Sunday, August 10, 2008

Three Flies Up - My Father, Baseball and Me

Three Flies Up – My Father, Baseball and Me
Author: Kelley Dupuis
ISBN: 978-1-4327-2155-8
Publisher: Outskirts Press, Inc.
Genre and Target Market: biography; father/son relationships; baseball
Publication Date: 2008
Book Length in Pages: 382
Reviewer: Sarah Moore

There certainly is no shortage of stories that have been told about the difficult dynamics of the father/son relationship. The struggle for independence and manhood, generational differences in career expectations and the battle for respect have been put on full display for centuries. Amidst the emotional issues, it is not unusual to find the sport of baseball as an essential element woven into the American father and son story. The autobiography Three Flies Up, the third book written by author Kelley Dupuis, certainly contains all of these expected components. But, this autobiography is far from the formulaic tale of familial strife and reconciliation.

We are introduced to Dupuis’ entire family throughout the course of the book, including a troubled younger sister who suffered an untimely death and a mother who maintained a positive outlook despite a difficult marriage. We also get to know the cast of characters who worked with Dupuis over the years, most memorable being those who managed to irritate the author in some capacity. Dupuis’ world travels as an employee with the State Department and contentious relationships with domestic bosses are detailed with humor. His career successes and setbacks certainly do provide a backdrop in Three Flies Up, and create the circumstances for family interactions. However, the heart of this autobiography comes from the relationship between the author and his father, Joseph Ellis Dupuis.

Dupuis explains his father’s selfish behavior in a way that makes the reader uncomfortable, if not downright angry. How is one supposed to react to a man who tells his son on his tenth birthday that he is one-sixth of his way to death or who bullied his kids as payback to some assumed wrong from his wife? Joseph Dupuis was a man who found derogatory comments to make about minority groups, focused on the negative aspects of every situation and resented any moment at which he was not receiving everyone’s full attention (even at his own wife’s funeral). But, Dupuis also creates compassion for the fragility of his father’s personality. He was a man who showed quiet moments of tenderness when singing to his son’s elderly cat or caring for his tomatoes every year in his small garden. He cried out to his son as he lay in a hospital bed and realized that dementia was overtaking him, “I used to be a man!” To imagine those words coming from my own (very complex) father made for a very painful moment of reading.

There are moments in Three Flies Up that are absolutely gut-wrenching. Anyone who has struggled with the ravaging effects of dementia, particularly with a parent, will undoubtedly relate to Kelley Dupuis’ writing. As the primary caregiver for the last year of his life, Dupuis fed, changed, and guided a father who was slipping deeper into a world of confusion and anger. He writes about his father’s return to a childlike dependence with tenderness and honesty. When the author writes about his need to escape to the kitchen just to cry and mourn the person his dad had become, you cannot help but find yourself connected to the author.

Despite a troubled relationship that at one point led to five years of estrangement, the author and his father had one interest that allowed them to speak a common language—baseball (particularly the San Diego Padres). When every other discussion had reached an impasse, the question, “What time is the game on?” could reunite the two for a common cause. Mr. Dupuis uses each baseball season and its victors as a way of marking the passage of time in this book. Interspersed with funerals, love affairs and family fights are recollections of batting statistics, lousy trades, and the annual fate of those “good boys” from the Padres. While two pages abruptly detailing the pitch count in the seventh inning of a Padres game may seem superfluous to some, anyone who finds a connection with sports and their life lessons will appreciate the perfect symbiosis.

Three Flies Up was my introduction to Kelley Dupuis’ writing and I will be making it a point to read his two previously published books. While I will never be a father or a son, I could understand the relationships detailed in this autobiography. Don’t we all have some point of remorse or resentment with our parents? How many of us embrace those elements that strengthen sometimes the shaky bonds with our family? Aren’t our close relationships often the most complicated ones? I encourage you to learn more about Kelley Dupuis and his father by reading Three Flies Up and then, if you can, join your own dad at the ballpark for a couple of beers and some cheering for the home team.

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