Monday, June 3, 2013

Captains Courageous and The Tender Bar

My brother-in-law and I started a book exchange tradition.  Every time we see each other in person, we will loan the person a book to read.  (We live across the country from each other, so we only get together a few times a year.)  We both chose coming of age books.
My first gift was Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous - a beautiful little tale about a poor little rich boy who gets lost at sea.  He is picked up by a fishing boat and is forced into manual labor.  Living by the sweat of his brow changes him and matures him and softens his heart in miraculous and beautiful ways.

Michaels' first book for me was The Tender Bar - a touching memoir by J. R. Moehringer.  Growing up with a single mom and without a significant male influence in his life, the neighborhood bar became his surrogate father.  Actually, it was both the people in the bar and the entity of the bar itself who fathered him.  They taught him how to play baseball, and they taught him how to drink.  But most essentially, they taught him how to be a man.
This particular neighborhood bar was an ironic mixture of a beautifully healthy community mixed with all of the unhealthiness of alcoholism and hedonism.  With that kind of surrogate parent, J. R. naturally had a mixed debt of gratitude and disfunction from the bar.
The most beautiful part of the memoir is J. R.'s coming of age process as a legitimate reporter.  He painfully learns that he must distance himself from the place and the people among whom he felt most at home.  But he does finally grow up and live into his full potential.  And he does come to a peace with his gratitude and separation from the bar, and that in itself is an essential element of his manhood.

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