A Round to Remember: How Virtual Reality Helped Us Connect With Dad Before His Death

Oculus Blog
Posted by Dylan Pierpont
June 17, 2022

I’d like to share a story on behalf of my brothers and I—both as a remembrance and a message to dads and children reading in hopes you find your own ways to connect this Father’s Day. Time is fleeting. Make the most of it.

Image courtesy of the Pierpont family.

Golf was a major passion for my dad, Kurt. He grew up next to and played regularly at a local course back in the 1960s and couldn’t wait for retirement to get in his weekly (sometimes daily) rounds. Even after a long career, one thing dad always had a difficult time with was technology. It didn’t come naturally to him. Frustrations with the wi-fi or printer or, hell, anything with a screen was apropos in our home growing up. And it was common for my brothers and I to play the stand-in tech support role at one time or another.

Fast forward to 2021. With our family spread across three states, the quarantine had pushed us to try new ways to connect. That’s when we convinced dad to try virtual reality (VR) gaming. Walkabout Mini Golf became a staple in our family. As the lockdowns started easing, any time the weather interfered with his 18 holes he asked to borrow our youngest brother, Evan’s VR headset. Being one of the more patient of the three sons, Evan frequently helped dad set up the game in those early days. But within a year, dad slowly learned how to do the task himself and would shoot us all a call to hop on for a round or two. (He still preferred calls over texting. And he loved leaving voicemails. I’m still unsure if my generation knows how either of those work exactly.)

Some nights we played. Some nights we were busy, and on those nights he would golf alone in VR, for the love of the game. I, admittedly, didn’t call home as frequently as I should have. Our family group text was fairly active day to day, but it was when we played together that conversations, laughs, challenges, and victories started happening on a regular basis.

This past Christmas, we all flew back to Colorado to celebrate the holidays, and we all brought our VR headsets. Our middle brother Austin and dad took over the living room and I joined up from the kitchen. But as so many families experienced, COVID-19 struck and Austin and I had to quarantine in our upstairs bedrooms. We chatted with the family over video calls, and every other day we played a few more rounds, with dad putting away downstairs. Even in isolation, we stayed present with one another.

Dad taught us how to golf at an early age, first on mini golf, then the driving range, onto the par 3, and eventually the front 9 out at a course near our home. Austin has taken it the furthest. I can still get the ball to the green (eventually), but dad has always been the teacher. Always there to offer advice and critique. Always there to show you how to pick your clubs and read the green. In VR though, much to dad’s chagrin, we ran circles around his short game. He was always afraid to “bump” the digital railroad ties with his club head. That’s what over 60 years of muscle memory did for him. He played by the rules and he respected the game.

One of our last excursions on December 27th was on a newly-released course called Shangri-La. All of us were excited to try the new map. Dad was never a fan of heights, so the impossibly tall mountains and bridges made for some entertaining taunts—and a healthy dose of vertigo. But in true Kurt fashion, he worked through the nerves and started sinking puts. Hole after hole, he landed Par, Par, Eagle, Birdie, Birdie, with a few Bogeys thrown in for good measure and a hole-in-one on the 11th. When we got to the 18th, the tee box was roughly 60 miles above a green we could barely see below the cliff’s edge. Austin, Dad, and I were all pretty neck and neck score-wise, so this was going to be the make-or-break moment.

Austin racked up six strokes and ended one under Par. I tapped out a Birdie and finished seven under, but dad... dad landed his fourth Eagle and edged ahead eight under. “Yes! FINALLY!” he shouted. The greatest man I’ve ever known had just finished the first and last game he ever won in Walkabout.

We knocked out a few more rounds later that week. I had to extend my trip because of the isolation requirements, and we played the same way we always did—together, as father and sons. On February 18th, with much of the family re-distributed across the country, I got the call from Evan. Dad had passed, unexpectedly. He was 65 years old.

I still have some of those voicemails. I’ll be listening to a few of them again this Father’s Day. For a man that wrestled with technology, I’m certainly grateful he embraced a few of its more nostalgic aspects.

For all the dads out there, from our family to yours, this is a memory from a time I’ll never forget—and the wonderful experience that made it all possible. I love you, dad.

Dylan Pierpont is a concept artist and illustrator living in Seattle, Washington. Kurt Pierpont was an active golfer and drummer throughout his life and managed that lifestyle as a Type 1 Diabetic. Any donations can be directed to the American Diabetes Association in his name via: bit.ly/t1dkwp

Image courtesy of the Pierpont family.