What Dad lacked in a formal education, he made up for with his charm and ease. He was hired in 1958 by IBM, where he worked as a contracts negotiator on the B-52, Apollo and U.S. Navy submarine projects.
Dad rarely met a stranger he couldn’t charm. I remember one time when I was about 13, he took me with him to the mall. As we passed from one end to the other, he was smiling and waving to everyone.
“Dad, are you friends with all these people?”
“Nope, I don’t know any of them.”
While never interested in books, he would read — and still does — the newspaper until the ink fell off the page. I was a second-grader when Watergate was raging. Over breakfast, he’d read The Washington Post out loud and explain anything I didn’t understand. It was then, as a 7-year-old growing up in the Virginia countryside, I decided I would work for a big city newspaper some day.
Next to my mother, the dog, and me — in that order — the biggest love of my father’s life was golf.
The day I was born, he played 18 holes. That was back when men just sat in the waiting room. He figured he had a tee time that really shouldn’t go to waste.
He ran the IBM golf league for years, never causing suspicion when he and his various partners won the Watson Trophy every year.
Even before Dad retired, he had started working at the golf course as a “starter” or “marshal’’ — the guy who drives around the course making sure people are playing fast enough, and having a good time. The pros, Billy McBride, and later Billy Jr., hired Dad to work at whatever golf course they were running for the next 25 years.
In their retirement, Mom and Dad took annual golf trips to Myrtle Beach, S.C., or Pinehurst, N.C. He could hit them long and straight; she could putt.
When I was 16, we took one big family vacation together. We flew out to California and saw all the typical tourist sites: Disneyland, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Golden Gate Bridge.
Upon learning that Pebble Beach was just a couple hours away, Dad said he wanted to play. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he pleaded.
“Absolutely not,” Mom said. Greens fees were $60, and they had a daughter’s college education to save for. (Today guest fees are $495, and that doesn’t include the caddie).
Instead, we all went on a boat tour to Alcatraz.
Four years ago, Father’s Day 2009, while in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, he finally got that “once-in-a-lifetime” chance.
Our balcony overlooked the 18th green at Pebble Beach, with the waves from Monterey Bay crashing against the coastline, and sightseers coming out to watch the golfers.
Each afternoon, Dad and I sat on the patio, he with his Budweiser, me with my chardonnay, and we’d talk about our favorite mutual subjects: big band music and Zsa Zsa, the tri-color collie my parents had before they had me.
Each day Dad played a different course: Spyglass Hill, The Links at Spanish Bay and then, of course, Pebble.
We hired a caddie who pointed out Bing Crosby’s home, lined up Dad’s putts, and kept score — marking down a birdie or par on every hole, despite the bogeys and double bogeys.
“I can’t believe a little guy like me is here playing Pebble Beach,” Dad said, over and over.