It was 1992 and I overheard my dad talking to my aunt about playing in a company golf tournament. They both sold real estate and their office was hosting a charity tournament a few weeks later. But my dad had barely played any golf in his life and he needed to practice first.
“Can I play?” I asked. To this day, I’m not sure what compelled me to say that.
My seemingly random inquiry eventually turned into a family outing for a lesson and a full eighteen-hole round of golf. It turns out that golf is the perfect sport for a tall, lanky, somewhat introverted person like myself. I took to it quickly and was immediately hooked after hitting my first good shot.
It was a busy Sunday at the golf course with groups stacked up back-to-back. We should never have played that day and stuck to the driving range instead. Our family foursome made our way around the course in excruciatingly slow fashion. My dad spent the majority of the round trying to keep us moving along. It must’ve been so stressful trying not to piss off the group behind us while simultaneously keeping it fun for us.
I would hit it in the trees and my dad would say, “Hurry up and hit it again.” My brother Owen would hit a dribbler only a few yards down the fairway and my dad would say, “Hurry up and hit it again.” I’d get frustrated because I wasn’t able to hit the ball like I wanted to and my dad would say, “It’s okay, try it again and have fun.”
And have fun.
Hurry up and have fun.
We’ve been giving him a hard time about it ever since.
But now that he has advanced prostate cancer and likely only has months to live, the phrase “hurry up and have fun” hits a whole lot differently.
My dad was always trying to balance working hard and playing hard. Real estate agents tend to work when other people don’t, so he would sometimes miss Little League games and other events. But we went on week-long houseboat trips to Lake Shasta for something like seven years in a row. It was a blast and Owen and I looked forward to it every year.
I remember when I was old enough to drive the rental ski boat on my own, he’d throw me the keys and say, “No hot doggin’ it.” I have no idea where that saying came from, but I knew exactly what it meant. And I remember stocking up with supplies at Costco one year and he and my Uncle bought thirty thirty-packs of beer. That’s a grand total of nine-hundred beers. For a week-long trip. We had a big group going that year, but not that big. They lined them up in the bed of Owen’s Ford Ranger and had him—an underage kid who barely had his driver’s license at the time—haul them from the Bay Area to Lake Shasta. They still had twelve of the thirty-packs left by the end of the week.
I’m grateful that he worked so hard to create a comfortable life for us. We were never worried about where our next meal would come from. I remember one Christmas when he pulled Owen and me aside and told us the real estate market hadn’t been kind that year so the presents would be lighter. But we still got presents. I never felt deprived of anything.
In the back of my head, I always knew he’d be there to help if I needed it. And there were times when I did. Like when I racked up too much credit card debt in college or when my heater stopped working at the first condo I owned and I couldn’t afford to replace it on my own.
He provided an invisible safety net that I didn’t consciously realize was there until much later in life. It freed me up to pursue ambitious things like a career in music or playing poker professionally.
It’s a generous gift and one I want to give to my family too. I want my daughter Em and stepdaughter Sara to feel like they can do something bold in their life.
My dad’s oncologist recently took him off the latest chemo drug he was on since it wasn’t effective anymore. They’re out of life-extending treatment options now. He was in the hospital recently after experiencing chest pains and he needed two blood transfusions. The end felt more real when he later told me he gave the hospital staff his Do Not Resuscitate form in case things went south.
It’s hard to wrap my brain around the fact that this time next year he will be dead. I won’t be able to pick up the phone and call him to share my latest triumphs or frustrations. For so long, it’s been easy to look forward to the next time he and my mom would travel from Vegas to visit my family in Sonoma. But it’s clear now that my dad won’t be coming again.
In November 2017, Allison and I invited my parents to visit. They thought they were coming to celebrate my fortieth birthday, which was on October 30th. Well, they were, but the main plan was to tell them Allison was pregnant. I made a bet with Allison before they arrived that they would be looking at real estate listings for a second home by the end of the weekend. Sure enough, they had put in an offer on a place within a week. It’s a privilege I’m thankful they could afford because it meant they could spend more time near us. But it’s been tough for them to travel regularly with my dad’s frequent doctor visits and since COVID hit.
It’s not exactly easy for us to travel either. Em’s cerebral palsy and her history of respiratory issues made traveling during peak COVID times unrealistic. But as of the 12th, all the adults—my parents, Owen, his wife, Allison, and me—have been fully vaccinated. So I drove nine-hours throughout the night this Tuesday into Wednesday morning from Sonoma to Vegas while Allison, Sara, and Em tried to sleep.
It’s been difficult not to build up the trip in my mind into this massively important thing where I need to talk to my dad about deep, meaningful topics. We might have those chats or we might not. And with all the pain medications he’s on, we probably won’t since they make it hard for him to hold a conversation. But that’s okay. The point is to spend time together and be present while he’s with us.
I don’t know what it will be like as my dad’s body fails him in the months to come. It’s hard to anticipate. If the past couple of days are any indication, it’s not going to be comfortable.
But I know I’m with him now and I want to hurry up and have fun while I’m here.
Last week, I gave some advice to a reader in my new Hey Lyle advice column. This week, I’m asking for some advice from you:
If you were going to be losing a parent soon, what would you want to ask them?
If you’ve lost a parent already, what do you wish you talked with them about before they passed away?
Thank you for reading. If you liked this one, could you please give the heart below a tap?
Wise advice. I certainly wish I had hurried up and had more fun with both my dad before he passed and my son before he left for college.
I don't remember anymore what work was getting in the way, but I definitely remember and regret the loss of time with both of them.
I lost my Dad on March 1, 1999, from prostate cancer that metastasized first to the bone and later to the brain. One thing I remember and think of often is that he would see people that I couldn't see. One was a scraggly old man in overalls with a dirty white t-shirt who walked across the room. One was a little girl in a black pinafore dress and the last was a lady with a calendar. She was tearing the pages out and they fluttered to the floor. Dad would sit up in his bed and speak to these people. I didn't try to bring him to the real time but went with him. I asked him to describe what the people looked like and as you can read, I remember it well. The thing I wished he could have talked to me about was his ancestors. He knew that some were African American but never mentioned it. We had a good relationship as did my sister and he shared his early life growing up on a farm, time in the Army on the Aleutian Island of Amchitka, driving semi etc. I was fortunate enough to take one of the very first Family Medical Leaves and stay with my parents during the time we had Hospice. It was the very best thing I have ever done! I too gave his eulogy. That was tough but oh so rewarding. I think I paid tribute to him for he was a good guy.