One of my most enduring childhood images is from a newspaper clipping. The grainy photograph freezes a lanky teen named Tom O’Connell launching a hook shot from his right thigh. Tucker, as he was known, led a team from tiny Merchantville High School in scoring and rebounding during an improbable run to the South Jersey Championship. New Jersey had its own version of Hoosiers in 1952, and for that one season, my father was his team’s Jimmy Chitwood.In February 2008, I arrive at a nursing home in the San Fernando Valley to visit the man in that photograph, a man I’ve neither seen nor spoken to in 20 years. Entering his room, I barely recognize the gaunt face. Where his right thigh should be sits a corduroy pant leg, gathered up and bobby-pinned. The spindly arm he extends to greet me is splotched with blood bursts. Once 6’3” and 215 pounds, he’s now a cadaverous-looking 145. The only cheerful note in the room is a balloon tied to the metal bed frame. His 73rd birthday was last week, apparently. It’s a detail I had long since forgotten.Like a man looking into a foggy mirror, my father strains to recognize me. But if… Read full this story
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