A bowler contemplates a golfing son

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I grew up in a world that divided people into two classes: bowlers and golfers. In my working-class New Jersey neighborhood, bowling carried the day. My dad longed for Friday night at the alley as a deer longs for running water.

Golfing was unheard of. Golfers were the purview of the country club. They lived a bit farther uptown, a bit farther uphill, in a more rarefied world I seldom glimpsed.

My father never judged a man on the basis of his pastimes; the closest he ever came to sniffing at golf was when he read me a blurb from the newspaper one day, to the effect that experts had concluded that it was more difficult to bowl a perfect game than to sink a hole in one. Then he nodded sagaciously, as if he had just read the most self-evident truth in the world.

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I was thus duly shocked when, recently, my teenage son planted himself in front of the TV to watch, of all things, a golf match. "You're kidding," I blurted out as I passed through the living room, immediately knowing that I had said the wrong thing.

"What?" asked Alyosha.

I swallowed hard. "Well," I stumbled. "You're watching golf. On television."

"It's interesting," he said, and I could do no more than skulk off to chambers to ponder this development in solitude.

I soon learned to accept my son's new interest, of course, but I was unprepared for its manifestations. One day, while doing some housework, I was jolted by a harsh crack at the kitchen window. I ran to the door and saw my son standing in the middle of the yard in a perfect post-swing stance, his legs crossed and a golf club wrapped over his left shoulder. "Sorry," he said. "I wasn't aiming for the house."

The next morning as I left for work, I was stopped cold in my tracks by the sight of a field of little white flags peppering the backyard. "Alyosha!" I called out, and within the instant he was at my side. "What on earth is going on?"

Almost bursting with pride, he explained how he had affixed scraps of an old T-shirt to sticks and planted each by its own little freshly dug hole. "It's a golf course, Dad," he announced. "For practice. Isn't it cool?"

All of this has been difficult for a bowler to accept.

Unlike my father, I had no trouble voicing my disdain for golf. I had always viewed it as a rather aimless pursuit: driving a tiny ball as far as possible into the wild blue yonder, then hiking off to find where on earth it went. The bowling alley seemed so much more self-contained and orderly than the golf course: The gutters and the little imprinted arrows on the alley pointed the way to success. Anyone could do it, and it therefore struck me as more democratic, more American, than golf.

Of course, as a modern parent I have read all the right books, and I quickly decided to take an interest in my son's new avocation, for fear that not doing so would mean irreversible estrangement.

And so, gathering my strength one day, I approached Alyosha as he watched a televised golf tournament from his position of repose on the sofa. I waited for an appropriate lull (and in golf they are legion) to ask, "Now, just what is a 'birdie'?"

"Shhh!" he hissed with raised hand as one of the pros hovered over a putt. A few moments later, after the drama of the shot had passed, my son, without batting an eye, said, "One under par."

I decided not to ask any more questions, but to simply keep my mouth shut and watch the match with him. In the 10 minutes I managed to sit relatively still, almost nothing of note happened. "It seems so ... so quiet," I finally muttered, narrowly avoiding the word "boring."

Again, without so much as averting his eyes, my son replied, "That's because you don't understand."

Perhaps he was right. I didn't understand the game, but I eventually had the patient restraint to understand the hold it had on my son. Golf, for a moment in his young life at least, had become an unstoppable force. I decided that my best bet was to step aside and give it right of way.

And so it was with graceful acceptance that I drove Alyosha to the local golf course the next day. I unloaded my son and his borrowed equipment from the truck, his golf bag bristling with putters, drivers, and wedges.

I watched as he swaggered off toward the expansive, vibrant green of the fairway, pulling his little wheeled bag behind him, his face bright and angled toward the sun. If I hadn't known better, I wouldn't have recognized my boy in baggy pants, polo shirt, and ball cap, moving along with a bounce in his step and one hand buried in a pocket, this young duffer of mine, in the full flower of his fourteenth year.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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