Playing Golf with My Deceased Uncle

My Uncle Jerry passed away in February 2009 and I miss him every day. However, I seem to miss his presence more over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend which comes to a close today. Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday and we always spent it together. I recently wrote this tribute about him and how he influenced me to start playing golf. While we never played golf together, I feel like his spirit is with me each time I step onto a golf course in the same way that we believe the presence of the prophet Elijah is with us at each bris in the Jewish tradition. Here’s my tribute to my beloved uncle:

My Uncle Jerry began playing golf in his 40s. He really fell in love with the sport and encouraged me to take it up too. He regretted that he had waited so long to embrace golf and cautioned me to not wait until I was too old that I’d also regret not having started sooner. Unfortunately, he died of pancreatic cancer at the young age of 54 before we ever had the chance to play a round of golf together.

While I would have loved to have played 18 holes with him, he is very much a part of my own golf game today. I took up golf three years ago while I was still mourning my uncle’s death. I played my first few rounds wearing his FootJoy golf shoes and using his clubs. I could hear his voice before each shot I took. I heard his advice, his sarcasm, his laughter, and his disappointment when I didn’t follow his recommendation.

Golf Swing

Even though we never walked (or drove) a golf course together, my uncle dispensed influential words of wisdom to me about the game. On a few occasions when he visited me at my home we would go outside and he would take his driver out of the trunk. I’d take some swings and he would grab my waist or shoulders and correct my stance and swing. But more than offering a couple tips on the fundamentals of golf, my uncle taught me why he loves the game so much. Today, I remember his lessons as the Four C’s:

Calm – My uncle was a very competitive guy who could become very frustrated with his athletic performance if things weren’t working out for him, but the trick to golf he would say was a calming demeanor when the club is in your hands. I have found that to be sound advice since I certainly hit the ball much better when my body is calm.

Clarity – If calm is the physical trick to golf, then clarity is the key mental component of the game. My uncle was a family man and a business owner with a lot on his mind, but when he laced up his golf shoes he knew that he had to clear his thoughts and focus on the game at hand. Mental clarity is essential to a successful golf game I have learned.

Coordination – My uncle was always interested in the way the body worked. In order for a solid swing to occur, the different parts of your body have to be coordinated. It is imperative that a golfer understands how the muscles and joints are operating to ensure a coordinated strike of the ball.

Care – In addition to developing a successful golf game, my uncle appreciated the rules and traditions of the game. While he might have been lax in following some other rules in life, he took golf etiquette very seriously. He often explained how important it was to care for the golf course (replace divots, rake sand bunkers, and repair ball marks) so other players wouldn’t be negatively effected by your disregard. He also liked the centuries-old traditions of the game which include respect for other players, an integrity for score keeping, and adherence to the standards and values of the game.

It often pains me that I never had the opportunity and privilege to play a round of golf with my uncle, but his spirit has become a part of my golf game. In discovering my own love of the game, I feel that I am honoring him and our relationship. I’m grateful for the close friendship I had with my uncle and thankful that the sport of golf has kept us together in the years since he left us.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Uncle As Father Figure

The past three Father’s Days have been difficult days for me. I’ve spent each of them with my dad, but I missed my beloved uncle in a real and painful way. My Uncle Jerry died after a very brief battle with Pancreatic cancer in February 2009.

As this year’s Father’s Day approached I thought about the father figure role that many uncles play in their nephew’s life. I have a wonderful relationship with my own dad, but my relationship with my uncle was different. He served as a different type of role model for me than my father. My uncle was the one to take me to hockey games and for a ride on the back of a motorcycle. We went on day-long excursions by snowmobile or by boat. It was my uncle who taught me to appreciate an ice cold beer on a hot summer day and a fine glass of wine with good friends as the sun was setting.

While my father taught me to drive, it was my uncle who taught me to drive aggressively and strategically and how to appreciate a luxury automobile. Uncle Jerry showed me by example that hard work pays off. He also demonstrated the value of a good vacation away from the office and the importance of enjoying time with the family.

My uncle had his own children, but he still made time for me and his other nephews and nieces. Just as there is a significant role for a Savvy Auntie to play in one’s life, there is a significant role for a devoted uncle too. The uncle is an unsung hero in society.

As the fond memories of my Uncle Jerry were floating in my head and I was considering the ways he served as a complementary (not surrogate) father figure in my life I was called upon to officiate at a funeral. On the phone, the local funeral director explained that the family was not affiliated with any congregation. He also told me that the contact person would be the deceased’s niece, but that she and her siblings should be treated as the grieving children.

When I arrived at the house to meet with the family in preparation for the funeral the following day, I learned that the man I was to eulogize played a substantial role in the lives of his nieces and nephew. While his own father died when he was just a young boy and he grew up without a father figure in his life, he filled that role outstandingly for his own two children as well as for his three nieces and nephew.

I listened to the stories flying at me from all directions about a man who shed the “Uncle” title and became “Dad” to four children when their own parents were no longer available. I considered how many uncles fill this role for their nieces and nephews. Some uncles, like the man who just departed this earth, step up and take on a father figure role when the need arises, and do so with love and affection. Others, like my own uncle, serve as a father figure in ways that complement the role of a biological father.

Father’s Day was one of my uncle’s favorite days of the year. He loved to open his house to the family and barbeque for us. As everyone was finishing dessert he’d motion to me to go outside and we’d play catch until it was too dark to see the ball. Sometimes I would just watch him hit tennis balls with a golf driver to his eager Golden Retriever. Growing up, I now realize that Father’s Day for me was also a day to honor my uncle and the impact he had on my development.

Just as Melanie Notkin has reframed our understanding of aunthood, I encourage everyone to take into account the special role that uncle’s play in the lives of their nieces and nephews. On this Father’s Day, I will once again pay tribute to the memory of my uncle. Through his actions he was influential in the way I now serve as a father to my own children. While I am not yet an uncle, I know that when the time comes I will look to Uncle Jerry as a role model. His legacy will inspire me to take a father figure approach to being an uncle. In a big way.

Cross-posted to SavvyAuntie.com

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller