The middle of 1992 was a very tough, turbulent period for John. He was isolated; his marriage with Tatum O'Neal was on the rocks, and our father was too busy managing the industry called John McEnroe to be emotionally useful to him. At one point, John asked Dad to back off a little bit. He told him, "I need you to be a father, not my lawyer or manager."
Our family circled the wagons and tried to help John work through his difficulties, although that McEnroe ineptness at communication hampered the effort. I offered to fly out to Los Angeles to spend some time with John, but he wasn't the type to unburden himself to anyone. We all knew that the greatest source of his anxiety was the custody of the two children he had with Tatum. Knowing her personality and family history of substance abuse, John feared for the safety of the kids in the event that the courts determined that they ought to be with Tatum.
I got along fine with Tatum, although I knew she had issues. When I brought home my college girlfriend one time, Tatum treated her like shit. Here was someone young, pleasant, eager to please, beautiful, and smart—a coed at Stanford. I guess that was the problem, because Tatum reacted like a child who feels threatened. I guess down deep she was like a child.
I met Tatum's dad, Ryan O'Neal, a few times. I thought he was a son of a bitch but he could be really friendly, too. He seemed very unstable, a real up-and-down guy. One time Ryan and Farrah Fawcett stayed with us in Cove Neck. I walked in to find Ryan in our little TV room. He was watching some news report about suffering children in Africa, and he started crying. He certainly had a tender side, but he also was into boxing and had a temper that made you give him a lot of leeway.
It was probably hard for Tatum to join our family; it's hard for any wife to marry an entire family. We were tight and bound together by tennis, something about which she knew nothing and couldn't care less. I don't think Tatum liked my parents very much. Because of her own family, she knew a lot about alcoholism; I think she felt that our family had that problem as well, but was in denial about it. And she was volatile, much like John.
When John married Tatum, he was seduced by that whole LA thing. It got him away from tennis, and into that celebrity sphere that was Tatum's world. In all fairness, I'm not sure she led him into it by the nose. It was just her life, and he'd fallen in love and started a family with her. It wasn't that different from what Andre Agassi went through when he married Brooke Shields. It's probably a lot more sensible, and certainly a lot easier, for a big-name player to marry a woman who didn't have competing ambitions.
John was a wreck by the fall of 1992, and he expressed what desire he had to connect with his family at a tough time. That meant tennis. He declared that he wanted to play doubles with me in the big Paris Indoors tournament in early November. It started just days after John and Tatum made their final decision to divorce, and he was so devastated that he was barely functioning.