Academic journal article Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature

Daughters Watching Fathers Playing Catch with Sons

Academic journal article Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature

Daughters Watching Fathers Playing Catch with Sons

Article excerpt

My father, David, was born to Irish immigrant parents in 1931 in the borough of Queens. His father had a steel plate in his back, three scary stubs where fingers had been shot off in the Great War, and a two-pack a day habit and mustard-gassed lungs, courtesy of the trenches of France and the battle of Chateau Thierry, where, on July 18, 1918, he survived his eighteenth birthday. Grandpa had the classic Irish thirst, but he gave it up, at least temporarily, when my grandmother told him he must.

In 1936, the family moved from Elmhurst to College Point, where rents were lower; my dad's dad had lost his job as a surveyor for the city when a damn Republican administration, eager to give jobs to its supporters, instituted a physical exam and fired my grandfather because of his war injuries. Unemployed until landing a job with the WPA, Grandpa relearned the comforts of the bottle, and this time my grandmother joined him.

As my grandmother was fond of reminding us, with a reproachful glance at my mother, my father grew up the youngest of three sons, or--depending on how much whisky my grandmother had sipped--four sons. The eldest son, also named David, had been stillborn. My grandmother would whisper the word: "Stillborn." We grandchildren had no idea what that meant, and we did not ask.

My dad, because he was the youngest of three or four Irish Catholic sons, was of course destined for the priesthood, an expectation he duly agreed to fulfill. For a time, though, despite a heart murmur and looming celibacy, he was quite in demand as a dancing partner. In 1951, he went off for a Fulbright year in France and learned to speak like a native. On his return, he completed his three-month postulancy and petitioned to enter the novitiate to become a Benedictine monk, but the wise abbot of St. Anselm's Abbey instructed him take another year to think deeply about his calling. To the shock and dismay of his family, he accepted a graduate assistantship in the Department of Romance Languages at the University of Kansas, where he met my mother, another New York transplant and graduate of Smith College, college mate of Sylvia Plath. My parents did not date, because that would have been wrong for an aspiring monk, but they did ride bikes and, presumably, fall in love. My father's master's work included the study of the Old French epic Song of Roland, which details the slaughter of Charlemagne's rearguard by the Saracen hordes due to the treachery of the evil Ganalon. Eventually, after a wrenching yearlong separation during which Dad tried out St. Anselm's and decided that obedience was one vow he could not take, my parents married.

And then there was a stint in Army intelligence, translating for francophone Vietnamese generals and monolingual American military advisers in South Vietnam during the strange and furtive days before open hostilities. Against the wishes of my father and the U.S. Army, my mother arrived in Saigon, pregnant, and my sister was born in a fly-infested Saigon hospital, onlookers gaping at the astonishing length of my mother's feet in obstetric stirrups and the enormous circumference of my big sister's head. The three returned to the United States, and Dad pursued a PhD in linguistics at Harvard, working in the Artificial Intelligence lab at MIT, rubbing elbows with Noam Chomsky. Then it was another baby daughter, and a year in France, and a faculty appointment to the Department of French and Italian at University of Kansas, and then, finally, a baby son, and off to Europe again, Barcelona this time, where the Guardia Civil goose-stepped down the broad avenue of Principe de Asturias as my father studied the banned language of Catalan. I remember our pea-green VW bus dangling from a crane in New York harbor, waiting to be packed into the bowels of the transatlantic ocean liner U.S.S. Independence. And then a few years later, another year in Spain, same pea-green bus packed this time into an Italian ocean liner, the Michelangelo. …

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