My parents took care of everything inside the house. I was left to patrol the perimeter, where I administered rough justice. Twisting the training wheels on Jimmy's bike (he never learned to ride without them) was a minor sport among the bullies. Frustrated, I went to Patrick's house and told his father that his son was the ringleader of the bunch. I was met with a blank stare and the bang of the screen door as he turned to yell for his wife to come downstairs. She never came. So the next time, I threw a rock and bloodied Pat's nose. Years later, my daughter got her hands on my old report cards and was delighted to learn that I got an F in deportment — with the note from Mother Marita Joseph that I was to leave the summary executions to her.
I still get furious when someone makes fun of Jimmy. Not long ago, a guy in a three-piece suit got in the elevator in my office building with Jimmy and me. Unfamiliar with high-rise etiquette, Jimmy made inappropriate eye contact. When Mr. Lawyer got off, he looked back and said, "Weirdo." I returned to his floor, hunted him down at his law firm, and told his secretary what had happened — to a blank stare. I tried to bloody his nose in a letter to the senior partner at the firm what had happened. I never heard back.
Because Jimmy demanded constant attention, I grew up partly in a state of benign neglect, which is vastly underrated by today's parents as a child-rearing technique. I didn't lack for affection and approval: the simplest thing I did was a joy to my parents. But I wasn't overmanaged. The only time I remember parental intervention was in seventh grade, when my father helped me bend a plant toward the light so I would have a plausible example of photosynthesis for entry in the science fair.
This was no doubt the most unethical thing he ever did — this man who never got so much as a parking ticket, who lifted his thumbs off the steering wheel every few miles to check the speedometer to be sure he was abiding by the posted limit — unless you count résumé inflation. When I was going through papers to organize my brother's life after my father's sudden death, I came across Jimmy's application to work at the naval depot. Under "Previous Job Experience," Dad wrote "Dishwasher at the country club." That much was true. Under "other duties," he added: "Assisted in the bar." That was a stretch. I knew the bartender. He wanted Jimmy nowhere near the maraschino cherries, much less the glassware.
The Church of the Good Shepherd was school, country club, and social center. My father was an usher at Sunday mass, and my mother ironed the linens for the altar; they chaperoned bowling nights and knew all my classmates. Like my dad (a non-college grad who used his GI credits to land a white-collar job as a contract specialist for the navy), most of the fathers in our parish worked in low white- or high blue-collar jobs.