Commentary: Reflections Through A Golden Eye

Posted: July 17, 2014 at 1:30 a.m.

"Eleven to nine," I stated with intensity unusual for a 15-year-old boy as I tossed the table tennis ball across the table to my father for his turn to serve.

The scene was a battered table tennis table in the carport of our home. To play, we had to move the car out to the driveway then unfold the table.

The normally relaxed expression my dad usually wore on his face as he routinely schooled me in the art of table tennis throughout the years was replaced with a look of concern. For the very first time in my entire life, I was up mid-way through our match to 21.

My father was 50 years old and would be dead in three short years.

I am older now than when my Dad passed away of a massive heart attack while lining up a putt on 18th green after a beautiful Sunday afternoon of golf. My next birthday is in three days, which puts even a greater distance between the man and the memories I carry.

I have mixed feeling about such celebrations: What once was an exciting time of youth where increasing your age meant access to more of what the world held in store is now sometimes replaced with repetitive and depressing jokes about slowing down and slowly forgetting where you put your car keys.

But I still remember the burgeoning excitement of my younger self that all important day.

The year before, my father bought me a Stiga rubber paddle with outward dimples. The racket enabled the user, with practice, to place powerful spins on the ball. Dad always used what is called a sandpaper paddle, which is literally a wood paddle with sandpaper glued to the exterior. Slowly I mastered every spin shot my father knew and then learned new ones.

After winning a tournament at my high school, I knew I was finally ready to take down the old man.

The crack of the ball hitting his sandpaper paddle contrasted greatly with the "swoosh" of mine. Dad had on a V-neck white T-shirt with golf slacks. He was wearing a pair of brown dress shoes that had seen better days. You see, my father did not own a pair of tennis shoes; for these kinds of things he put on his worn dress shoes from work.

With the score now 16-14 in my favor, I glanced to see that his shirt was stained heavily with sweat. "I can do this" I repeated to myself as he tossed me back the ball for my serve.

With the score now at 19-16, I was now just two points away from my first victory. Suddenly my Dad said he needed to take a short break. He reached into his pocket to pull out his small capsule of nitroglycerin tablets.

I knew what that meant.

After his first attack at age 39, the doctor had prescribed the pills for his angina. He only took them when he was stressed. I watched silently as he put a tablet under his tongue. "Let's get some water before we finish," he said matter-of-factly. There were no water bottles in those days.

We walked to the side of the house and took turns drinking from the garden hose.

I knew Dad wouldn't stop playing, even with the pain, so I resolved to end the match quickly.

Two points later, I had finally won a game from the man who had taught it to me. Dad was not an expert in anything but he knew quite a bit about everything. I don't think he liked losing to me, but I don't think he minded it.

He was secure in his world and his faith, but he always yearned to do more with his life.

The author Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote that: "As your perspective of the world increases, not only is the pain it inflicts on you less, but also its meaning." My image of my father is two-fold: I see him through the eyes of a 15-year-old, strong and sometimes weakened, and now as a peer whose life is rapidly sweeping by.

Thanks to him, I take many pauses in that race.

And in a reflection through a golden memory I remember what he said to me after that match. "OK, let's play another!" "Tomorrow" I replied with a grin, "but next time I'm using a sandpaper paddle, too."

A slight smile materialized on his lips as we wordlessly folded the table.

Commentary on 07/17/2014


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