My father is 84. He's lived in the same small central Missouri town his whole life. He worked in sales and middle-management at a brick-manufacturing plant for 40 years, retiring in the late 1980s. He and my stepmother own two cars -- a 1993 Ford wagon and a 2002 Buick with less than 50,000 miles on them -- combined! Dad's played golf at the same modest nine-hole club since the 1930s. If you look up "stay the course" in a phrase book, you'll see my father's picture.
My two brothers and I stopped talking politics with Dad sometime in the late 1970s. It wasn't an overt decision. We just figured out that our visits were more pleasant if we stuck to talking about the Cardinals and Mizzou football and Arnold Palmer and left Reagan out of it. As far as I know, my father's never voted for a Democrat in his life.
Last month, my stepmother called and told my brothers and me that Dad had early-stage Parkinson's disease. She said, "Your father's worried all the time. He's not the same. He's not even playing golf." If you knew my father, you'd know how significant this last development was. My father and his 80-year-old pals usually play golf every day, weather permitting.
My brothers and I decided we all needed to go to see Dad. It was also a chance for a rare brotherly reunion, since we're scattered around the country. I should add that whenever any of us go home, we take our golf clubs, so we can relive our youth, hacking our way around the old home course. Dad always plays with us.
Not this time. He came out and followed us around for a few holes in his cart. He looked wistful, but he was happy to see all his boys at once, playing together like the old days. He chipped and putted around the greens, but it wasn't the same and we all knew it. The rigors and fears of age had put Dad on the bench.
That night, we watched the Cardinals win a World Series game. Between innings, the now-famous ad with Michael J. Fox came on -- the one in which he urged Missourians to vote Yes for stem-cell research -- the ad Rush Limbaugh had made fun of. It was then that my brother Alan broke the 30-year ban on political talk.
"Rush Limbaugh is a freaking idiot," he growled.
There was a moment of silence. My father didn't say anything, but I think I saw him nod his head, just a little.
Bruce VanWyngarden, Editor