My Father's Game
by Rick Wilber
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Rick Wilber is the author of some wonderful science fiction stories, from ďRun Down WestĒ to ďIce Covers the Hole.Ē Many of his published stories revolve around baseball and are collected in Where Garagiola Waits, but one of the reasons for Wilberís consistent use of baseball as a backdrop is his relationship to his father, Del Wilber, one-time catcher for the Cardinals, Phillies, and Red Sox.
However, Rick Wilberís relationship to baseball and his father is much more complicated than simply that of the son of a major leaguer whose life revolved around baseball. In My Fatherís Game, Wilber collects a series of essays which reflect on his fatherís final year of life as he lived in an assisted living facility near Wilberís St. Petersburg home. As the physically closest of Del Wilberís five children, it fell to Rick to become his fatherís caregiver, a relationship which proved more difficult and contentious than Rick had any idea it might.
The book is subtitled Life, Death, and Baseball, and Wilber does examine all three, although the title is misleading. My Fatherís Game is not a biography of Del Wilberís life and career, although both are covered. It is primarily a look at an adult child coming to terms with an aging parent and the way disease can change, not only a relationship, but the individual who is suffering. In this way, My Fatherís Game is a universal book about any child who finds himself as caregiver to a parent.
Since the book is comprised of separate essays, reading them together proves to be somewhat repetitive. Many of the stories of Del Wilberís career are retold multiple times in the essays, some times in the same words. Nevertheless, that is part of a relationship, having familiar stories to fall back on. In fact, Wilber deals explicitly with those stories when he discovers that some of his fatherís stories, such as posing for a Norman Rockwell cover, arenít entirely true. Furthermore, that discovery, as well as the different manner in which Wilber and his father relate compared to the relationship Del Wilber maintained with his other children, causes unexpected strife between the siblings.
Most of Wilberís stories, however, held up. He did hit three home runs in a 3-0 victory over Cincinnati the night his daughter came home from the hospital. He did have a season in which he had more runs batted in than hits, he did coach several major leaguers before playing his first game in the majors, and he did manage the Texas Rangers, albeit for a single, winning, game.
Del Wilberís career as a baseball player was of prime importance to his life, and also had a strong effect on Rick Wilberís life, both good and bad. For the purposes of My Fatherís Game, however, it is simply a hook upon which to hang the more important discussion of dealing with an aging parent, whether it is Del or his wife, Taffy, who both Wilber men must deal with as she succumbs to Alzheimerís Disease.Wilber brings humanity to the role of caregiver, although it seems that he has written the book a little too soon after his fatherís death to have fully forgiven his father for the last year of his life and the demands Del placed on Rick. Nevertheless, Rick is able to give his father the benefit of many doubts. Wilber notes that as his father was suffering, aging, and, eventually dying, he also was working with his own son, who has Downís syndrome. Wilber does not fully explore the dichotomy of having parents becoming more reliant on him even as his son is taking his own steps towards independence, although a similar book looking at his relationship with his own son would be welcome, especially if it is as insightful as My Fatherís Game.
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