I don't think my dad ever dreamed I would play golf. He's a baseball guy. He was really good at it and, later in life, slow-pitch softball.
I played baseball, too, starting at age 5. Being the tallest and strongest kid for a long time made me, by default, a pretty solid ball player. It took me the least strides to get to first base, the least amount of power to hit the ball out of the outfield. My appearance alone scared enough teams that had never faced me to pitch around me.
Then two things happened: my growth slowed and I started playing against better competition. Not only did travel teams sport kids -- ringers, probably -- that were as big as me, but they had a better skill set.
The prospect of playing baseball year-round, especially as my improvement seemed to stagnate, was not all that thrilling to me. I gave up baseball before eighth grade. I replaced it with golf.
My uncle Russell played golf. He loved it. And, aside from my dad, he was the coolest guy in the world to me. So, when I was finished in the batting cages, every now and then I would rent a beat-up driver and smack through a large bucket of balls. I quickly realized I was better at hitting a stationary ball than a moving one. I took lessons, hit more balls and started to figure out I loved golf.
Because my dad loves me, he took up golf, too.
Like I said, though, my dad is a baseball guy. It showed with every swing, from his grip to the look in his eyes at imapct. He tried to grip it and rip it like he saw a slow-moving curveball float over the plate. In baseball, he has a 100-yard wide space from foul pole to foul pole in which to land the ball. Not so much in golf. Needless to say, the baseball approach didn't work so well.
Golf frustrated my dad to no end. It didn't come to him naturally in the way that baseball (and other sports) did. He had no problem picking up at double par, but he couldn't get past the fact that he wasn't a scratch golfer just by hitting a few buckets of ball and having a bag of ill-fitting, knock-off equipment.
I'd tell him, time and time again, that he shouldn't expect brilliance if he barely tried. The hardest working person I've ever known knew I was right. I knew I was right. Yet still, I never went easy on myself in the way I went easy on my dad. Unrealistically, I expected to crush it every time I played. It took me a decade of playing the game -- and the crushing reality that I would never be good enough to turn pro -- for me to finally enjoy the game.
Golf is a great way to bond with anyone, but especially your dad. It's you two and the course. In the teenage years, there's a lot of dead air, too, with the son hoping the conversation sticks to superficial subjects -- staying away from things like girls, college and anything about growing up.
With the passing of time, however, the kid realizes how they missed out on the perfect opportunities to pick their dad's brain on all of those subjects they so desperately wanted to avoid -- marriage, parenthood, making a career. I didn't know what I didn't know. Long before I knew the questions to ask, my dad had given up playing.
In fact, he went back to playing softball. One night in my mid-20s, I was out at an establishment enjoying my night. I got a call on my phone. It was my dad. He wanted to see how I was doing, sure, but he wanted to tell me he had smacked four home runs that night. For a brief moment in time, I understood what it was like to be him, watching me work through the struggles and reveling in the successes. It's a moment I'll never forget, a strange twist on a pride I feel now every day as a father to my son.
Even though the golf bug never bit my dad, I use lessons my dad taught me every time I play. Work hard. Don't give up. Never dwell on what happened; focus on fixing it. Treat other people how you'd want to be treated. There's always a reason to smile.
While I'd love for my son to some day enjoy golf the same way I do, I know all too well that the future rarely unfolds how we expect. But, I have to admit, I'd love for three generations of Ballengees to someday meet at the 19th hole.
It's the people are what make golf special and worth playing. Special people make life special and worth living. If I can be for my son what my dad is for me -- as a dad, caddie, friend or otherwise -- then where I teach him is unimportant.