"If I'd had a father figure," Bo says, thunking that arrow into the wood, "I wouldn't have strayed."
Did Bo ever think: Was I a man who came to his children's house those times of the year when there wasn't baseball or football, and left some multiple of $20 on the table? "No. No. No," he says softly, in rebuke. He was no A.D., although his schedule was pretty busy there for a while. "Don't you see," he says, "I had no father." Different.
"My father has never seen me play professional baseball or football," he says. Thunk! Thunk! "I tried to have a relationship with him, gave him my number, said, 'Dad, call me, I'll fly you in.' Can you imagine? I'm Bo Jackson, one of the so-called premier athletes in the country, and I'm sitting in the locker room and envying every one of my teammates whose dad would come in and talk, have a beer with them after the game. I never experienced that."
From Linda's point of view, the estrangement was faintly ridiculous. She wasn't going to deprive her children of their only remaining grandparent. She resolved to take the kids down to Alabama last year to see their grandfather. Bo remained stubborn and pitiless. "I wouldn't go," he says. He would hear from his five sisters that A.D. would sometimes come around, ask how Bo was, say he wanted to make up with Bo. The sisters would say A.D. was crying. He wasn't getting any younger; he'd been retired from his job at the coal-processing plant for three years. Still: "This was a guy," Bo says, "who wouldn't even make a phone call."
What was it Nick had said last spring? Nick is the Jackson kid most like his father: quiet, plays on his own. What did he say, what was it exactly that pushed this paradigm of fame into suburban anonymity? "Why is Daddy never home? Does he have another home with more kids?"
Bo didn't need any more than that to announce his retirement. He had been looking forward to his freedom ever since the baseball strike gave him a taste of life at home. And now he's the guy taking the kids to school in the morning, putting them to bed at night. But Nick's words also worked on him in another way, reverberated weirdly, and he spent a lot of time in his basement corner thinking about them while thunking that arrow into his work-bench. If he decided to be a father, could he decide just as easily to be a son?
"I decided to see my father after all," he says. Last month, after a hip rehab session in Birmingham, Bo drove to Raimond and looked A.D. up. "We sat down, had a long talk, and I told him the things that had been eating at me. Things are looking up."
And just a couple of weeks ago Bo was sitting at his workbench, fooling with his arrows, when the phone rang. It was his dad. "Sitting in this chair," Bo says. "Right here. First time he ever called. Took him 32 years to realize he had a son that loved him." Thunk!
Outside, in the afternoon sunshine, Bo goes and waits for the school bus to deliver his two boys. It's a beautiful autumn day, baseball teams playing, damned if he knows which teams or where, though. A soft wind creeps up, and the leaves skitter along his driveway and drift into the garage, forming small piles here and there. It's so funny that Bo almost laughs.