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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Tender Bar

The Tender Bar: A Memoir I've never really been one much for memoirs. I think it's because it feels too National Enquirer-ish like I'm being too nosy. But after reading Andre Agassi's book Open, written by J. R. Moehringer, I knew I had to read Moehringer's memoir The Tender Bar.

He grew up without a father which led him on a quest to find a man he could look up to and respect. I'm only 50 pages into the book, but apparently he finds such a man in his uncle who works at a bar called Dickens. And then he finds it the bar's patrons.

Sounds a lot like a Cheers spin-off.

It also feels a lot like my own life.

My father was certainly more active in my life than in Moehringer's case. I saw him most Saturdays after my parents divorced and we did a lot of fun things. And he always took the time to buy me books about things that interested me. But none of those things can take the place of having a dad around on a Tuesday evening when all you really want to do as a 10-year-old boy is to play catch with him.

Early in Moehringer's memoir, he tells a story about his dad calling him out of the blue one day after his mother prompted him to. Moehringer had never met his dad, but his dad offered to come and pick him up to take him to a Mets game the next evening at 6:30 pm.

"I was ready at four-thirty," Moehringer says in the book. "Sitting on the stoop, wearing my Mats cap, slugging my fist into the pocket of my new Dave Cash mitt, I peered at every car that approached the house."

Thirty minutes later, Moehringer's grandmother comes to the door and says, "I thought he was coming at six-thirty."

"I want to be ready," Moehringer said. "In case he's early."

To pass the time, Moehringer begins to bounce a rubber ball on the front stoop as he concentrates on the good things he knows about his father.

My mind drifts back to the mid 1970s at this point. My own grandmother pokes her head out of her front door asking me if I want anything to drink. I tell her not yet. I'm in the middle of game.

With sweat dripping down the sides of my face, I tap the tennis ball into my baseball glove in my grandparent’s front yard and throw my next pitch toward the steps leading up to the side door their garage. When you don’t have anybody to play baseball with, you make up your own players and you make up your own rules. In this case, the steps served as hitters. After throwing a pitch, the steps would shoot the ball back in my direction – sometimes on the ground, sometimes over the front porch awning.

If I fielded the ball cleanly and could throw and hit a nearby tree, the runner was out. If I caught the ball on the fly, the runner was out. If the ball got past me on the ground, it was a hit. If it got away from me it was a double or triple. If it went over the awning, it was a home run. I was always aware of how many ghost-runners were on base and my goal was to keep as many of them as possible from scoring.

I didn't feel sorry for myself. I was having the time of my life. But negative thoughts can creep up on you when you play baseball by yourself. Was I good enough to play against other kids without them making fun of me? I was athletic, but overweight. Would Dad be proud of the way I could throw and catch the ball if he could see me? Was I missing out on something by not having my dad out there with me?

I had no idea.

Back to Moehringer's memoir, "A terrifying thought made me stop throwing the ball against the stoop. What if my father, knowing how the whole family felt about him, didn't want to pull into the driveway? What if he slowed down on Plandome Road, checked to see if I was there, then sped away? I sprinted to the sidewalk. Now I could jump through his window as he slowed down and away we'd go."

Adapting, modifying, being hyper-aware they are common reactions for a boy from a broken home who simply wants the attention and approval of his father.

Moehringer waited until 11:00 pm that night. After the game ended, he finally gave up and went inside, pretending that it didn't matter that his father never showed up, but then he burst into tears as he and his mother hugged each other.

Thankfully, my dad was not like Moehringer's dad. At least I always had Saturday to look forward to. I can't imagine what would have happened if I hadn't had that.


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