness, the emptiness on our other side, where we were once tethered ourselves. If we are very fortunate ,we realize that maybe we still are. Tethered, that is.

Tethered to the memories of when we were the child of a Father so gifted.

It’s been more than 10 years since Dad disappeared into his mind and left us. I think of him and miss him every day, but especially so, of course, on Father’s Day. I want to call him and ask him about The LA Country Club and his round there with my brother back in the mid-80’s. To tell him I played golf yesterday for the first time in 2 years, my hips finally healed enough to let me fumble around a course again. He’d be very excited for me, upbeat and positive, confident that I would play better next time. We would look ahead to our next round together. What a good walk it would be.

As I wait in hope that I will receive the gift of being Dad or Papi this weekend I will leave you, as I have done for some years now, with the story of the last Father’s Day I spent with my Dad. A brief moment when all was as it had been, a Dad and his boy together on a golf course.

“My siblings and I only need to remember one weekend each year when it comes to celebrating my Dad. His birthday almost always falls within a day or two of Father’s Day. So it was that I found myself in Rhode Island the past couple of days, in the company of my Mom and a guy masquerading as my Dad, a guy who was very curious about the new fella who’d dropped by for a visit.

Getting old is not for sissies, my friends.

Somewhere inside, deep inside, there’s still some of my Dad in the jumbled up connections of his mind, carried by the body that failed him in such spectacular fashion 2 ½ years ago. Dad is extremely intelligent, the only family member in his generation to have gone to college. Quite the athlete, he used football and the GI Bill to pay for school. Like so many in his generation he then worked, raised a family, and put himself through grad school. He won his club championship in golf twice at the ages of 50 and 60. No typo. Beat the reigning RI State Amateur champ on his home course for the first one.

As we sat on the porch of his house overlooking the par 5  14th hole, I had an ever so brief visit from that guy. From my Dad. Like a citizen of Brigadoon, he came slowly through the mist of his mind to join me for a bit. We’d always bonded over golf. My brother and I never turned down an invitation to join him on the course, either as partners or as caddies for him and his buddies. It was quite a privilege to do either; my Dad’s most elemental essence was expressed on the golf course.

A light breeze was blowing through the forest in the back yard just beyond the rough. We chuckled at the golfers who failed to take the wind into consideration, sheepishly trying to sneak into our yard to retrieve their out-of-bounds second shot. Dad talked about caddying as a kid in the Depression. We both noted the absence of caddies as the foursomes passed in and out of view. It was really very nice.

I quite like the Dad of my adulthood. Quick to smile, slow to anger, unfailingly loyal and kind. It’s hard to imagine now how distant he was when I was a boy, his friendship as an adult is so easy. I’m not sure how long we sat there to be honest, nor when I noticed that he was slipping away. As surely as the village of Brigadoon disappears, the mist had returned to claim him. I got up, walked over to his chair, held his hand and gave him a kiss. I wished him a Happy Birthday and a Happy Father’s Day, hoping that I’d made it on time. That he was still there. That he knew it was me, Darrell, his oldest child. I told him I loved him.

He smiled and gave my hand a little pat as he disappeared into the mist.

I really miss my Dad.”

Happy Father’s Day to all who are so blessed. I’ll see you next week…

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