A Pappy Birthday Indeed

Last Saturday night my brother and I held a surprise 80th birthday party for our father in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. This meant there were about 40 people present who had firsthand recollections of the Great Depression, the Second World War, and television before the writers’ strike. They shared with me moving stories of what it was like when a person could turn on the television and there would be more to watch than “America’s Hungriest Super Model.”
We held the gala at the country club where my father plays golf, and so when he arrived at the club around 6 o’clock for what he thought was going to be a light dinner before bridge, all of his family and friends were lined up on the carpeted stairs like it was the very end of the movie, “Titanic,” and Rose is being reunited with Jack. I am happy to report that the surprise did not, as one of his poker buddies warned me might happen, kill him. “You wait,” this fellow said warily as we waited for the guest of honor to arrive, “Tomorrow you’re going to be sitting beside your dad in the hospital.” I reassured him that my brother and I knew what we were doing: Two days earlier our father’s pacemaker had been checked out by his cardiologist.
What I found especially impressive was that more than three dozen of my dad’s friends and neighbors managed to keep the surprise party a complete secret for nearly three months — and these are people who my father sees all the time and who don’t have a lot to talk about other than doctor’s appointments and medical procedures. (And just for the record, there is no medical procedure they do not talk about. No orifice is sacred when you hit 80.)
Actually, one of the things that I love about my dad’s friends is that most of them are pretty astonishing raconteurs; most of them are very funny and very wise. The theme of the party was “Handicap: 80,” which really might be my dad’s golf handicap someday. But that was, in some ways, exactly the point. It would take more than an 80 handicap to keep my dad and his friends off the golf course. The point, in my dad’s case, isn’t precisely the score — though he is competitive and wants to play well. The point is simply to be out on the links three days a week.
As someone much wiser than I once said, “People do not stop playing because they grow old. People grow old because they stop playing.”
And so the day after my dad’s party, my brother and my nephew and I went to play golf with him. I have never played golf. When I was a teenager, I caddied. And whenever I visit my father, we go to the driving range and hit a few buckets of balls. But until last Sunday I had never played an official round. Well, the golf was at least as much fun as the party, especially since I discovered that I can use a three-wood to launch a golf ball like a mortar over four-story condominiums into parking lots. It was awesome, and by the fifth hole, I wasn’t even bothering to aim down the fairway because it didn’t matter: The golf ball was going to find pavement. I could have used a putter and the ball would have wound up bouncing off somebody’s car.
But I did appreciate the game — and I loved driving the golf cart. I would have loved driving it even more if my dad had let me try to pull some 360s in the sand traps, but apparently that’s not done. Still, I could tell that I had made my dad very happy by playing golf with him, though for reasons I can’t completely understand he wanted us to go to the driving range the next day instead of returning to the golf course.
I think next year we’ll have to do this again: Party, golf, the whole deal. If I spend a little more time on my short game, I might be able to get my handicap to match my dad’s age.
In the meantime, happy birthday, Dad!
(This column originally ran in the Burlington Free Press on January 27, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

2 thoughts on “A Pappy Birthday Indeed

  1. Neil says:

    No orifice is sacred when you hit 80.
    You can say, I can take it: Sphigmoidoscopy.
    All the best to you and your dad.

  2. BirthdaySuprise! says:

    Wow, you Dad is very blessed to have so many friends around who are still pretty healthy, at his age (among his many other blessings, such as a warm family, with two wonderful sons who surprised him with a great Birthday)! I hope if I live to be 80, these blessings will also be there for me; but I kind of doubt it. I don’t like golf too much.;)

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