TENNIS WITH GOD: My Quest For The Perfect Game And Peace With My Father

TENNIS WITH GOD: My Quest For The Perfect Game And Peace With My Father

by Brian Cox


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452562537
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 06/20/2017
Pages: 220
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.46(d)

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Tennis in My DNA

After nearly 40 years of playing tennis and hundreds of matches, I may not have any major titles to tell you about, but I did have a gratifying and amazing time being the hitting partner of ambassadors, a reclusive guru from the Himalayas, and a quarterfinalist from the French Open. And, even God. An unbelievable claim? You'll have to decide for yourself.

Competing at Wimbledon or at any professional level was never in the realm of possibility for me. I was just a short, skinny kid with a hand-me-down racket. But that didn't stop me from dreaming of how far I could go in the sport and the tremendous amount of fun and glory I would have along that journey.

For most of my life, while playing tennis and table tennis with abundant passion and determination, I was equally driven to explore and understand the mysteries of reality and spirituality. I sought after and studied with several profound teachers from whom I could learn the most advanced knowledge. I wanted to experience and confirm for myself the ancient wisdom and self-realization that people like the yogic sage Patanjali, the Russian mystic Madame Blavatsky, and the spiritual giant Yogananda, and his lineage, were intimately involved with. That type of wisdom resonated with me strongly and I was drawn to it quite naturally.

I began my search for spiritual knowledge in my early teens, but tennis was in my DNA from the very beginning. It is said that we are all made from the dust of the earth. Mine happened to be clay court tennis dust. For you see, two years before I was born in Kenya, my father had been teaching tennis to my older brother on the red-clay courts in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Each weekend they played on the courts that the Italian colonists had left behind, Dad breathed in the microscopic dust particles from the red clay courts that would eventually become part of me.

My early life as a Foreign Service brat may have looked rather charmed from the outside, as my family traveled and lived in exotic locations in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East. My family had first moved to Africa when my father accepted a position with the education programs that the U.S. State Department was operating in countries desperate for American assistance and cooperation.

Yes, I was very privileged in many respects. But as a negative counterweight to the adventure this lifestyle provided, I had to find a way to cope with and survive being raised by a strong-willed father who dominated and controlled my family and me with corrosive and painful abuse.

My father's name was Dan. If I had to pick an actor to portray him, based on similar resemblance and emotional intensity, it would be Daniel Day Lewis in the movie There Will Be Blood. Dad was born near Carbondale in Southern Illinois and grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The town was far enough south that most people spoke with a hint of a Southern accent. His father was a coal miner — there were some deep shaft mines on the outskirts of their town, and not much else but lean times and a sweaty boxing gym where my father spent most of his free time.

Boxing was my father's chosen sport. Standing a mere 5'8" and at a trim fighting weight of 132 pounds, he skipped rope daily, ran country roads to develop endurance, and sparred in the ring for hours. When he was in his prime, he hit the speed and heavy bags with blistering combinations and knockout power. He became a four-time Golden Gloves champion and retired with a record of 30 wins and two losses. While in college after a stint in the U.S. Navy in World War II he married my mother, Norma, from nearby Shawneetown. In graduate school Dad spent time learning tennis by hitting with members of the college team. For him, tennis was a natural crossover from boxing because it required fast footwork and good hand-eye coordination.

Mom got pregnant soon after they married and dropped out of school at Dad's insistence. In no time she was taking care of Danny and Jean, my older brother and sister, and working two jobs to help dad finish his PhD in education.

After their tour in Ethiopia, Dad continued playing tennis with my brother Danny at their next post in the quaint seaside city of Mogadishu, Somalia. When a former U.S. Davis Cup member was visiting the country, Danny took some lessons with him and improved his game even further. But in their newly formed tennis rivalry, Danny was only twelve years old and Dad had the upper hand. All was well in that regard, but the relationship between my mother and father was showing signs of strain. Mom had begun to suffer painful migraine headaches as a result of my father's growing pattern of verbal abuse and cold emotional treatment.

That's when I joined the family. Mom flew to Nairobi, Kenya in 1960 to give birth to me, as there was no decent hospital in Somalia. During this period, Dad instructed her not to show so much love and affection to us children, which ran contrary to her natural inclinations. She sought professional help but the psychiatrist she met with was only interested in introducing her to his friends for extra-marital affairs and so she passed on his advice and continued with the migraine headaches.

After our tour of Somalia was over, our next assignment was to Gbarnga, Liberia. We lived there for one year but Mom felt that living in a single-wide trailer with no curtains next to a swamp infested with seven-step snakes and a local population suffering from leprosy was simply not an acceptable place to raise three children. We lasted only one year there before we received special permission to leave the country earlier than planned.

In 1963 my father accepted an assignment in Saigon, Vietnam and we moved there with him. He was involved with the hamlet counterinsurgency programs that brought American education methods and supplies to children in the villages. I remember Dad walking with us on the weekends to the Cercle Sportif, a fashionable tennis and social club near our house. I watched his matches, looking forward to the day when I would be old enough to join the fun on the courts. No matter how hot and humid the weather was, Dad always wore long white pants so that his skinnier left leg would not be noticed. He didn't know why it was noticeably thinner than the right one, but he never wanted anyone to see a single part of him as weak.

By now, Dad had formed an adequate tennis game overall. His groundstrokes were consistent and his court sense and footwork were improving, but his Achilles heel was his serve. He tossed the ball straight above his head, higher than Maria Sharapova does, and gaped at it with his mouth open as if he was going to swallow it on the way down. Then he sprung upward at it and grunted loudly as he hit the ball as flat and hard as he could. There was very little chance that one of his serves would go in, but whenever one did, it was usually unreturnable. After a few errant first serves stung his doubles partners in the back, they often stood closer to the sideline to avoid getting blasted.

Dad's doubles partners suffered equally on his second serves. He patty-caked the ball over the net without a hint of pace or a slice. The slow, soft bounce set the ball up just right for the player hitting the return. In the interest of self-preservation, his partners at the net often curled up into a defensive pose after his second serves and hoped for the best. There was an unspoken rule in those days that you never retreated from the net unless they lobbed over you, and even then it was shunned.

Saigon spun more out of control each month and nothing signified that more than the time a Buddhist monk set himself on fire to protest how the South Vietnamese government was oppressing the Buddhists. The smell of burning flesh and gasoline drifted throughout the city and into our home as we always had our windows open to catch a breeze. Things escalated further when one morning two Vietnamese pilots diverted from their airborne mission and attacked the presidential palace in retaliation for the government's crackdown on the Buddhists. The palace was two blocks away from our house. After hearing the commotion, Mom rushed me into a downstairs room for safety. The planes strafed the palace and dropped napalm and a 500-pound bomb, but the president escaped unharmed.

Not long after the unsuccessful coup, White House Cable 243 was sent by President John Kennedy to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge. This sealed South Vietnamese President Diem's fate and a second coup d'etat took place with tacit approval from the United States. During the ruckus, Danny and a friend left the movie theater downtown to try and make it home. They crawled under tanks that blocked the streets and avoided running gun battles along the way. With faces covered in soot from the dark smoke drifting through the streets, they made it home breathless but safe. Our front yard was littered with empty shell casings. Not long after that the movie theater was bombed by anti-government forces, and a bomb exploded at the American School. Soon after that, armed U.S. military personnel guarded the hallways and pep rallies with M-16 rifles at the ready. Then one of our friends died from injuries from a bomb explosion at one of the floating restaurants on the Saigon River.

My brother was now a teenager with promising athletic talent and had finally beat Dad in two sets of tennis. This hurt my father's ego so much that he never again played tennis with Danny. Dad's discipline was strict to begin with, but over time he became increasingly harsh on Danny. The rhinoceros-hide whip from Africa was Dad's primary instrument for inflicting pain. Mom eventually talked Dad into sending Danny away to a boarding school in Virginia. She felt it was the only way to save him from a possible blowout fight with Dad. The following month we took my brother to Tan Son Nhut airport and he was gone.


Learning the Game in Laos

Eventually Mom, my sister, and I were evacuated from Saigon with the rest of the other non-essential personnel in the early part of 1965 as the war began to ramp up. We moved into a new development near Taipei, Taiwan, while my father stayed in Saigon. Dad was able to continue playing tennis at the Cercle Sportif and he flew over to visit us every few months. My brother Danny rejoined us in Taipei for his final two years of high school but he chose not to play tennis any longer, focusing on soccer and gymnastics.

My chance to learn tennis finally came when in 1969 we were transferred to a new post in Vientiane, Laos. After arriving we were driven to our bungalow house in Kilometer 6, a small American community surrounded by barbed wire and rice paddies, six kilometers on the outside of Vientiane. There was a bamboo shack on the outside of the armed gate that sold cigarettes, soft drinks in plastic baggies, and freshly cut sugar cane sticks about a foot long. The road was closed at Kilometer 9 because it was not safe to travel on the road beyond that. A communist ammunition cache was blown up nearby during our first night there but I was blissfully asleep from jet lag and wasn't disturbed in the least.

A copy of National Geographic magazine and briefing documents had given us a preview of what to expect. It was on its way to being the most heavily bombed nation in history, because the communist Ho Chi Mihn Trail along its border area with Vietnam. Over 40,000 North Vietnamese troops were in the country fighting, and there were over 600,000 displaced Laotian refugees. Every main city along the Mekong River had an airbase involved in the war, but inside the fences of K-6 there were dinner parties and softball games. There was even an American Boy Scout group that I could join. Laos was a mashup of Apocalypse Now and the Wonder Years.

The majority of Laotians are Buddhists. It was fascinating to watch mornings in the city, which began with young monks in saffron robes carrying their food bowls in single file procession. They walked silently along the roads, receiving alms from the householders. As the monks made their way, the men stood and the women kneeled, presenting each monk with rice or some other food. It is believed that the householders, who are still attached to the physical world of possessions, earn good karma for supporting the monks. In turn the community of monks maintain the Buddhist tradition and share the teachings.

While the monks made their rounds, I began to learn tennis on the two concrete courts at Kilometer 6. At first I served as the ball boy during Dad's doubles matches on the weekends. After a few weeks of that, Dad offered to hit some balls with me after his games had ended. The wooden racket felt very heavy and the grip size on the racket was too big for my hands, but I did the best I could.

"Hold your racket like this," Dad said as he demonstrated the shake- hand grip.

I managed to get a few balls back over the net with some accuracy but little pace. When any of my shots hit the wooden frame instead of the strings, Dad would shout across the net, "Keep your eye on the ball! Watch it come right into your racket!" If I hit a ball back to him just beyond his reach, he faked a groan to remind me to get the ball back to him without making him run.

"Get your racket back early," he'd remind me.

After a few months of making contact with other players, my Dad and I learned that one of the older teens at K-6 had taken tennis lessons from Pancho Gonzalez, one of the best players in the world, and he was willing to teach me. Dad arranged for the lessons and I was soon making progress. Those early lessons had a unique ambience; it was common to have pairs of T-28 fighter planes from the Lao Air Force buzz overhead on their training missions.

While stationed in Vientiane, my mother began working for Air America, the airline owned and operated by the CIA during the secret war against the communist forces in Laos. She was the secretary to the station chief at the Wattay Airport. The book and movie Air America portrayed the dangers of living and flying in Laos during the secret war there. Some of the pilots and crews never made it back from their heroic missions. But because Mom was sworn to secrecy, we never heard a word about it from her.

By now, my older brother and sister had gone away to college, but they joined us in Laos during their first summer break. My sister Jean didn't play tennis but her boyfriend was on the team at their school in upstate New York and he visited for a few weeks. Dad took him to the courts and was thoroughly impressed with what he saw. Whenever he talked about the guy's "big game," Dad stretched out the word "big" and deepened his voice for extra effect.

"Someday I'll have a big game and beat you," I told my father with youthful enthusiasm.

He scoffed and replied rather coldly, "Shoot. Brian, the only thing you'll ever beat me at is crawling through a hole."

I could feel he meant it. So I headed down to the courts whenever I could talk a friend into playing, and worked towards the day when I would make him eat those unkind words.

There was a manicured, grass tennis court at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Vientiane. Whenever I passed it, while taking the bus to watch movies or swim at the American Community Association pool, it was empty. What a shame for a beautiful court like that to not have anyone enjoying it, I thought to myself. I hoped that someday I would have the chance to play on that court. But for the time being it remained a mirage, far out of reach for my social and athletic capabilities.

Inside the fences at K-6, life was idyllic while the secret war went on all around us. Young girls rode their horses and kids of all ages rode their motorbikes all over a large play field that formed the middle of the compound. The field contained tether ball courts, a playground, a soccer field, and a baseball diamond complete with a backstop. Banana trees and papaya plants heavy with fruit were in almost every yard and some families had gibbon monkeys as pets. For married couples, life in K-6 provided ample room for scandal. Mom told me years later that at a cocktail party at K-6 one night, one of our neighbors asked Mom privately, "Why doesn't Dan ever dance with you? He likes to dance with everyone else."


Excerpted from "Tennis with God"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Brian Cox.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements, vii,
Chapter 1: Tennis in My DNA, 1,
Chapter 2: Learning the Game in Laos, 23,
Chapter 3: A Caddyshack Championship, 38,
Chapter 4: Showdown in Bogota, 56,
Chapter 5: An Unusual Awakening, 70,
Chapter 6: Tennis in the Land of Sheba, 80,
Chapter 7: The Death of Tennis in North Yemen, 93,
Chapter 8: Melting Clouds and Choosing a Path, 109,
Chapter 9: Becoming a Holistic Yogi, 120,
Chapter 10: A Jungian Astrologer and an Osteopath, 135,
Chapter 11: Message from the Other Side, 141,
Chapter 12: Metaphysics with a Master Healer, 152,
Chapter 13: Tennis with God, 172,
Chapter 14: No Malice Intended, 190,
Chapter 15: Special Times in Mount Shasta, 199,

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