Leonard Zwelling

My seventy-fifth birthday is right around the corner. The BW asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday. Did I want to go somewhere or do something special? Yes, I answered. I want to spend my 75th birthday in Israel. And, so the plan is set.

It’s a great gift, as much to myself as from anyone else as I did the planning and the arranging. The BW is our air traffic controller and she booked the seats on Turkish Air. We leave July 11 for seventeen days in Israel and Jordan. Our great guide Gil Regev says that despite this being our fifth visit to Israel (the BW’s sixth), we really cannot know the history or even understand the present without going to Jordan. Having been to the West Bank several times and all over Israel, it was definitely time to head to Amman, Petra (we went once on a day trip in 1999), and Wadi Rum.

The planning of this gift trip has put me in mind of what the best gifts I ever received were. The bike when I was ten was good. The puppy when I was twelve and my first car when I entered medical school, but these are the material things. The truly great gifts were something more.

My father gave me many gifts over our 52 years together, but two stand out as being unequalled and very separate from the usual things gifted to one’s children.

The first great gift my father gave me was golf. It is now over 60 years since he first put a club in my hand and taught me how to swing it. Now what gift lasts that long—a lifetime? There really is no game like golf. First, you can play by yourself. In fact, me, myself, and I make up most of my favorite foursome along with the BW. Son, Andrew is next.

Playing golf you get to spend time outside in green space. What could be better? Because of the handicap system, you can have a friendly match with people much better than you or not as good. You can’t work that out in tennis. In theory, Tiger Woods and I could compete in a match. He would have to give me about 25 strokes, but we could play that match. Even on my best day playing high school doubles, I couldn’t even step on the tennis court with Serena.

Golf is the gift my father gave me that was his best, but it was not his most thoughtful.

That gift I discovered a few days after he died and I made it to Florida for his funeral. There, on his desk, was a complete list of all his assets, who to call, the phone numbers, and the needed identification numbers. He had also prepared for his funeral, burial, and that of my mother as well who at that point was suffering from dementia and could not help my sister and me get their affairs in order. But, the affairs were in order. There was nothing for us to do.

Now that was a true gift of love. It so overwhelmed me that I have done the same for my kids. The will is done. The advanced directives are written. The burial plots are paid for. The necessary arrangements are made for both the BW and me. You over 50 might consider this strategy.

These two gifts from my father were the greatest gifts I have ever received from anyone and I have been blessed throughout my life with great friends, family, and doctors all of whom gave me great gifts including my life itself.

So, excuse me while I wait to tee off on number one. I want to get as many rounds in as I can before I gift my sons with the gift like my father’s second.

I don’t know how many more rounds of golf I have to play. But I know what I want. Just one more. Fore!

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:,

on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle,


directly from the publisher Dorrance at:

4 thoughts on “Gifts”

  1. First, a blessed birthday trip to Israel and Jordan. We were in both countries last fall and loved the environs, the history, the people, and the cuisine. I prayed at the Western Wall, a moving spiritual experience by all measures.
    Your two gifts are so special. My father was an excellent golfer until age 86, but my mother was a tennis player and put a Jack Kramer racquet in my hands at age 14 and sent me to Oglebay Park to learn a game that we still play almost every day. We all need a sport that gets us outdoors. (I am not certain how a handicap would work in tennis, but I am thinking about it. It could happen.)
    Finally, my father did the same as your father in planning for his death. It alleviates so much stress when the loss occurs. We are following his lead and looking for our final resting place in Castine, Maine. (The cemetery is literally adjacent to our forest and home. Maybe we should just sprinkle ashes in the forest.)

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      There’s always the Duke Garden, but not an option for us Jews. Plain wooden coffin. No metal screws. Dust to dust.

  2. Gerard Ventura MD

    My father gave me the gift of music. Both parents gave the gift of education. Didn’t have a car of my own till I drew a real salary (as an intern), & never gave a 2nd thought about it, didn’t “need” one till then.
    But perhaps the greatest gift my parents gave me and my brother was that, with various faults and challenges of their own, for us two they honestly did the Best they could.
    That turned out to be more than enough.
    As far as golf…does miniature count?

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