My father-in-law, on the other hand, sometimes seemed to live down in the basement. His office, like him, was mostly about golf. The carpet was Bermuda-grass green, the walls were hung with maps of St. Andrews and framed New Yorker covers of duffers, and the various hats, ashtrays, hassocks, cigarette lighters, plaques, novelty telephones, and trophies around the room were shaped like golf balls, tees, mashies, mulligans, and I don't know what. In the midst of all this sat an enormous black Robber Baron desk with matching black Captain Nemo chair; an old, vaguely Japanese-looking coffee table on its last tour of duty in the house; a cyclopean television; and a reclining armchair and sofa, both covered in wool patterned with the tartan of some unknown but no doubt staunch, whiskey-drinking, golf-wild highland clan.
It is for just such circumstances, in which two men with little in common may find themselves thrown together with no other recourse than to make friends, that sports were invented. When my wife and I visited I went downstairs, flopped on the sofa, and watched a game with my father-in-law. He made himself a C.C. and soda, and sometimes, to complete the picture, I let him mix one for me. Like many men of my generation, I found solace when unhappy in placing quotation marks around myself and everything I did. There was I, an "unhappy husband," drinking a "cocktail" and "watching the game." This was the only room in the house where I was permitted to smoke I have long since quit and I made the most of it (a man's den often serves the same desublimating function in the household as Mardi Gras or Las Vegas in the world; a different law obtains there). We spent hours together, cheering on Art Monk and Carlton Fisk and other men whose names, when by chance they arise now, can summon up that entire era of whiskey and football and the smell of new Coupe de Ville, when the biggest mistake I ever made came home to roost, and I briefly had one of the best fathers I've ever found.
My ex-wife and I I won't go into the details had good times and bad times, fought and were silent, tried and gave up and tried some more before finally throwing in the towel, focused, with the special self-absorption of the miserable, on our minute drama and its reverberations in our own chests. All the while, the people who loved us were not sitting there whispering behind their hands like spectators at a chess match. They were putting our photographs in frames on their walls. They were uniting our names over and over on the outsides of envelopes that bore anniversary wishes and recipes clipped from newspapers. They were putting our birthdays in their address books, knitting us socks, studying the fluctuating fortunes of our own favorite hitters every morning in the box scores. They were working us into the fabric of their lives. When at last we broke all those promises that we thought we had made only to each other, in an act of faithlessness whose mutuality appeared somehow to make it all right, we tore that fabric, not irrecoverably but deeply. We had no idea how quickly two families can work to weave themselves together. When I saw him sometime later at his mother's funeral in Portland, my father-in-law told me that the day my divorce from his daughter came through was the saddest one in his life. Maybe that was when I started to understand what had happened.
What was I now to him? How can it have felt to have been divorced by someone he treated like a son? These are not considerations that comfort me or make me especially proud. I try to remind myself that in the long course of his life, I occupied only a tiny span of years toward the end, when everything gleams with an unconvincing luster, moving too quickly to be real. And I try to forget that for a short while I formed a layer, however thin, in the deep stratigraphy of his family, so that some later explorer, rummaging through the drawers of his big old desk, might brush aside a scorecard from the 1967 PGA Pacific Northwest Open signed by Arnold Palmer, or an old pencil-style typewriter eraser with a stiff brush on one end, stamped queen city ribbon co., and turn up a faded photograph of me, in my sober blue suit, flower in my lapel, looking as if I knew what I was doing.
From Manhood For Amateurs by Michael Chabon. Copyright 2009 by Michael Chabon. Published by Harper. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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