The good-looking one, the one in need, the one that almost was
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My father never played catch with me when I was a boy — a tomboy, that is. I played catch for hours after school with Skipper, Evan, and Sammy, my friends from the neighborhood. And when they moved away, I played catch with myself, bouncing a tennis ball against the garage wall. But my father never played catch with me.
He played catch with my small half brothers. He was in his sixties when they were born, but he played catch with them. When I was born, he was a very young man, and when I was a child, he played softball with other men on summer Sundays, but he never played catch with me.
My father never saw my half brothers with his eyes. A couple of years before they were born, his retinas floated free, leaving him blind. But when my half brothers were little, my father played catch with them in their backyard, on the grass whose green he couldn’t see. He threw the ball right to them, and when they threw it gently back, he caught it, clamping it to his torso, laughing.
My father never got down on his hands and knees to play toy farm with me when I was a child. He never set up the little white fences to mark off the fields, or made baa-baa noises for the little sheep or quack-quack noises for the little ducks.
On one of my last visits with my father, I watched him get down on all fours on the living-room rug with my little half brothers. I watched him feel the fences with his fingers and line them up straight along the edges of the rug.
“Look at this horse!” the youngest said to my father. “He has a broken leg.” And he put the horse in my father’s hand so that my father could look at it with his fingers.
My father was dying of cancer while he was playing farm. His legs, once thin and wiry, a runner’s legs, were swollen at the knees. His bones were frail as chopsticks, and his hips hurt. I saw him grimace with pain as he carefully walked the wooden cows into the red barn for milking, but my little half brothers didn’t see it. He mooed like a cow so they wouldn’t know he was dying.
My father never played farm with me when I was a child. But he never died when I was a child, either.