FATHER'S DAY ARRIVES DURING CHRISTMAS

FATHER'S DAY ARRIVES DURING CHRISTMAS

From Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul The Second Round

Father’s Day Arrives During Christmas

A few days before Christmas I got a Father’s Day card from my dad, who passed away nearly three years ago. It arrived while my son and I were at the Palo Verde Golf Course in Phoenix. Palo Verde is a compact little course on Fifteenth Avenue north of Bethany Home Road. We started going there shortly after my mother died in 1997. My father was staying for a time in Phoenix, and his doctors told him he should try to get some exercise. He hadn’t been well. Specialists described his condition as coronary artery disease. We knew it simply as a broken heart.

My boy and I own nine battered old golf clubs between us. My father had left his set back in Pittsburgh. So we only utilized Palo Verde’s driving range. We’d bring along a few lawn chairs, and my dad and I would sit and talk while Sam teed off, hacking at each golf ball like a power hitter chasing a slider in the dirt.

“Why don’t you teach him to swing the right way?” I asked my dad.

“As long as he’s having a good time and hitting the ball, that is the right way, ” he answered.

He had been retired from the steel mill for fifteen years by then. When I was growing up, he coached baseball and bowled on a team from the mill’s tin plate department. Only in retirement did he and his friends discover golf. It got so they’d go out several times a week in the summer.

Every once in a while during our trips to Palo Verde, my father would get up from his chair and hit a few balls. Years of practice had given him a fluid stroke. He’d send a tee shot arching high into the darkness beyond the range’s big lights.

“That ball’s going to outer space, ” my boy said one night. “Maybe all the way to Grandma.”

When my father returned to Pennsylvania, he kept a photograph of himself and Sam in a homemade frame in his basement workshop. After he died, Sam and I took the picture home with us. We keep it in our golf bag and take it out each time we go to the driving range at Palo Verde, so my dad can watch us hit balls and evaluate our unorthodox swings.

The last time we were there over the holiday vacation, the frame my father made for the picture came apart and the photograph slipped out. While fixing it, I saw that the matting board on which the photograph had been mounted was actually an old greeting card. I had sent it to my dad years ago on Father’s Day. This Christmas, he sent it back.

During my father’s final days, my brother and I kept the conversation light. We knew he was dying. He knew he was dying. He had a stroke and couldn’t speak, so we said and did things to try to make him smile. To make ourselves smile. It was all a blur, and afterward a part of you wonders if your true feelings came through. Then you get this gift, this greeting card addressed to your dad in your handwriting that you don’t even recall having sent.

A person can be more sentimental in a card than in conversation. At least it was that way in our family. I wrote in the card about how I never doubted that my father would do anything for me and ended by saying that as a dad, “You’re a helluva hard act to follow.” The card is back in its frame now. Back in the golf bag.

When I was a kid, the first thing friends asked when we returned to school from Christmas vacation was, “What did you get?” It was a happy, hopeful way to start the new year.

This Christmas, among other things, I got a Father’s Day card from my old man.

E. J. Montini

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