Dad didn't look old. The biggest difference between him at fifty and him in his wedding photos at thirty- two was that now his hair went from black to salt- and- pepper, though with the same reddish- brown highlights. His body may have thickened up a bit, but it was still athletic— cut calves, broad chest, and not an ounce of excess fat. He was only five- feet- eight inches, yet he had been captain of both the football and the basketball teams in high school. And he watched his weight carefully, priding himself on always leaving a bite of food on his plate at the end of every meal. "Self- restraint is a virtue," he liked to say.
That afternoon, we both dressed in our tennis whites— Dad in shorts and a polo shirt, his arms and legs a spotty tan from freckles grown together with age. I had Mom's skin— a spotless pale that turned golden brown in the sun. I wore a sweatband on my wrist, and as I got into the front seat of the Mercedes, I saw Dad was wearing one, too.
"Like father like daughter," he said with a smile, and off we went.
We hit back and forth for two hours. I won the first set, and Dad won the second. Even though I was leading the third, midway through I started to worry about time. As much fun as it was to have Dad all to myself, I knew I had to get him back home by six o'clock. That was the whole point. "Should we call it quits, Dad?" I shouted over the net. The score was two to one, and it was Dad's turn to serve. "I'm pooped."
Dad had one ball in the front pocket of his white tennis shorts and one in his hand, which he bounced several times before saying, in a disappointed tone, "Elizabeth Morgan Welch, what's my motto?"
"If you're not going to do it right, don't do it at all?" I said meekly, embarrassed that I hadn't thought that through. Of course, we'd finish the set. Bob Welch's kids were not quitters! That was another one of his favorite sayings. So was "The only things you have to do in life are die and pay taxes," which I never quite understood.
"Right," he said. "Ready?"
He aced the serve. And the next one. I returned the third, and we had a good rally hitting back and forth, hard. I won that point and the third set and still wonder to this day if he let me.
By then, it was six and we were late. I kept a cool facade, but by the time we turned into our driveway, the butterflies in my stomach had morphed into slam- dancing frogs. Dad was still talking about tennis, and about how I should consider joining the Bedford Golf and Tennis Club's junior team that summer, as we began the ascent up the narrow, quartermile- long strip of tired pavement that had cracked in the middle like a messy part. Dad didn't see the cars until we drove through the opening of the privet hedge that set our house, with its gray shingles and hunter- green shutters, apart from the rest of the property. They were parked not only on the gravel circle in the front of the house but also to the right, beside the garage, and even on the lawn out toward the pool and down near the swing set. He pulled up to an empty spot by the front door, turned to me, and said, "Elizabeth, what is going on?" not in a serious way but with a smile as though he had a hunch.
I shrugged and said, "Let's go find out." I had practiced that moment in my head and was impressed by how coolly I pulled it off.