My father in-law is a typically Caribbean man in a lot of ways. His “name” is Rugged. He is from the poor and black side of St. Kitts and grew up during the days when the English tricked a lot of Caribbean people into thinking that the closer you were to them in color, occupation and physical proximity, the better you were. He damned that whole way of thinking and came up with the distinctly Caribbean combination of poverty, pride, a burning respect for education and an impeccable sense of family values. Since I married his daughter, he and I have always been relatively close. In my mind, one of my shortcomings has been that I don’t drink and I don’t play dominoes. For a man of Caribbean extract to not do those things has not only lead me to a life of endless teasing, but I think may have put an invisible constraint on our relationship. Despite that, as far as black men in the 21st century go, having a father in-law at all is an anomaly, so being able to think about our relationship is admittedly a privilege.
Not only is Rugged really rugged, he is a life-long athlete…football, cricket and now golf. He is a real deal golfer. He wins tournaments throughout the Caribbean and is one of the recognized talented senior players at the Royal St. Kitts Golf Club. He is also one of the kind of men that wouldn’t do well trying to teach a sport to a person with no natural athletic abilities. He is patient with a lack of technical knowledge, but frustrated with a lack of talent.
Recently I’ve been encouraged to try golf. While I don’t drink and play dominoes, I do have the black man’s gene and am a naturally gifted athlete (with a Ph.D., smile. That’s in our genes too!)
My father in-law and I went to play golf together the other day while he was visiting us. It was the first time that we were playing together, just the two of us. Throughout the round he was giving me tips on this and that about the game and my swing etc. A few times he would say do such and such and I would, and the ball would take off as he predicted. Then he would smilingly talk about people who are coachable or who have natural gifts. All the while as we walked from hole to hole I was thinking that this is relationship building stuff. My relationship with my wife’s father could go to a whole new level because I am trying to learn a game that he loves and can interpret his instructions to produce immediate, and hopefully lasting, effects. I also learned on some of the walks down the fairways how much he detests the Colonial imposition on the mentality of Caribbean people. I am sure he can see my interpretation of those views too and how they have affected my parenting style.
As we approached the 17th hole he said, “Alright Mr. K, let’s par these last two holes!” I said alright and joked, “lemme lash dis ball wid a 4 iron, right now!”
As I stood at the tee, 4 iron in hand looking at the ball, I was thinking that a whole new level of relationship was on the line. Strange, what pressures and thoughts swirl through someone’s mind as they prepare to tee off. On all the other holes he had some comment – “remember to transfer your weight,” “try not to pop up,” “make sure you swing through the ball.” This time he didn’t say anything. The future trajectory of our relationship was resting entirely on me and on the trajectory of this shot. I’ve never been in a golf tournament, but I had my first experience of tournament nerves.
I brought the club back with a turn not a sway, which naturally shifts my weight to my back foot without knocking me off balance. I kept my eye on the ball as I brought the club down and my weight transferred forward. I watched the club hit the ball, which meant that I didn’t pop up and had stayed down long enough to see the contact. I looked up on the follow through which is the end of the natural swing.
Rugged immediately exclaimed, “DAT IS A GOLF SHOT MY BOY!!” “A thing of beauty to watch and remember!”
I made par on the hole and solidified a new trajectory for our relationship.