In high school, Phil becomes a football star and romances cheerleader Kay Carroway, whom he knew as a boy. Kay’s family is well off, but she grew up dreaming of a pioneer lifestyle. At one point, Phil breaks up with Kay after her mother insults him. The scene jumps to Phil and Al sitting behind the blind, and Al comments that this was a “bad move.”
“One of many,” Phil agrees.
Phil and Kay reunite and marry following the death of Kay’s father. They eventually have three sons and struggle financially as Phil searches for work that will enable him not to be gone frequently like his father was.
The young family’s life together takes a turn for the worse when Phil meets Big Al, who hires him to work at Al’s school as a remedial English teacher. Because of Al’s influence, Phil takes up smoking, as well as a drinking habit that grows heavier over time. He begins to spend most of his time with Al and Al’s friends, neglecting his wife and children.
“The next few years were a bit of a blur,” the older Phil tells the older Al. “I was hellbent on doing things my own way. Always had been.”
A Turn for the Worse
More and more, Phil spends his time drinking, hunting, and partying with Al. He is unfaithful to Kay, and spends much of the little money he makes on the liquor instead of on his family. He eventually quits teaching and buys a bar, rationalizing his decision to Kay as a fresh start for them. At home, the two have terrible fights; one time Phil flips the kitchen table over and pushes his wife against their fridge.
As the Robertson family life deteriorates, Si visits Kay, who tells him that when Phil drinks, “he becomes the devil…I’ve seen it in his eyes.” When Si says she doesn’t “deserve” to be raising three boys by herself, Kay explains that she does not want to leave Phil because of her children, who love their father. Still, she agrees with Si that Phil is not going to change as long as he continues drinking.
“I just know, deep in my heart, this family is gonna work out,” she tells her brother-in-law. “My nanny told me, ‘Someday, you’re going to have to fight for your marriage. When things get tough, that’s what you do.’”
One evening, while the Robertsons are working at their bar, Phil’s sister, Jan, shows up with a preacher and attempts to evangelize the patrons. Phil makes it clear the pastor is not welcome. “Don’t you read TIME magazine?” he tells him. “God is dead.”
Phil and Kay have their worst fight yet after he sees her talking to another man and accuses her of ruining his life. After she responds, “You’ve been ruining mine for 10 years,” he tells her to take her children and leave, and they effectively separate. After that exchange, a drunk Phil drives his truck into a tree.