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My father's passions were football, golf, my mother, gin (the drink and the game), baseball and newspapers. His philosophy for raising children was that they should be treated like thoroughbreds—allow them to run until they go too fast for their own good, then pull in the reins. While I appreciate the independence his method gave me, his third colt, my father's stance was that of a trainer, not a jockey. The closeness between jockey and horse was missing in our relationship.
In the struggle to gain my father's love, I went to great lengths. As soon as I was seven I joined the Little League team he was coaching, and Dad, not one to favor his own children—at least not me—made me the second-string second baseman. I played one inning all season and performed so poorly that after the game I took off my cap and put it on the top shelf of my closet. The next summer I took up golf; my father never asked why I quit baseball.
I liked golf better because the ball stayed in one place until I hit it. I even won a few trophies because I was good at extricating myself from the nearly unplayable lies I'd hit myself into. My irons were tops. I was, of course, taught to play by the club pro, not by Dad, but he and I did play a twosome once. He was hooking that day, while I was slicing. We were in talking territory only on the tees and greens, and then my father would be engrossed with his caddie (I carried my own bag), asking him what club to play, where to hit it or how much the putt would break. From across the fairways I'd hear them laughing.
I was 12 when I lost interest in golf and gave up hope of ever connecting with my father. That autumn he sent me to a Christian Brothers boys school. Many of my schoolmates' fathers had season tickets to the New York Giants games, as did my father—eight seats, in fact. I couldn't believe, though, that my classmates usually attended games with their fathers, and not just the bad games, like when the Giants were playing the Eagles. When my brothers and I were invited to a game—which didn't happen often—we sat in one box and my father sat with his friends in another that was 12 or so sections away. I rationalized my friends' good fortune by telling myself how awful their fathers must be if they had nobody else to take to the games except their sons. But by November I'd been embarrassed too many times by someone saying on Monday morning, "You mean you weren't at the game? I thought your father had eight tickets." So, in mid-November, when my father asked my brothers and me if we wanted to go to the Army-Navy game with him, I jumped. The tickets were my grandfather's (Naval Academy class of 1912), and he'd outlived enough of his classmates to get some of the best seats.
Those humiliating Mondays faded from my memory. This was the Army-Navy game. As far as I knew, none of my school friends had ever been to one, and while neither team was a powerhouse that year, Army-Navy was the game to see on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Even President Kennedy was going to be there. I was the envy of my class, and I was going to sit with my father. I couldn't wait.
The morning of the game I woke up to rain, and I saw my father in his bathrobe, his hairless neon-white legs spread duck-like below.
"You boys awake?" he asked.
"I am," I said, bolting upright. My brothers, who shared the room with me, groaned and rolled over.
"It's raining cats and dogs out there," my father said. "Why don't you guys get some sleep and we'll watch the game on TV."
"What!" I said, my voice cracking. "No, Dad, we have to go."