My dad, the original Harold Gardner Phillips, passed away at the end of August 2011, all too soon. He was only 74. I try to write about him each year, before Autumn descends, as a means of better remembering him — an act that frankly gets more difficult and less specific over time. The act of writing helps me preserve the details of his life, in my own mind. This year, what with this new book having just been published, I thought it fitting to write about him in the context of soccer, this game I loved and he, in a peculiar sort of way, fostered. As a matter of fact, in researching this matter, I confirmed that his connection to the game predates me, thanks to a once-mysterious figure named Antonio Horacio Etchenique.
Allow me to begin with an excerpt from Generation Zero. This is actually part excerpt, part outtake, as a big hunk of this biographical sketch was excised from the published version, in the interest of keeping GZ under 400 pages (!). I’m more than pleased to make this narrative whole again here:
Today, students of American soccer history can muster no coherent understanding of Generation Zero nor the 1970s without recognizing the power and influence of next elders in the culture, at that time — not just Baby Boomers, but our mothers and fathers. These middle-aged Americans populated the so-called Silent Generation that parented us, coached us and tried to help us make sense of what America was becoming during the Seventies — while trying to make sense of it themselves.
My dad was born in 1936, which tweened him to the extent that he was too young to fight in WWII or the Korean War. This feeling of having missed out or otherwise dodged massive cultural happenings was both generational happenstance and a very real byproduct of Silent Generation types arriving on this mortal coil between two domineering American cohorts, the Greatest Generation and their children, The Baby Boomers. By the time Vietnam had escalated to mass-draft stage, for example, my dad was married with children.
The original Hal Phillips was an industrial engineer by training with an MBA from Harvard, which is where he met my mother, then an editor at the Harvard Alumni Medical Bulletin. They married in 1963. While she would eventually stay home with three young kids, he went to work in internal finance for big companies that moved our family around from Massachusetts to suburban Philly, to Montclair, New Jersey, and Northern California, then back again to Montclair. By the early 1970s, wearing wide-lapelled suits and even wider ties, my dad commuted into Manhattan every day. As one did from the north Jersey suburbs. It must have appeared to my parents they were living an establishment dream forged in the Fifties. Here was a man — still a fairly young man, not yet 40 — literally dressed in gray flannel and hewing to a corporate model formed in immediate post-war America.
When he moved our family once more, to Greater Boston in early 1973, he did so in order to serve as chief financial officer at a rivet- and bolt-manufacturing operation located next door to Wellesley, just over Route 128 (the city’s inner ring road), in Waltham, Mass. J.L. Thompson, this purveyor of vital but prosaic hardware, had been owned by the Rockefeller Companies, or that was how my parents had always referred to IBEC, my dad’s monolithic employer. Only a year following our relocation to Massachusetts, however, J.L. Thompson was sold and the Rockefellers offered my father a job back in New York City. He turned them down. He and the CEO at Thompson resolved to buy the place themselves. When that didn’t fly, they looked for another manufacturing concern to purchase and operate.
Like Don Draper in MadMen — a TV series that tracks its Silent Generation stars through the Sixties and into the early 1970s — my dad had played by the corporate rules for 10 long years and grown weary of them. What’s more, my parents liked Wellesley, their chocolate brown Victorian, the neighborhood and the schools. Rebuffed in their bid for Thompson, he and the former CEO, the inimitable Harvey Howell, identified a troubled polystyrene-manufacturing operation an hour west of Wellesley, in Manchaug, a tiny village south of Worcester. It was 1974, the height of recession. They bought the company for a buck, inherited its not-insignificant debt, and attempted to turn it around. My dad never wore a suit, or dress shoes, or a tie of any width to work again.
Apparently this leap of business faith was undertaken without the full consent or endorsement of my mother. Like so many women during the Seventies, she sought to ameliorate our family’s economic anxieties by going back to work — hospital marketing and communications — just in case The Manchaug Corporation flagged further or went bust. In the 1970s, middle-class Silent Generation couples across the U.S. similarly discovered, to their chagrin, that two salaries were required to effectively chase the American Dream. My parents were no exception and domestic discord ensued on this front. At about that time, dad started doing the grocery shopping, following a bit of in-market training from the matriarch. Soon thereafter I was scandalize to happen upon a Playboy magazine in the recycling pile. The old man explained that he’d bought it for the infamous interview with then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. Yeah, right. I was convinced they were getting divorced.
“Why is dad doing the grocery shopping,” my younger brother asked me.
“Don’t be an idiot: They’re getting divorced and mom is showing dad how to shop for food. You know, for when he’s on his own…”
That never happened, thankfully. Mom simply needed help when her gig went full-time. The Manchaug Corp. would survive and, following some pretty lean years, thrive. This meant my dad was almost always around to drive me to soccer games. Nonetheless, he was habitually late, or on the verge thereof. When Ajax, my very first club team traveled to Franklin, Mass., for my first-ever travel match, some 6 months into my soccer life, he delivered me to the field just as the game was starting. I remember bolting from our Volvo station wagon, fully dressed and ready for action but in tears of abject anxiety and shame. We sons tend to forgive our fathers these transgressions and foibles, over time. But I would become a man who is never, ever late — and he is the reason why.
My dad, who also went by “Hal”, proved a fixture on the sidelines of youth soccer games all over Eastern Massachusetts throughout the mid-1970s, and he cut a singular figure. The man was never without a bucket-style golf hat designed to keep his flyaway gray hair in place. He would often bring a cigar, which wasn’t so uncommon, but his signature soccer-watching accouterment happened to be a seating cane the likes of which I never saw deployed at any other sporting event, anywhere, by any other human, before or since.
The man did suffer from chronic spine discomfort on account of fused vertebrae (L-4/L-5), dodgy swayback posture and a steadfast aversion to both stretching and any kind of physical activity beyond walking golf courses. This quite ingenious fold-top cane apparatus — something that I’ve since seen advertised on the web as a hammock-seat cane, shooting stick, spectator cane, hunting cane, and foldable golf, cricket or polo seat — served him very well. It was the subject continued fascination wherever he deployed it, because no one else on any of these sidelines had ever seen anything like it, either.
The rest of my dad’s soccer-spectating uniform was a golf shirt and long pants. No matter how hot it became, the man never wore shorts — and he often wore the leather hiking boots he wore to work in Manchaug, a place we in the family referred to as “the plant”.
As indicated in previous essays (go to www.halphillips.net and search “mortal coil” for a selection), sideline dad was always friendly and approachable, a nod to his own father who was very much the courtly southern mensch. But my father was an introvert at heart, and he would invariably find a spot off to the side, away from the other parents, so as to watch the game by himself — leaning on that folding seat and maybe smoking a cigar. He would cheer and such but otherwise would never impose himself on play, by heckling a referee or an opposing player or rabble-rousing in passive aggressive fashion with other parents. One time after some opponent really laid out a teammate of mine, I was astonished to hear him say something to the referee in a slightly indignant but measured tone. Just that one time. After matches, in the car on the ride home, he would also have questions, never advice.
My father would often zip down Interstate 84 (the portion between Sturbridge, Mass. and Hartford, Conn. that remained I-86 until 1984) to catch my home matches at Wesleyan University. But he often showed up elsewhere on my college fixture list, as Wes played a lot of games within range. No state in the Union boasts more small colleges than Massachusetts, after all. In November 1984, he and my mom traveled to Williamstown to watch us take a season-ending thriller from the dread Purple Cows, 1-0. This was probably the biggest win of my entire collegiate career, such as it was. We Cardinals were never great, but we ripped off five consecutive wins to finish that season and claimed the coveted Little Three Championship from rivals Williams and Amherst. I played a great match that brisk, colorful afternoon and when my parents met me on the field afterward, my mother confided to me, “You’ll have to forgive your father. By the end of that game, he was moved to tears.”
Here’s another brief GZ snippet, one that touches not so much on my father’s memory, but instead on the way certain things — soccer moments and their trappings, all the experiences and memories the game enables — course through our lives in long, ephemeral loops that transcend any specific association to time and place:
In time, my Wellesley bedroom would display maybe a dozen soccer trophies, to go along with assorted trinkets and the myriad patches we collected from opposing teams up and down the East Coast. This exchange of patches, mainly at tournaments, was another custom our incipient futbol culture forged in the Seventies. [A few years ago, my wife made me a spectacular quilt deploying many of my old uniform jerseys; she festooned it with two-dozen patches procured during my youth soccer travels.] Once my brother Matthew and I went off to college, our father converted my bedroom into a home office. All my stuff got incorporated into Matthew’s former room, which our mother started calling “The Generic Boys Room.” All my sports-related patches and keepsakes were gathered there, before following me into adult life. They were eventually lost in a 2016 barn fire, though most of the trophies had fallen apart or were taken apart years before — during my daughter’s Barbie phase, wherein she enjoyed the solitary conjuring of imaginary scenarios that obliged her to strap dolls to my trophies, crucifixion style.
Silent Generation dads of the Seventies are praised in the pages of Generation Zero, sometimes in backhanded fashion, for their oddball roles in enabling sons and daughters when it came to this strange, new sport. Many of them — including my longtime club coach, Vince Harackiewicz, whom we called H — even endeavored to instruct us in this game they did not necessarily understand. Because who else would/could do such a thing? Very few of their peers had played soccer either. Another bit from GZ:
While Soccer Dads are not held up as paragons of futbol acumen in these pages, I don’t relate these memories to make fun. On some level, we knew they were giving this coaching thing a go, without working knowledge, out of obligation to us. And we did love and appreciated H, for example, in our own way. He made a great many truly indelible things happen for Pilgrims, for me personally, and for soccer in our town. H and his like introduced Generation Zero to the game, for better and for worse. They were pioneers, too. They did the best they could, enabling their sons and daughters to partake of a sport they probably would not have chosen for them. The Modern American Soccer Movement had to start somewhere. In many important ways, it started with them.
In Wellesley, organized soccer during the 1970s was a shoulder-season affair. In the calendar year, “Spring Soccer” was our name for proper club soccer, whereby kids tried out and the resulting rosters competed with “travel” teams representing other towns. Fall Soccer was basically a rec league in which anyone could participate. This program actually started out as the Wellesley Junior Soccer Club all the way back in 1964, under the direction of Diane Paul, the mother of a high school classmate of mine. For the record, 1964 is extraordinarily early in the Modern American Soccer Movement. The pioneering American Youth Soccer Organization, AYSO, for example, was formed the same year, in Southern California, but would not spread its administrative influence across the country until the early 1970s.
My dad agreed to coach a Fall Soccer team when I was a seventh-grader — the only time he was ever roped into this activity. By that point, I was on a serious spring club team and about to embark on yet another form of the game: school soccer. I probably would not have played Fall Soccer if my dad hadn’t been nudged into this coaching gig — I remember feeling that I owed it to him, somehow. The season played out without much fanfare. What I remember most was a late-season coaches vs. the kids game staged one Saturday morning at the Stigmatine Field complex, where my dad — kitted out in a shirt, socks and shorts (!) that I had supplied — made it plain, to all in attendance, that he truly never had played this game before.
My father did, however, have an earlier, specifically American soccer experience that I remember him relating to me at some point during my childhood. I can’t be sure exactly when, because I frankly didn’t pay it much attention. However, he did mention, more than once, that when attending Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., during the 1950s, he served as manager of the varsity soccer team there.
Somewhere else along the line, he related another aspect of this episode from the Eisenhower Era: He told a specific story about an Italian guy on the Lehigh squad called Antonio Horacio Etchenique— a name that remains well nigh impossible to forget. This fellow, according to my dad, was some manner of foreign student who starred for the Engineers (today known as the Mountain Hawks) and accounted for a bunch of goals — including one, my dad delighted in describing, that “Tony” scored with his ass. I have a clear vision of my dad acting out the scenario: The ball is crossed in and Antonio Horacio Etchenique, embodied by a middle-aged Harold Gardner Phillips, bumps it across the goal line, pantomime style, with a cheeky swivel of his hip.
One may wonder how I am able to reproduce this quite baroque, historically obscure name without caveat. Well, that’s because I found the guy. With help from the Sports Information office in Bethlehem, I located online each issue of Epitome, the Lehigh yearbook, for all the years my dad was there: 1954-59 (he did a 5-year degree program in business administration and industrial engineering). On my first try, 1957, there they all were: Tony, coach Bill Christian, the entire team, and my dad — in coat and tie!
After hearing about this fellow 50 years prior, and finally locating him, I couldn’t resist doing a bit more digging. Turns out AHE was not Italian but a citizen of Brazil, though he was born on October 15, 1935, in La Paz, capital of “the Plurinational State of Bolivia”, to Miguel Fernando Etchenique Flores and Iris Marta Etchenique Lane. Etchenique is apparently a Basque surname. Sadly, Tony sadly passed away at 38, in the spring of 1974 — just as my family had moved to Wellesley, where my own soccer life took shape and my dad’s began anew.