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“WHAT WAS your Dad like when you were younger?” she asked.
“Well, Dad — Charlie to everyone else — was a man of few words. He worked a lot of hours, I remember that. I guess he had to with five children and my Mom never had a job. But he always managed to play at least one golf game on the weekend. He said the soccer people did not know what they were talking about; Golf was the real Beautiful Game. He liked to refer to it as the game of life.
There wasn’t much time for chatter between him and me – or with my four siblings for that matter. I seem to remember that he spent a lot of time behind a newspaper. All five sections of the Globe and Mail and sometimes The Star as well. Occasionally he put the paper down to explain what ridiculous thing a politician or a celebrity had done, but usually it was left up to us to interpret his grunts and murmurings from the other side of the newsprint. I don’t think he did not love us; it’s just that he did not seem to understand the parent-child divide. I think he thought of us as equals in some sense. Or maybe it was more like he was a parent-on-standby. Not to do anything unless something was really going off the rails.”
“So he was quite distant with you?”
“Not really. But he was always there for us in the sense that he was around. Some would say he did not get involved too much; he might say he did not want to interfere too much. He did not think too much of so-called helicopter parents that has come up in the past few years. He used to compare them to a gardener who pulls a seed out of the garden every day to see if it is growing properly.”
“But it does not seem like you are too close to each other.”
“I wouldn’t say that. We are very fond of each other and care a lot, but in a cool way. We hug each other on our birthdays and Christmas, but I think we both find it a little awkward. Especially now that I am five inches taller than him.” I laughed. “And I came back to see him didn’t I?” as if to strengthen my point.
“In a sense he was always there for us, but it was more on a stand-by basis. He did not get involved unless my Mom or one of us kids specifically approached him and demanded his help or advice. He always looked somewhat surprised to be called upon, but he never hesitated to jump in and do what was necessary. And then he would revert to his former posture as quickly as he could. He was like a Rapid Response Unit, normally in reserve.
“When Charlie intervened to offer advice, he was always like a Coach. He did not tell us what to do. He tried to enlighten us on what the world was really like so that we had a context for the current dilemma. And Charlie’s world view was heavily influenced by the links. I first realized that in my last year of high school. I was having difficulties with my girlfriend, who was resisting my efforts to have a more serious relationship. My Mother directed me to my father, who was watching golf on television at the time.
“ ‘Charlie, talk to Adam about Melissa.’
“Knocked out of his reverie, he muted the television to hear what I had to say. Then he turned the television volume back up and pointed me to the screen. ‘Adam, just watch Ernie Els’ swing,’ he said. I watched, confused over the non sequitur. ‘They call him the Big Easy,’ he said. ‘Notice how gently he is holding the club and then he just swings effortlessly. The ball goes a mile. That’s life. If you grip things too tightly and try to control them, it never works out. Lighten your grip, don’t try to control everything.’
“I looked at him in puzzlement and then to my Mother who raised her eyebrows and shrugged.
“‘That’s it?’ I asked my Dad. ‘Lighten up?’
He nodded. ‘Yep. I did not say, fall asleep or don’t try or don’t care. Just relax and let it happen. You cannot force some things, and you will often make it worse when you try.’ I remember leaving the room exasperated, and hearing the television volume raised again. My Dad was back to relaxing after his strenuous bit of parenting.
“I went off to Uni to study Engineering in Vancouver and did not get home too much during the school year. I was staying at home the summer after my second year, since I got a job in the area. Engineering jobs were scarce, so I took a position working at the local Food Bank. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t happy in Engineering. It was intellectually challenging and fulfilling, but it could not compare to the joy I felt when I was helping people. As the summer went on I became more aware that Engineering was a mistake, but I did not know how to confront the issue with my parents who had spent a lot of money on my courses so far.
“‘Maybe I should just finish it anyways,’ I thought. ‘Then I can decide afterwards.’ I talked to my parents but they were deliberately non-committal. It was up to me to decide. But I felt too guilty and conflicted to know what I really had to do. I was moping around the house one Saturday afternoon and my Dad suggested we go out and play nine holes. He knew that I was not much of a golfer.
“Like a lot of my friends, I can hit the ball hard but I find it hard to control the direction. On the drive on the first tee I sliced off into the trees. I was lucky to be able to find it. The lie was ugly, but I thought I could hit it out without losing a stroke. Well I hit it deeper into the trees and it eventually took me four strokes to get the ball back onto the fairway. My father watched all of my slashing around with quiet amusement. When I was back on the fairway he finally spoke.
‘Adam, just as in life, it is hard to get through a golf game without making a mistake. I always think it is better to admit to the error as soon as possible, take your medicine and get on with your life.’
“‘Are you talking about…?’ I started.
“He just shrugged and opened his palms. The next day I applied to switch from Engineering to Social Work. I took a two year penalty but I enjoyed the summer and I found my life.”
She smiled. “Good advice”
“Oh, there’s more. Like the time I screwed up at Children’s Aid Society where I worked. I was mortified. I could not get it out of my mind. I could not sleep and it was affecting my job. He called me up out of the blue and asked me, ‘Do you know what the most important shot in Golf is?’ I said I did not. He said, “The next one. Forget the last shot, you can’t do anything about it.” Then he hung up. It was like a slap in the head that I needed.”
“Your Dad wants to stop the chemo. He says it’s not working.”
“You can’t tell this early. We need to stay on it for a few more weeks to give it a chance. He’s just impatient.”
Dad stirred awake, saw me sitting by the bed and he squeezed my hand.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” said the nurse and melted out of the room.
“So, Dad. Remember when you would tell me that once you decide on a club, you have to commit to it and let it do its work?”
“Well, maybe you should let the chemo do its job.”
There was a look of surprise in his eyes and I saw a tear forming.