A Valentine's Day Story
Life is about telling your children that you love them every chance you get.
When I was twelve years old, my father abandoned me, my mother and my two younger siblings, condemning us to several years of welfare checks, heatless winters, evictions, hunger pains and public ridicule. I never thought I would forgive him, but over the years we established a tenuous relationship, the connection being our love for the game of golf. Ultimately, after a few martinis at the 19th hole, Dad would confess that he had been a terrible father and that he hoped to somehow make it up to me one day. I still harbored ill feelings towards him, but over time I learned a little more about why he had left us, although that didn’t excuse his not supporting us.
In 1990, as he approached his 60th birthday, I was cognizant more than ever of how the male members of our family had a history dying young and it hit me that my father, a seriously overweight smoker, might be pushing that envelope. With that thought in mind, I decided to take a leap of faith.
On June 23, 1990, we had a small birthday party for Dad. Towards evening’s end, I handed him his birthday card. He skipped past the Hallmark greeting and focused on the note inside:
“Dear Dad, congratulations on your 60th birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we invite you to join us for five days at Pebble Beach – all expenses paid.” He read it several times, occasionally glancing up at me. Then his hands started trembling and he left the room quickly, lest he display any emotions.
Several weeks earlier, I had talked to my brother Robert and step-brother Sean about this birthday gift and they quickly bought in. My wife, although conscious of the incredible cost of this gift, understood why I needed to do it. Eventually, I wound up paying for the entire week, a bill I am probably still paying off - but it was worth every dime.
We flew into Monterey Airport in February, 1991, grabbed a cab and headed for Pebble Beach via the breathtaking 17 Mile Drive. After checking in, we walked up to Room 5 and gasped in unison as we looked out the big picture windows overlooking Pebble’s famous 18th fairway. Later on, after being joined by my brother-in-law from San Luis Obispo, we went into town for dinner and, on a lark, rented a video camera that practically took two people to carry.
The next morning, sweating bullets despite the cool Pacific air, we all managed to get off the first tee with at least 50 sets of eyes watching us very closely. We leapt into our electric carts to escape and, once in the clear, started passing the camera around to record the day’s events.
It was a pristine, crystal blue day, matching my father’s new, bright-blue Pebble Beach visor. We made our way through the first six holes, then lost our collective breaths as we arrived at the tee at the 7th hole, one of the most scenic holes in all of golf. The next few holes along the coast were a magnificent blur, but the camera kept running, reminding us later on that we had actually played those holes.
At the tee box on 18th, we again had to pause to soak it all in. Sean walked behind us and filmed Dad and me as we smoked our drives down the middle of the world’s most famous finishing hole. When my ball landed 40 yards past him, I couldn’t help but gloat “Hey, Dad, you’re away!”
Sean pushed his drive to the right and, after locating his ball, grabbed the camera and started filming again. With a steady hand, he captured my father and I walking side by side up the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach, looking as if we were both challenging the course record. But then we noticed the camera and, not able to resist, removed our visors and waved to the imaginary crowd that was roaring in our heads. It’s an image for a lifetime. Every year in early February, I sneak downstairs to watch that film and privately allow the tears to flow.
At week’s end, my father and Sean had to catch a separate flight to New York. I sensed that the goodbyes were going to be awkward. Sean and I exchanged firm, manly handshakes. I then turned to my father, still wearing his new Pebble Beach visor. I reached out my hand and could see his eyes welling up. He ignored my hand and put his arms around me. “I’ll never forget this, Ronnie. I love you very much.”
It was the first time my father had ever told me that he loved me.
“I love you too, Dad,” I choked.
In his few remaining years, we exchanged more “I love yous.” Before he died in 1997, he tried hard to make up for lost time with me and became a wonderful grandfather to my two sons. We enjoyed an occasional round of golf and I still relished telling him that he was “away.” His Pebble Beach visor now has an honored place in my study.
In the ensuing years, I got to play a lot of golf with my two sons at Mount Vernon Country Club. It’s not Pebble Beach, but I’ve learned that it’s not the venue that makes golfing with your sons so special. It’s slapping the ball around in all sorts of directions, laughing at a three putt from 10 feet, exchanging high fives after a birdie and hearing them reminding me that “Hey, Dad, you’re away.”
That week at Pebble Beach taught me that life is about telling your children that you love them.
And I do it every chance I get.