Teachers’ Comments: Beautifully written, but more than a little creepy.
Walking With Jack: A Father’s Journey To Become His Son’s Caddie sounds like the heartwarming memoir of a family working together to make it to the professional golf circuit. It is instead the disturbing tale of a man’s obsession with his son’s pro sports career. What made it worse for me is that the author gave no indication that realizes how far he descended into madness.
(Reading the reviews of this book around the ‘net, I am apparently the only one who feels this way, so I am out on a limb of my own here).
At the core of the memoir is a promise made by author Don Snyder to his young son: that if Jack ever became a professional golfer, his father would serve as his caddie. Jack does indeed become a very good golfer and is offered a position on the University of Toledo golf team. At this point, anticipating his son’s steady progression to the ranks of pro, Don abandons his family in Maine, and moves to Scotland to learn how to loop.
A good portion of the book involves Don’s long stay in Scotland where he learns the caddie trade. There are some wonderful stories of his battles against the elements and interesting characters that he met. But the entire time I was reading this I kept wondering: what about his responsibilities to his wife and other children. How do they feel about this? Don is sending home every dime he makes, but I saw nothing of the emotional and financial stresses he was imposing on the rest of his family. They are almost ghosts in the story..
After some more—and somewhat unexpected—strains and hardships, Jack does throw his hat in the professional golf ring. Don once again abandons the remainder of his family and heads to Texas for a long stint on a mini tour.
Don’s wife is apparently destined for sainthood, while his daughters are to remain mere shadows..
In Texas, Don tries valiantly to connect with his son, telling his own life story, reminiscing about Jack’s youth, dispensing wisdom and—in my opinion—generally smothering the young man. This portion of the book has long shot-by-shot accounts of Jack’s tournament performances, interspersed by nuggets of fatherly insight and wisdom. Readers who are not golf obsessed likely will start skimming here.
Since there is no Jack Snyder playing on the PGA Tour, it is probably safe for me to reveal that Jack does not make it as a pro. But then, I think it was always more Don’s dream than Jack’s. There is plenty of evidence throughout of Jack’s indifference to the game. Here’s one revealing passage:
The whole time I shoveled snow I (Don) was thinking of all the miles we had walked together, side by side, on golf courses from Canada to North Carolina. Then I went up to his bedroom and woke him (Jack).
“What time is it?” he asked, squinting at me.
“Almost six,” I said.
“What are you waking me now for?”
“Golf,” I said.
I had everything set up by the time he came outside. I hit a few balls into the net while he tried to figure out what planet he was on. “I still don’t feel like I’m getting my shoulders turned through the ball,” I said.
“You’re not,” he said miserably. “You’re swinging like Nanny. What the hell are you using for a tee?”
I told him proudly of my invention. The ground was frozen too hard to get a wooden tee in it, so I’d cut off the tip of a rubber nipple from one of his cousin’s baby bottles, and it worked perfectly. “Pretty good, huh?” I asked.
“Jesus, Daddy,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re crazy and I’m going back to bed.”
He began walking toward the front door.
“Wait,” I called to him. “Just try a few, Jack.”
He thought for a moment, then came slouching down the steps across the driveway. I watched him hit a couple of drives—crushing, fluid blows that far exceeded my ability—before he handed the club back to me. “This is stupid, man, I’m freezing,” he said. When he got to the door, he called back to me, “Go to bed, Daddy.”
He was gone before I could say anything. I stayed out for a while longer hitting balls into the net while the sky over the cove filled with pink light, but my heart wasn’t in it after that.
There are so much room in this book for amateur psychoanalysis. There are Don’s insecurities, Jack’s indifference and two generations of unresolved father-son conflicts. In the end, I think that it is the son, Jack, who turns out to be well grounded.
What I took away from the memoir was that I am going to make damned sure to separate my own wishes for my sons from their wishes for themselves.
All that said, Walking With Jack is a beautifully written book. There are some passages that I will remember for a very long time, such as this:
And let me write this here so I can read it again someday to remind myself: if you get to live in this world and have the privilege of a little boy wanting nothing more than to be close to you, you have no right to ask for anything more ever again. Or to put it a different way: if you have been loved by a girl who pours her desire upon you and then places one stunning baby after another in your arms, then you have shared the sacred time and been granted immortality.
That’s powerful stuff. The book is full of similarly powerful insights and writing. Don lays bare his soul in this book and the journey he takes is compelling. So in the end, in spite of my seeing an evidently unintended and unrecognized dark side, I think Walking With Jack is well worth reading.