Monday, June 30, 2014

Big Ben

Chapter 2 of "The Leather Man" introduces Ben Steinbrecher, the title character, as a larger-than-life figure and _ in less than three pages _ suggests that life will not always treat him kindly. It's a quick snapshot of trials which reduce a Superman to the level of Everyman by the end of the book.

The chapter touches on the three (of four) struggles which afflict him early on and seem destined to last a lifetime: a blown-out knee which keeps him from near-certain fame and fortune in professional football, the mental handicap of his only child and his deteriorating relationship with Gloria, his wife, whose wedding vows were solemnized by Ben's minister father.

A torn ligament was career-ending in the early '50s. It happened to Ben during his senior season at North Dakota, and it was difficult to accept:
Ben was told the pain would subside in a few weeks, and, as long as he didn't try to play a contact sport again, he ought to be fine. It was like being told he could get by as long as he didn't try to breathe.
He learned to cope with that disappointment and shifted his love of sports after graduation to coaching, where his size, commanding presence, knowledge of football and recruiting skill earned him quick employment and a strong resume. But nothing about the first disappointment of his life had prepared Ben for the realization a few years after Teddy Steinbrecher's birth that his firstborn would never be able to keep up mentally with other children:
Okay," he thought after doctors confirmed his own agonizing diagnosis, "I've got to fight this." He began by reading everything he could get his hands on pertaining to mental disabilities. The process proved to be as painful and disappointing as trying to rehabilitate a broken knee.
Whatever friction there was in the Steinbrecher marriage could only be compounded by Gloria's reaction to Teddy. Her inability to accept his handicap soon made itself manifest as outright rejection of the child, something that began _ like a cancer _ to damage the parents' union from the inside out.


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