My dad’s enthusiasm for athletics infused my childhood. He introduced me to more sports than I have fingers. I was nine years old when it started. My family had moved into a modest three-bedroom home on an acre of land across the street from the back nine of an esteemed public golf course. My father had visions for our land.
As it was an L-shaped home, his first vision was to place a swimming pool inside the L, like snapping in a LEGO piece, to close the open-ended rectangle. In his youth, he had trained as a life guard. He taught me all the swim strokes, including a bonus: Esther Williams’s half-freestyle/half-backstroke style. I loved to swim laps, practice dives, make waves with a cannonball; with friends, I played water volleyball, floated on air mattresses, had splash parties; and if no one was home, I skinny dipped.
Dad and I spent hours together on the golf course. With his encouragement and lessons, my skill soon matched his, though his drives went farther. We had an after-dinner, five-hole ritual. Crossing our street, walking through the neighbor’s yard put us at the 14th hole. We played 14 and 15, cut a path through the woods to play 11, 12, and 13 (my all-time favorite hole, a par four dogleg with great birdie potential). Then we’d walk through the neighbor’s yard, cross our street, and be home.
His second vision was for the blacktop driveway.
It was like a blank canvas for him. He applied stencils and painted a shuffleboard court on one side; on the other side, he stenciled two- and four-square courts. For even more variety, my friends and I could hook a game net to posts across the driveway for volleyball or badminton.
The side yard he kept simple. Grass only. The space accommodated croquet’s wickets and stakes, football scrimmages, and playing catch with a baseball.
Inside the house, we played ping pong. He wanted a pool table, but the dimensions of the family room would not accommodate the shot-making. And mom said, “No, it’s not going in the living room.”
Occasionally, he and I went off-site to play tennis, or to the YMCA for racquetball.
When summer packed itself away, the yard space behind and perpendicular to the fenced-in pool area stirred more visions. Fall was for archery. Dad set up a target surrounded by bundles of hay, and I’d shoot arrows at it, and sometimes they’d stick (the bullseye was always safe). For frigid Michigan winters, he built a frame and installed an ice-skating rink. When my dad was 50, he took up downhill skiing, and I took lessons with him on the slopes (I was 13). This turned out to be his favorite sport. In his seventies he joined the 70+ Ski Club, and travelled with this group to New Zealand for the adventure of helicopter skiing!
By introducing me to all these sports, one of them was sure to be my best. It turned out I had the most talent for golf, though swimming, for the pure joy of arms slicing through water and legs flutter kicking, came in as my second-favorite.
He told me he loved to hear kids having a good time—their squeals of delight, their chatter. I’m like that, too. I love hearing the neighborhood kids playing, and watching them in the street throwing a football or baseball, or dribbling and shooting a basketball depending on the season.
Besides the sheer joy I got from playing sports, I made friends, always had something to do, and have valued exercise and being outdoors my whole life. I’m grateful my dad lived 95 years, and I miss him, especially, on Father’s Day.