The boy and I started playing mini-golf together when he was about 5 years old. There’s a place down the street from ESPN where you can play all day for the price of a game.
It turned into our little hideaway — sometimes our escape from more important stuff. Once we played close to 90 holes in a row. Sometimes I’d even play on crutches after one of my many ankle surgeries. And one day, after years of attempts, he beat me to win a Derek Jeter jersey.
For a two-year stretch we kept a running tally of our wins and losses. And then each summer would end with the Back to School Championship Tournament.
We knew it was only miniature golf. But after playing full seasons of football, basketball, and then baseball, it was a relief to compete and not have it matter outside the waterfalls and green carpets of our place.
The Boy and I have gone the entire spring and summer without playing a single game together. Time has a way of stepping between a father and son. And for a 14-year-old who is already faced with dividing his loyalties between friends, other interests, and a summer weightlifting routine, Dad and his games sometimes must wait.
I wasn’t quite ready to end our tradition. Not yet. Not without first trying to pull a few hours out of the last Wednesday of the summer. And wouldn’t you know, The Boy was willing to switch up his morning for the sake of all those summers stacked behind us.
If the relationship of father to son could really be reduced to biology, the whole earth would blaze with the glory of fathers and sons.
-James A. Baldwin
This time we invited good friends as our opponents. Mr. Double D. and his son DD2 are real golfers, and it is evident immediately. While I’m worried about whether my club has matching colors on the handle and head, the DD’s were concerned with sizing.
Our advantage was in the simple fact that we’d been playing the course for years. We knew what time the waterfall would switch on and we knew how many leaves would fall on the 17th hole between shots.
An hour before they were to pick us up, I decided that we needed a trophy for the winners. I found an old golf ball, a tee from Dick Gilbert’s 70th birthday party, a block of wood, a Sharpie, superglue, and some stick-on letters. Twenty minutes later I’d put together the finest trophy this side of Lake Garda.
We were on a strict schedule as The Boy had to be at football practice at 2 p.m. Since we were the first group to start, I thought the first round would go rather quickly. But the DD’s are serious about their golfing. Mini or not, they were perfect in execution and form. They read the gaps in the mortar on the brick walls behind each hole. DD1 evaluated the slope of each hole like no other mini-golf player I’ve ever seen.
The senior citizens in front of us should not have been allowed to golf as a group of six. The sign clearly stated that a group should consist of no more than four golfers. I wanted to ask if they’d split into two groups. That way they’d move along quicker. I couldn’t do it. They were having fun. Laughing. Flirting. I think. It was me in about fifteen years — maybe with a clothing adjustment here or there.
Watching both boys as they talked with each other — who knows about what — made me think about the speed of time. They were young men, bodies too big to cuddle, but still able to relish a day out with dad.
For DD1, there are three more after DD2 steps from high school into the next part of his life. The Boy is the last of five. After three more summers of mini-golf tournaments he’ll be off to join the world at a yet-to-be-determined location. And I’ll have a whole lot of time to fill in.
Summers and high school years are way too short. Everyone knows that. The leaves will continue to pile onto the 17th hole. And the little boy will return in search of the old man who knew how to make a trophy out of junk and a summer day hide from the rest of the world.