Point of View: ‘Fish Away, Dad’

    A friend of mine was ready to go to Italy not long ago, to hike along the Amalfi Coast by day and drink wine by night, but then his mother-in-law injured herself in a fall and his wife took sick, and the vacation had to be postponed.
    It would have been his first genuine two-week vacation in 30 years. He was glad, he said, that he had trip insurance. I wished him better luck next time.
    This is all by way of saying that we too are thinking of going to Italy, in the fall. Ireland took Italy’s place last year, its being Mary’s native land, but we never made it out of Dublin, turned to stone by the thought of driving on the wrong side of the road.
    The plays we saw were good, though of course I couldn’t hear them. I read them, one by Sean O’Casey and one by Sebastian Barry, when we got back.
    “Fish away, Dad, fish away,” one of the characters says in the Sebastian Barry play. I liked the sound of that so much that when every now and then I find Mary working her Farm Ville plot, I say, in my best brogue, “Farm away, Mum, farm away.”
    In my case I imagine my children would say, “Volley away, Dad, volley away.”
    I hadn’t realized until recently that my combative net play — an athletic blessing, I suppose — was an apt metaphor for a defensive nature — an interlocutory curse — that is all too quick to take offense.
    And if the zings aren’t there I’ll imagine them. We’re not talking about the big picture here, or, in my case, of reasoned discourse, but of bang-bang exchanges whose product is exhaustion and then remorse.
    But while I must be wary of such high-strung tendencies at home, in tennis, with a loosely-strung racket, I revel in them, confident that at the net, when the ball is whizzing back and forth, my reflexes, undiminished, to my delight, after all these years, will parry the shots hit my way every time. It comes as a shock when I’m bested in a doubles exchange, so much so that not infrequently I emit a primal scream.
    Mary counsels equanimity when, following a bad night, I begin to mope, and reminds me that I began to play tennis again not in order to backbite, rage, or sulk, but to have fun, and wonders why, given the vagaries of life, I would ever want to postpone it.