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COLUMN SIX | Father and son to a tee

BY JOHN PICCOLO and SAMUEL PICCOLO Special to the Voice T he son: On a good many days with my father, he couldn’t have looked forward to playing golf with me. The fault was all mine.


The son: On a good many days with my father, he couldn’t have looked forward to playing golf with me. The fault was all mine. I so hated playing poorly that if I began a round with a few bad holes I would quickly turn miserable—anywhere from slamming clubs, to cursing as much as I could get away with, to just plain sulking. It became so bad that when we’d leave the house, my mom would take me aside and tell me to try and not to ruin things. But I usually did anyway.

My dad must have known what was happening. I cared about playing well, and I cared even more about showing him that I could play well. When this didn’t happen, my frustration spiralled out of control. He would have known what I was doing because he was the exact same way when he was young. Hyper-competitive, ultra-intense, very hard on himself when things weren’t going right.

But even if I still hate three-putting in front of him, happily that phase of life is over for both of us. Golf continues to give a lot to our family, ever since my grandpa stepped off the ship from Italy and started a job on a grounds crew in Hamilton.

With Grandpa’s move to St. Catharines, the name “Piccolo” echoed like a yodel down the canyon of the Niagara golf industry. Whenever I played with my grandpa and my dad, one or both would invariably know the manager, greenskeeper, and half of the grounds crew at any given course.

At first, I thought all these people liked and respected Grandpa because they had no reason not to. But then my dad explained to me how he had earned this admiration. As superintendent of one of the private clubs in the area, Grandpa had a budget and know-how that was the envy of other courses around. “He helped out the small courses,” my dad said. “He could have ignored them—he didn’t need their help. But he was always generous with his time. That’s why people all over treat him like they do now.”

Today I’m a washed-up, once-decent junior golfer, currently happy to be in reverse retirement—golfing a few times a month and working all the other days. So take it from me: worry less about your score. Or, at least, forget about the last hole’s score when you step on the next tee. Pay more attention to the people you’re playing with, especially if it’s your father (or mother).

My maternal grandfather was a model for this. After his death, we had a memorial bench installed at his home course, with a plaque on it that reads: “Odds are, one of these putts will go in.”

What the plaque doesn’t mention is that for Grampsie these odds were always slim. Despite being great at most other sports, he was a dreadful golfer who kept coming back anyway. What I remember most about playing with him isn’t any of his shots, much less good ones, but how he talked to people on the course: the group in front of us, the group behind, the starter, the marshal—anyone around.

Almost all my favourite golf memories involve my dad one way or another, with some of the best being those late summer evenings when he’d come out and walk nine holes with me, the course empty but for us two.

At the top of the list is a club championship I played in a decade ago. A two-day event, I had played decently the first day but was several strokes back of the leader. On the second day, a Sunday, his only day off in the summer, my dad made an unsolicited offer to caddy for me. I was so excited that as I packed some in-round snacks I even peeled a peach for him—the only way he’ll eat the fruit.

I played wonderfully. My dad helped me pick every shot and read every putt. Even amid pouring rain and a delay, I had the day’s lowest score and nearly won the whole thing. I was upset at losing, of course, especially having been so close.

But I knew subconsciously then, as I know consciously now, that I’d received something more important than a trophy that day: the knowledge that it was better to lose having spent the day my dad there than to win all alone.

The father: It is very interesting as we age with our children how you get a better understanding of how you perceived each other as they were growing up. As with most things in my life, I entered parenthood without a plan or an instruction manual. You knew how your parents acted and had brief snippets of how some friends’ parents acted in certain situations. Pick up a few tips from All in the Family, Happy Days, Family Ties, and off you go.

Sometimes when trying to figure out what to do you forget to look for the answer right in front of you. What would you have wanted your parents to be if you could do it over again? This is in no way to disparage my mom or dad. They did the best they could in a very different time under difficult circumstances. But if you could choose your relationship with your dad what would it be?

Looking back now, I just wanted to spend time with him. He had a tough job with long hours. Some mornings when I was off school I would get up at 6:30, just to hang out upstairs in the living room in the hopes he would ask if I wanted to go to work with him. His job wasn’t exciting. I just wanted to be there.

Same thing in the winter, when he used to go hunting with his best buddy Ettore. Wait upstairs early in the morning, dressed for a day wandering the cold woods, in the off chance I would get invited along. I loved animals and was not a big fan of any of them getting shot, but for the chance to hang with Dad some feathered and furry friends must die.

I have to say in 25 years of being a father it never occurred to me that my kids would feel the same way. I was the only one of the four of my siblings who, as far as I know, made these efforts to get close to my dad. As my son Samuel started taking more of an interest in the game of golf and started to show signs of being pretty good at it, I kind of went in the opposite direction.

I made a conscious decision to keep away from him as much as possible and let him find his own way. As he started to enter junior tournaments, my heart would wrench as I dropped him off. I had seen enough parents load their kids up with unmeetable expectations and the life it sucked out of the game for the children.

Most junior events have rules against parents getting involved with their children during tournaments. I am generally in total agreement with this policy, but I also recall the day I caddied for Samuel as one of the most enjoyable ever spent on a golf course.

There are some absolute nimrod parents out there who should be institutionalized. These parents ruin it for everyone when they inflict their behaviour on their own children and all other participants in golf tournaments (and hockey games, and soccer, and…).

I have been very fortunate to have been able to coach Samuel and Lily in various sports and through this spend some incredible time learning of and from them. Our third child, Tessa, never showed any interest in activities I could get involved in. At music I am useless at anything but listening and, though I did a mean tarantella with the Club Roma junior dancers in my day, that is where my dancing abilities were put to rest. I took her cycling once but the “scenic” route I chose, full of Pelham hills, made her cry. Yet there is light on the horizon. She has now played golf twice in the last two years, which is quadruple her usual output. Perhaps one day soon we will do so together.

I realize more each year how meaningful time is with your children. You don’t have to be or do anything that is special to the world. It will be special to them. Happy Father’s Day to all.