As a child, I often spent the long idyllic summer evenings in Louisville, Ky. at Standard Country Club, golfing until sunset with my dad and brother Scott.
I say idyllic because nostalgia often makes the world of our past seem so perfect. And indeed, I do long for those simple days, when I had nothing to worry about but my next shot, and maybe where we’d grab that late 9:30 dinner after darkness chased us from the course.
But of course, for my dad, dealing with us two miscreants couldn’t have been that idyllic at all. Invariably, round after round, he’d end up “refereeing,” – that was the term he liked to use – as Scott and I got into drawn out arguments over our scores, the rules, or who had caused whom to hit a bad shot.
Generally, of course, these shouting matches would begin when one of us began playing badly. A skulled wedge or a missed putt might have actually been Scott’s fault. But why blame himself when he could blame me for walking conspicuously behind him just as he began to putt.
Conversely, if I was playing poorly and Scott was playing well, my first reaction would be to have my own temper tantrums. But once those had exhausted themselves and my day’s chances were ruined, what was there left to do but put an end to my big brother’s opportunity to have a good game of his own?
Faced with such theatrics, it’s hard to imagine why Dad kept taking us out for those evening games. I guess he still enjoyed them. Or maybe he just had no choice. It was either that or no golf at all for him on those long summer evenings.
In any case, as I am not a father myself, I got my closest taste of what Dad dealt with so often back then when I took my nephew Jake out for an evening nine in San Diego this summer.
Through four holes all went well except Jake’s sharp insults of my game, which in fact was in a bit of crisis that day.
On the 5th tee, though, Jake wound up, overswung, and produced nothing but a dribbling worm burner as he finished ominously off-balance, his weight on his back foot. Frustrated, he turned his wrath on me.
“Throw me a ball,” he demanded as I sat 10 yards away in the golf cart (I know, I hate carts, but I was nursing an injured knee).
“You gonna say please,” I countered, vexed by his curtness.
“Throw me a ball!” he responded, raising his voice to a full-throated scream.
“I’m not throwing you anything until you say please,” I answered.
“Please!” came his response, still louder.
And in that moment, I saw myself, age nine, standing on the tee, yelling at whoever was close enough to absorb my disgust at the game I nevertheless grew to love.
I relented, threw Jake the ball, and rooted for him to play the remainder of the hole well.
I guess that’s what Dad often did with Scott and me, even if it meant spending summer evenings as an amateur referee.