Fatherhood Thoughts at a Rainy Open
Signing books Thursday at the U.S. Open felt at times like being the clown in a tuxedo in the carnival dunking booth.
There I sat, after all, blocking the main entrance aisle of the cavernous Merchandise Pavilion at the 109th National Open at Bethpage, N.Y., when the horn blew, suspending play for the day because of a biblical downpour.
I was watching customers shake off like wet dogs, thinking idly about my children and missing them there on the eve of Father's Day 2009. My son Jack is working his first summer job as a newspaper intern at his hometown paper in Maine this summer. His sister Maggie is working as a camp counselor and as a waitress at a posh Italian restaurant, saving money for her big year abroad.
The rain sent hundreds of spectators scurrying either for their shuttle buses home or the relative dryness of the Merchandise Pavilion, where I palely loitered. Buying books was about the last thing most of them had on their minds.
They were hungry, wet, and -- being New Yorkers feeling gypped by Mother Nature's fickleness -- not entirely happy.
"Hey pal," one of the first guys who sidled up to booth said, water dripping from the end of his nose, "Aren't you Dan Jenkins?"
"No sir, I'm not," I replied, pointing to the two-foot-tall sign on the counter next to a neat stack of my new book. "I'm that guy."
"Dan Jenkins is a great writer, funny as hell," he said, glaring at my book. "Are you sure you're not him?"
"Pretty sure," I admitted, pointing out that Dan Jenkins is in his 70s, silver-haired, a Texan. Last time I checked, I was none of the above.
He shook his head, disappointed. "That's too bad," he said. "I'd buy your book if you were Dan Jenkins."
He started to walk away but paused. "So let me ask you this: Any idea where can I get a decent pastrami on rye?"
"Try the Carnegie Deli at 55th and 7th Avenue, " I helpfully said. "Or maybe you could just call Dan Jenkins."
I'm Dodson, He's Dobson
A tense-faced woman came up next.
"Are you James Dobson, the Christian family broadcaster?" the woman demanded. I was two-for-two in the "almost famous" department, getting my own case of the Bethpage blues by the moment, wondering why I'd come so far to sit in the rain. I politely explained that I wasn't James Dobson, the man who accused Sponge Bob of being gay.
"But if it helps, I'm a Christian and I do have a strong family life," I said. "Save for the name, similarities pretty much end there."
"So is this book any good or what?" she said, jerking a thumb at the cover of "A Son of the Game."
"Have no idea, " I said. "I only wrote it."
Tough crowd, these soggy New Yorkers. She sniffed and moved on.
So I opened up the book I'd brought along to read during my assigned signing hour. The book was a recent biography by Joshua Greene called "Here Comes the Sun," a lovely account of Beatle George Harrison's remarkable spiritual and musical odyssey through life.
Harrison was my favorite Beatle, the reason I took up playing guitar and probably the reason my own spiritual life has been such a nice magical mystery tour. As his biographer lays out nicely, George's odyssey from the creative shadows of John and Paul to the ancient wisdoms of the East is one of the most compelling and moving stories in rock 'n' roll history.
Whatever else may be true, the "quiet" Beatle's search for God-consciousness touched the lives of millions of us who see tiny glimpses of our own spiritual odyssey in his. George grew weary of the material world and never found the deep peace he craved, according to Greene, until he remarried and became a father and took up gardening, both rather late in life.
He also benefited from a close relationship with his father, Harold, a retired Liverpool bus dispatcher, and sat by his father's side as he was dying. In his old age, poignantly, George's father grew his hair long in tribute to his son.
"In May 1978, at the Harrison home in Appleton, George's father died in his sleep," writes Greene. "As he'd done for his mother, George now did for his father and sat by his side chant-ing, appreciating the love this man had given him and wishing him safe passage back to God.
"George had been a handful growing up, rebellious, defiant, dropping out of school and joining a band -- all against his father's wishes at the time. As much as his success, George's ability to remain a gentleman and lead a spiritual life had made his father proud. On the eve of his father's death, George dreamed that his father Harold came to him and bade him farewell."
A Visit by Joy
For some reason, as I read this passage in the rainy isolation of the Merchandise Pavilion -- a temple of modern golf materialism -- tears unexpectedly sprang to my eyes, probably because I did an identical thing with my own dad. I also had a very similar dream the night before he passed away in 1995, which I wrote about it in my first book, "Final Rounds."
Just then, amazingly, three Indian men walked up to the booth. I half expected them to ask where they could get a decent chicken Vindaloo. One of the men was beaming.
"Hello," he said pleasantly. "My name is Joy. I am just curious if you are the same James Dodson who wrote the book 'Final Rounds.'"
I wiped my eyes and nodded, not quite believing my eyes and ears. I offered Joy my hand, thinking how joy does sometimes come when you least expect it.
We had a delightful visit. They were golf editors from the East, India and Dubai. Two of the three told me "Final Rounds" was their favorite book. Joy said he couldn't wait to read the new one about my son because he had family, too, and felt the game should be passed along. One of the other men saw my book on George Harrison.
"Did you perhaps know him?" he asked.
"No. But I met his gardener once." During a research trip to England, I explained, I got to know a fellow from Kew Garden who helped Harrison rebuild his estate's gardens. He described him as one of the "gentlest souls on earth, a man who gave almost everything away to make people happy."
"Oh, he is truly beloved in our part of the world," the editor said. "He influenced so many people in a good way."
Three months after his father passed away, George Harrison became a father for the first time. He and wife Olivia named their son Dhani after notes of the Indian musical scale. For all of his fame and success, being a father, Joshua Green suggests, gave George Harrison the kind of fulfillment he never found as a Beatle.
"With a child around," George told Rolling Stone a short time later, "I can realize what it was like to be my father."
A Lonely Creature
After we'd exchanged cards and I promised my new Indian friends I would look them up when I eventually make my own pilgrimage to the ancient East in a few years, a mother and her three young sons came up to the booth. She purchased four books in all -- two for her sons and one each for their dad and her father for Father's Day.
"You're the perfect Father's Day gift," she declared.
Next, a woman from Maine stopped by to purchase two copies, one for herself and one for her mother.
"I probably know more about you than you do," she quipped.
A poet who said he taught at Yale came by next, leaning on the booth to share how difficult his life had been. His mother was dying and his wife had recently divorced him. He'd had health issues and -- worst of all -- his golf game was on the fritz.
"Middle-aged men are probably the loneliest creatures on earth," he said, wondering what I did to make myself happy.
"Pretty simple things," I admitted. "Good books, family dinners and playing golf with friends. My children give me the greatest pleasure -- and worry. But I guess that's part of being a parent."
I admitted that I was pleased to be going home to Pinehurst to host a weekend gathering at the Pinehurst Resort for parents and their children, a Father's Day gathering for families who share a love of the game. The only thing missing, I explained, was my son Jack, who was at home in Maine working his first job.
"With a child around," I quoted sage George Harrison, "I can realize what it was like to be my father."
The Banger's Dad
The poet gave me an odd look and wandered off. In the remaining few minutes of my strange and abbreviated trip up to Bethpage, however, several old friends from the golf world dropped by to say hello, including a legendary pro from Los Angeles, a good friend from years of covering the Tour, and several friends from Pinehurst.
Thanks to them and the guys from India, I was almost glad I'd come. By then, most of the spectators from the canceled opening day of the 2009 National Open had cleared out and gone home to get out of the rain. I purchased a golf cap for my son and made a mad dash through for the shuttle bus back to my rental car for a tedious slog to LaGuardia Airport.
In the crowded bus, I looked over and saw, of all people, the guy who was disappointed I wasn't Dan Jenkins.
"That was pretty funny about the Carnegie Deli," he said, giving a slight Tony Sopranoesque smile. "Jenkins would like that. I probably shoulda bought your book, too, ya know? Sorry I didn't, man."
"Not a problem," I told him. "You can have this one. Sorry it's a little soggy." I had one copy left in my drenched shoulder bag. I took it out and gave it to him. He grinned, his nose still dripping. He looked startled but happy.
"Hey, this is great," he said. "But would you sign it to my kid? He's only 2, but I bet someday we'll be coming out here to play golf together."
I told him it would be my pleasure. It's not every day you meet a man named Joy and get a personal invitation to ancient India. I was also thinking about how being a father changes the world.
"What's your son's name?" I asked, uncapping my signing pen.
"George," he said. "But we call him The Banger. The dude beats on everything."
"No kidding," I said with a laugh. "Wait till he gets a driver in his hands."
Best-selling author Jim Dodson, writer-in-residence with The Pilot, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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