My dad just got his second tattoo, and although permanent body adornment isn’t such a big deal anymore, it blew my mind because 1) it’s on my dad, 2) he’s 80 years old, and 3) I haven’t even gotten my first one.
The tattooing of my dad came to pass because of a promise he made 10 years ago. He was bemoaning his golf game and in typical zen-like fashion wanted to clear his mind of the theory gleaned from reading 1,000 golf books (his library holds everything from the sacred advice of Sam Snead and Harry Vardon to P.G. Wodehouse’s golfer’s fantasy land). We were driving by a tattoo parlor and he said, “I ought to get ‘Just hit the damn ball’ tattooed on my left wrist.” Of course I urged him to go under the gun and he insisted that he was just joshing. My second tact worked: “Do it when you turn 80.” I imagine that he thought I wouldn’t remember our handshake 10 years later, but I trust a man on his handshake and reminded him of it often.
I didn’t expect my dad to set foot in an actual tattoo parlor one month before his 80th birthday, and it took me more than a minute to realize that he really, irrevocably, did it. After I was done laughing and crying and was able to breathe again, I asked him if he was the oldest client that place had seen. No; apparently there was a 90-year-old woman who requested “DO NOT RESUSCITATE” across her chest.
The combination of endorphins and those nice youngsters at the tattoo parlor made my dad come back for more. He didn’t want to reduce the ancient and royal game to just four words (his edited version omits the epithet), so he did it justice by drawing on the succinct advice of PGA golf pro Don January, who said, “Tee up the ball and hit it. When you find the ball, hit it again.”
The paraphrased lesson, then, is “Just hit the ball” on the left wrist and “…when you find the ball, hit it again” on the right. It’s a 12-word refresher course on golf, and perhaps on life, which is “just a little golf game,” according to a certain 80-year-old sage.
The last time I was home, my dad inquired when I’m planning to get the tattoo that I’ve been wussily contemplating for the last five years. I swung around to see what my mom would make of this, and she said that she thought it was a nice design. What th-?! What universe am I living in that my elderly parents are encouraging me to get inked?
Even though we didn’t shake on it, I have given up and made the appointment at Dogstar, and in a couple of weeks will call home to report baby’s first tattoo. Since the only way to rebel in the family is to not get a tattoo or not get arrested (“Get Out of Jail Free,” Independent Weekly, May 7, 2003), I have to get used to the idea that my tattoo is just a caving in to convention. What it also means, in a big way, is “I heart dad.”