Alzheimer's has stolen my dad, it's worse than death, says former golf star David Feherty
Former Northern Ireland golf star David Feherty has revealed that his father has been stolen from him by Alzheimer's.
The Bangor native, now a successful TV commentator in the United States, said it has been over two years since Billy Feherty, now 91, recognised his only son.
Feherty added that, in his view, what his father is going through is "worse than death", and that he'd rather remember the ex-Belfast docks surveyor for what he was, rather than what he has become.
The 57-year-old has a reputation for being searingly honest about his struggles with alcohol, prescription drugs and depression, but he has rarely referred to his relationships with close family members.
"I think Alzheimer's is worse than death, because at least dead people aren't around any more," he said.
"The vehicle my father used to move around this world freewheels on down the road, but the man behind the wheel is nowhere to be found, except in the memories of those who loved him.
"I want to remember who my dad was, and not what he has become.
"I remember him racing me up the steps at Ward Park on the way home from church and never letting me win until the day I did. I remember how loud he sang in church, and how embarrassed I was because of it.
"I remember the smell of whiskey on his breath and the rasp of the stubble on his chin as he kissed me goodnight and told me how proud he was of me, every night, and I remember pretending to be asleep, every time."
Texas-based father of three Feherty, who has a daughter Erin (17) with his second wife Anita, and two sons, 26-year-old Shey and Rory (23) with first wife Caroline, shared his vivid memories in a moving tribute on the NBC golf website to mark Father's Day, entitled: 'Letter I wish I wrote to my father, before Alzheimer's'.
"I remember when I was 17-years-old with a five handicap and I told him I wanted to turn pro," said the former Ryder Cup player.
"He told me that day that 'no matter what I chose to do, I was going to be great at it'."
He added: "I miss my dad, and I wish I'd recognised earlier that he was slipping away from me.
"I wish I had one more chance to smell the whiskey on my father's breath and feel the rasp of the stubble on his chin as he kissed me goodnight, for this time I would put my arms around him, and I would not pretend to be asleep."
Feherty, the middle child of three born to Billy and his wife Violet (85), dropped out of Bangor Grammar School at 17 to play golf .
Despite being hooked on alcohol in his middle teens, he won five tournaments in Europe, three in South Africa and came close to winning two Open championships.
He cites Anita, a divorcee with two sons of her own, Fred (32) and 30-year-old Karl, and veteran multi-Major winner Tom Watson for weaning him off alcohol.
Feherty said he has been off the booze for more than a decade - except for a two week bender when he returned to Northern Ireland for Billy's 80th birthday in June 2005.
The Unfunny Life of David Feherty tells in graphic detail how he fought and conquered the drink problem that threatened to tear his career and family to shreds.
In that interview with Golf Magazine, Feherty admitted that the fog didn't begin to lift until January 26, 2005.
He had spent the night before drunk and nearly comatose in his recliner at home and there was an empty bottle of Bushmills on the table beside him, when Erin, then six, leapt onto his knee, grabbed his ears, leaned her forehead on his and said: "Dad, you need another bottle."
"She looked so sad," Feherty said.
"I thought, Holy s**t! I do need another bottle. So I sent her to get me one because, why stop when you're not where you need to be? That was a turning point."
He revealed that after Anita saw their daughter fetch the whiskey she issued an ultimatum, telling him he was an alcoholic and if he didn't give up the booze she would take Erin and leave.
Feherty still struggles with depression, however, and takes a mixture of anti-depressants, mood stabilisers and amphetamines - a total of 14 pills - every day.
His daily regimen includes anti-depressants (Cymbalta), anti-psychotics (Abilify, Klonopin), stimulants (Adderall, Vyvanse), mood stabilisers (Lamictal), cholesterol (Lipitor) and blood pressure meds (Avalide) and sleep aids (Ambien).
Apart from his golf duties, he is a relentless fundraiser for injured American soldiers.