Sitting at my desk this morning reading the news on my computer, I quietly became aware of a shaft of sunlight filtering through the trees across the yard. The chirping of a nearby sparrow sounded like a cicada in a Midwestern elm as it filtered into my consciousness. I looked up just as the sun shifted into a space between the evergreens, stretched across the yard and through the window to my shoulder. With that, the spell was fully woven, transporting me to a humid Indiana morning golfing with my father. We would tee off across a fork of the muddy Wabash River onto a damp fairway hazy with humidity, striped with warm rays of sun promising a hot day to come.
The emotion is what sticks more than the memory. A nostalgia for the few times things felt right between us punctuated by the crack of a club on a golf ball. I wonder if he felt it too, but recall that he was always the one who asked, Want to go golfing tomorrow? and I am certain he did. During my teen years there wasn’t much we could discuss reasonably other than how to read a putt or hit an iron. Golf was a sport I enjoyed, and at sixteen I could drive the ball well past his best effort. He could always chip and putt better than I, but for a few holes we were equals – until the round deteriorated into our worn routine of overbearing father and belligerent son. Still, we’d approach each new round as a new chance for us to cling to the brief hope that we might actually have a moment together free of conflict and full of the love we both wanted so badly to share.
I look out the window at the fading shaft of sun and wonder at the energy that rode it to my shoulder. The ache I feel in my chest is familiar. My father died eleven years ago. The last time I went back to Indiana I played a round at the old country club, cicadas calling in the summer heat. I missed a short putt on the fourth green, and heard his voice in my head saying the very words that would inevitably start me fuming as a teen: Take your time. Through the lens of the decade since his passing I finally grasped what I knew was true all along: he was right. I dropped another ball and took a breath, slowing down before putting it directly into the cup.
I will take his advice again tomorrow. I’ll skip work and play a round with my nineteen-year-old son on his day off, so I can recall how it felt as a young man to play with my father; and so I can finally share what he must have felt as I watch his grandson drive the ball well past my own best effort.
Patrick Dixon is a writer and photographer retired from careers in teaching and commercial fishing. Published in Cirque, Oregon Coast, The Journal of Family Life, FISH, Oberon, and Smithsonian, he is poetry editor and a contributor for National Fisherman magazine and their quarterly, North Pacific Focus. His chapbook ‘Arc of Visibility’ won the 2015 Alabama State Poetry Morris Memorial competition.