Last weekend, Bernadette's golf team had its end-of-year banquet in Oxford. It's a time for the coaches to give out awards to the players, for the players to give presents to the coaches, and for everyone to wax sentimental and eat good food. On Saturday afternoon before the banquet there was a father-daughter golf tournament. I was unable to attend either of these in this, her senior year. And since it appeared the team's season was over, my dismay bordered on despair. But her mother was able to attend. Since the senior players and their parents are invited to say something if they wish, I sent along the following, which her mother read aloud to all assembled. We have since found out that the team has been invited to the NCAA East Regional Championship tournament, so I will get to see her play at the college level at least one more time. I could have written a book in admiration of this child - girl, young woman - but I don't think the crowd would have sat still for it. But I had to say something, so if you don't mind I'll share it with you:
Fathers are famous for wanting sons, little images of themselves whom they can raise to share their enthusiasm for football, baseball, basketball and beer. The kid might even become famous, excelling in some endeavor at which the father was famous only for his mediocrity.
At the risk of embarrassing her, I must say that when Bernadette was born, she was so beautiful I knew at once that I didn't need a boy. If you think she looks okay as she is, you should have seen her as a baby. I didn't care anymore about football, baseball, or basketball, though I have refused to give up the beer. And, as girls will do, she took up ballet at the age of three. I didn't care anymore about those other sports, but I didn't care about ballet either. She taught me to care. Eleven years later and she was still at it. She was a beautiful dancer. She will deny it now because she thinks her sister is the goddess of the stage, but her mother and I remember how she looked up there.
When I watched her dance, I knew she was an athlete, and it came as a pleasant surprise to find myself in the yard, at her request, teaching her how to throw a baseball like a boy, which she can to this day. This was much more interesting than actually having one, a boy that is. Imagine teaching a boy how to throw like a boy. She liked football and basketball too, and tennis and swimming and volleyball and...golf. Sometimes she came to the driving range with me, and sometimes onto the course. She had a lovely, natural, flowing swing that went on forever, but it was only for fun and she kept on dancing. Until one summer day when she was fifteen, at the end of a junior tournament series run by a local golf course, she notified me rather suddenly that she wanted to play golf. "And what about dance?" I asked. Her high school was starting a girls' team and she wanted to be on it. She gave up dance and never looked back, or at least she says she hasn't. Her scores ranged from the mid-eighties to the mid- nineties that year. The following year she took her team to districts, won the individual title with a 75, and was named the Orlando Sentinel's Orange County Player of the Year. She's been playing competitive golf now for a mere six years. I'd say she's done all right, and that with luck and God's blessing, far more lies ahead.
After that, all she ever wanted was to play SEC golf, and that dream came true. Others did not, but she can live with it. You work hard, show up for the next tournament, and maybe something good will happen. Golf's done a lot for her, and may yet do more, but let me tell you what it's done for me. It gave me a daughter to pal around with. She was my best buddy on a daily basis. We were always on the course or on the range, grinding, adjusting the swing, getting all the parts to fit. I don't know how many fathers get to have this. My guess is, not many. I've played golf on many levels - with professionals, with amateurs, with hackers and hustlers in the local skin game - but no victory, no amount of money, no one's companionship ever gave me as much pleasure as playing just one round with this kid. She never swore, never threw a club, never made excuses, never did anything to betray anger. It was eerie. You'd think double bogey and par were the same score. Watching her play, you can't know how much she wants to win. But I knew, because I was the one she wanted to beat. At first I gave her strokes, lots of them. Later, I couldn't give her any. I'd be standing over a one foot par putt and ask, "Is this good, Berno?" And she'd say, "No." In golf, as in life, she thinks everyone ought to be required to hole out. Nothing should be given; nothing's for free. You have to work for it, and even then you might not get it. That's life. She seems to have known by instinct, without instruction, that as great as golf is, it's just golf, and that when she dies God is not going to ask her why she didn't win the U.S. Open, but that he might ask her, were she capable of such a thing, why she rolled her ball in the rough.
She wants to win, but not at the cost of her soul. She has never wished anything but good to her fellow competitors. She wants to win, but on her own score, not at the cost of another's misfortune. Bernadette, do you remember that girl at the Auburn tournament who got the shanks in the middle of her round, her ball finding nothing but trees and sand and water, causing her great anguish, and you went up and put your arm around her and told her to forget it, that it was just another round, nothing in the grand scheme of things, that tomorrow was another day? After which she proceeded to make birdie after birdie, so that Coach Purdom and I suggested that, in future, you might consider keeping your mouth shut? Well, to this day, I know you did the right thing. And I'll bet that girl, whoever she was, still remembers you.
I want you to know that never once have you given me cause for embarrassment or shame. You have class; you're a lady; you stride the course with grace and dignity and an enviable calm, the source of which no one knows. It's your secret, and His.
My sweetheart, I thank God for you every day. At times I cannot believe that He has so favored me as to have put you into my care. Thanks for being my kid. I don't deserve you, as no parent deserves his child. God takes a risk on our capacity to love one another, and to treasure His gifts. Don't ever doubt mine for you.
I know I've put the pressure on you, but there is also something you must know: and that is, that as long as I'm around, whether you continue on this path or not, I'll be standing behind you, ready to bear witness to any who should doubt, that Bernadette played the course as she found it, and the ball as it lay; she made friends of her opponents, and of every loss a win, because, win or lose, she gave her best, tried to do the right thing, and never complained that the conditions were unfair. And when it came time, for whatever reason, to depart the field of play, she walked away with the same grace as she had strode upon it, knowing in the end that it was all just a gift, not hers to give or to take away, but only to receive for awhile, and that she had made her Daddy proud.
Love forever, my child
Posted May 10, 2003