You could see a pattern emerge: I would reach out for a girl who appeared to be very interested in me; I would persevere in the face of obstacles both understandable and inscrutable; and then I would become upset when a girl wouldn’t cooperate with my plans. Despite the fact that I was getting no satisfaction, I couldn’t be stopped, and the frustration only intensified.
I think this is a time to tell you more about how it was growing up, to provide more background on why I felt I was a breed apart as a child.
My parents adopted me when I was three weeks old. I knew nothing about my biological parents growing up. I remember the only parents I’ve known telling me that I was adopted as early as I can remember. It was couched in the terms that I was special, that I was especially wanted.
My parents were fantastic to me. I have been extremely fortunate. I was a great fit for the culture of my family. I took to the values and ideals of my mother and father. My father was my greatest idol to me. He was such a brilliant, funny, generous man. (I could say that brilliant part because I wasn’t from him, you know?!) When he died in the summer of 2013, after a fall in the bathroom and bleeding in the brain, I was so bereft that I didn’t know how I could go on. He was my best buddy.
My mother and I had a different kind of relationship. I felt she was arbitrary and capricious when I was coming up. Sometimes I wondered if she really wanted kids. (They adopted twin sisters a year after me). She held grudges. I would do something wrong and she wouldn’t talk to me for a week. I didn’t know where I stood with her some of the time. She was not doing this intentionally, to hurt me, it’s just how she was. I think that style of relating to me, on top of an almost completely subconscious nagging about being given up by somebody else, caused insecurity.
This is how I was trained regarding a woman. You were supposed to be loved unconditionally, but it was a rocky ride. When I got into trouble, I would reach out for succor from my mother, and I didn’t know what I was going to get in return. That’s what I learned.
We are much better now. She knows how I loved my father, and she loved him. They were married for 53 years. He’d had terrible health problems since the beginning of the 1970’s, and doctors did not expect him to live past 50. He was 83 when he died. He was a tough old coot, and he was a bag of bones when he left us. I watched him die. I was right there. I asked him if he could hear me. His last word was “Yeah.” I was telling him that I loved him.
I think my mom took a look around and said to herself, Bob really is a good son. He’s so much like Dad. He makes a lot mistakes, but he has the right values, and we need each other.
Since Dad passed, my mom and I get together every week. We are both huge baseball fans, like my dad, who bonded over the St. Louis Cardinals. (It’s lucky they are so often good!) For half the year we eat and watch a game together. In the fall and winter, we watch “Family Feud”, and an old movie, or God forbid, “Dancing with the Stars”. She still helps me out, if you know what I mean. It’s awesome. We are tight.
There’s no doubt that being adopted wasn’t exactly a bed of roses for someone with my makeup. I appeared to be overly sensitive; I was thin-skinned. I wanted to be accepted completely by those around me. I had trouble with criticism.
We moved, as the crow flies, just one mile away when I was 5. We went from a solidly middle class, all-white neighborhood to a new development to the west that was even more upscale, and, again, all white. Incredibly, the demographics of that neighborhood have not changed a bit since 1969, when my parents built their house and we moved in. They paid $70,000 for the house, using some loans from both of their parents. They paid cash: no house payments to make. (They sold the house in 2011 for around $600,000. The people paid for the neighborhood more than they did for the house. My parents didn’t make a lot of upgrades over the years).
My father was a full professor with tenure at Washington University at the time. He wrote textbooks, and did some consulting for good money. He traveled a lot in those days. My mother stayed at home with us three kids. She had a master’s degree from Washington University, and had been offered some kind of scholarship to Harvard that she turned down when she married Bryce.
We were very privileged, the children. We had everything we needed. My father went on sabbatical in 1975, and they pulled us out of school a month early so we could spend the summer in Europe. We did a month on the mainland, and then had an apartment in North London for two months. While in London, we traveled all over Great Britain. My dad would work at the British Library many days doing research. They took us back to Europe three years later, in 1978, for a month, right after I started “going” with Charmaine. I missed her badly when I was 14, but it all worked out.
Yours truly, the future Bobby Mack, was a budding stud. I won spelling bee contests, and my friends called me the “Walking Dictionary”. My third grade teacher told me that I had photographic memory. I set the softball throw record for my elementary school that same year; the school went through sixth grade. (It wasn’t saying much because they closed the school the year after I left in a restructuring that turned the junior high schools in Kirkwood into middle schools. Still, it is a fact. I suppose it’s the all-time record for Des Peres School).
I was a left-handed pitcher who they played at shortstop because I was the best fielder on the team. People complained that there should be a right-hander at short, but I was simply too good not to put there. I was the hardest thrower in the league until big Scott Bahora showed up when we were 12. I threw a no-hitter when I was 9 years old. That night, I only had a first baseman’s glove with me. The other team protested that it was some kind of unfair advantage. They made me put a right-hander’s glove on my right hand. I said, I’ll show them, and I proceeded to mow down Pfitzinger Mortuary! That was 1973.
I was in a gifted class in eighth grade. They would pull me out of class to go in another room with about six other white kids. I remember doing a political cartoon featuring Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt standing near a wall.
I’ve gone long enough here. In the next chapter, I will set the scene for when I was 18.