Monthly Archives: June 2016

The man who would be my father

“I don’t want people digging through my trash or my recycle,” he’d say, sitting back down into his chair to read the morning newspaper. “I pay money for the city to come pick those up. If they want to dig through the trash, let them go to the dump.”

“I don’t want people digging through my trash or my recycle,” he’d say, sitting back down into his chair after chasing them away to read the morning newspaper. “I pay money for the city to come pick those up. If they want to dig through the trash, let them go to the dump.”

by Stacey Warde

I learned the best example of manhood from a guy who was—I thought as a kid growing up—not very manly.

My stepfather, who died in 2008 from kidney cancer, didn’t have the physique of a man who would easily intimidate. He looked more like a New Jersey Italian teddy bear, a Mediterranean Buddha with belly to match, who loved to pass out cigars and pour a good stiff bourbon when the occasion called for it; he worked hard and celebrated life with gusto.

He had a lot of fight in him, fearless in his way, and he was pretty good about knowing when to use it, without resorting to fisticuffs. You always knew where you stood with him. He never minced words.

He took us on, some 50 years ago—mom, my brother and me— as if we were his own. He quickly laid down the law, setting boundaries and establishing family as the beginning and end of all things. He had been raised in the old ways of a New Jersey Italian where family and loyalty to one’s clan are as sacrosanct as the natural order of the universe.


My brother and I, abandoned by our biological father, were hurt, angry little boys when mom remarried and we weren’t quite ready for another man to claim us as his own.

Sure, we liked him—as a friend—but when mom told us she was going to marry him and that he was going to be our dad, we rebelled. We tested him. When the cops came knocking on our door only a few months after the wedding, he stood by my brother and me as we bold-faced lied.

“Did you throw rocks at the old lady’s window?” he asked us, responding to a complaint from the neighbor woman—a cranky old bag who hated kids—as the cops waited patiently on our doorstep for an answer.

“No, we didn’t do it,” we protested.

“If my boys say they didn’t do it, they didn’t do it,” he said firmly, closing the door on the cops and sending them away.

Mom came home later that day and got straight to the point with my brother: “Why’d you do it, Nathan?”

“They made me do it,” he wailed, pointing his finger at me.

We both got whooped pretty hard for making our new dad look like a fool in front of the cops. He made clear that his authority was to be respected, or we’d pay the consequences. That was our first taste of fatherly love, Italian style.

“You don’t have to love me, but you will respect me,” was the message, and as time passed I learned to both respect and love my new father.


Dad put a lot of stock into “playing the game right.”

One summer years later, after he’d gotten his licks in as a father, he put together a traveling baseball team, hand-picked the players and helped organize the league. It was forward-thinking at the time for teens our age who wanted to continue playing through the summer, an idea that came long before the now super-hyped, expensive and prestigious traveling leagues we see today with their fancy uniforms and fussy parents and spoiled players telling the coaches what to do.

It was a big treat for us kids, too, getting to play past the usual short season of organized youth baseball; it was a rougher and scrappier kind of game, more in the dirt, and with other talented kids from communities beyond our own whom we’d never met before, and who also loved to play hard and get dirty. It was just the boys and their dads, who helped with the officiating and coaching, steeped in the passion of playing the game.

My dad instilled in me that summer a love for the game that went well beyond just playing good baseball. It had everything to do with how I played, and the way I carried myself on and off the field—do it with class, he’d say.

“If you can’t play the game right, don’t play at all!” he barked at me once when I’d tried a cleats-to-the-face slide into third base. He didn’t like foul play or cheats; he wanted me to know and play the game well enough to take advantage of my opportunities without resorting to cheating or foul play. “It makes you a better player, and others will respect you more when you play the game right,” he said. “You don’t have to cheat to win.”

And he benched me to drive home his point.

During another game, while pitching, I got increasingly frustrated because I was missing the corners, and throwing more balls, and wearing myself down. I still managed to hold off most batters, but was working too hard at it. My frustration got worse and I let anger take over and started throwing harder, straight down the pipe, but still missing, and digging myself into a hole.

My dad saved me from myself and pulled me from the game. But I was angry and didn’t want to leave and, in a fit, threw my glove into the dugout as I came off the field and he glanced up at me over his scorebook and said, “Do you want to sit out the next game, too?”

That’s all he needed to say, and I stewed quietly until the game was over. On the way home, he said, “I pulled you because you were playing blind. You don’t play blind. You’ll end up hurting yourself, or worse, someone else.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. “I didn’t hit anybody,” I said.

“I didn’t say you were wild. I said you were playing blind. You got too emotional. You let your emotions get in the way of your abilities.” I knew he was right and thought about it for the rest of the summer and still think about it whenever I start feeling like breaking down and “playing blind.”

“You play smart, son. That’s how you win.”


My brother and I, abandoned by our biological father, were hurt, angry little boys when mom remarried and we weren’t quite ready for another man to claim us as his own. From left: Grandma Virginia Thurston Santmyer, Aunt Gretchen Newlon, mom and dad, Uncle MIck, Aunt 'Net at the Presbyterian Church in Laguna Beach.

We were hurt, angry little boys when mom remarried and we weren’t quite ready for another man to claim us as his own.
From left: Grandma Virginia Thurston Santmyer, Aunt Gretchen Newlon, mom and dad, Uncle Mick Radice and his wife, Aunt ‘Net, at the Presbyterian Church in Laguna Beach on their wedding day.

As mom says, we were lucky he took us under his wing, flawed as he might have been, and through him I learned the measure of a man, enough so that I grew fond of him, loved him, and eventually, as a boy of 8, started calling him “dad.”

His most manly asset, though, was his fierce devotion to mom, which counts for a lot in my book. That made him as big a man as any I’ve seen in my life. He took on the role of husband and father where most men might have fled in the other direction.

As an Old School Italian, he was intolerant of disrespect. Once, at the dinner table, my brother mouthed off to mom and dad reached over with his spoon and rapped him on the head. “You don’t talk to your mother that way, ever!” he scolded. While today that correction might be seen as abusive, we got the message loud and clear and never mouthed off to mom again.

He defended and protected her in ways that are only now becoming clear to me as I watch her adjust to widowed life after nearly 45 years of marriage. She seemed to have fewer cares then, he wouldn’t allow her to become anxious or worked up and made sure all her needs were well met. He doted on her.

I seldom heard dad argue with mom; their arguments, he’d say, weren’t anyone’s business but their own. That’s why, when they needed to discuss something that might get heated, they took their personal business behind closed doors. They never raised their voices with each other, at least not around my brother and me.

He assumed the full weight and responsibility of father for children who, at least in the beginning, were not his own, including major expenses such as making sure our teeth were properly straightened.

“There’s my new pickup truck,” he teased when friends came over, and he’d point at me, asking me to smile so they could see my new braces. “Show them my new truck.”

He’d have to wait a few more years before he finally got the truck he’d always wanted but in the meantime he took care of pressing family matters, sacrificing his personal wants, making sure we all had what we needed first.


My biological father, meanwhile, deserted us when I was four; he didn’t put any time or effort into getting to know me, or my brother. He paid us no attention. He was a ghost in my life, a non-person, essentially, whose only historical significance to me was that of sperm donor. As a young boy, I’d ask mom what happened to him.

“You’re better off without him,” she’d say. At first, I’d get mad at her for saying such things; I didn’t believe her. How could I be better off without the man who was supposed to be my father? A boy doesn’t understand these things. He assumes that by rights the man who made birth a possibility would also take an interest in his own children.

After a while, though, I figured she was right, that he probably didn’t care, and that indeed I was better off without him, so I forgot about him, except for the one random visit he made to our home when I was about 10 to discuss visitation arrangements with mom and my new dad.

That was the last time I ever saw him. I heard from him once more when I was in high school and he sent copies of the New World Translation of the Bible favored by Jehovah’s Witnesses to me and my brother.

I took my brother outside with our copies of the “bible,” and showed him how we would appreciate the gifts by placing them in the gutter, pouring on gasoline and setting them on fire. As we watched the thin pages of the bibles crinkle into twisted ash, my grandmother pulled up beside the curb to park her car. She sat staring over the steering wheel, horrified.

What are you doing?” she demanded as she got out of the car.

“Oh, hi grandma, don’t worry; it’s nothing, just burning those fake bibles Jim sent us.”

I’d gotten to calling him Jim because that’s what mom had always called him, never “your father,” whenever she talked about him, which was rare.

The strange thing was I hadn’t thought twice about burning those books, and didn’t realize the real horror of it until I saw grandma’s face when she drove up. No one in the family valued books more than she did, coming from a family of educators; her mother, Marie Harding Thurston, and aunt, Ruth Harding, both had schools named after them.

For me, it was a kind of purgation.

I wanted to be rid of those books, and the false religion, and the show of some kind of weak Christian love from a man who didn’t want to be a father to his children.

Not long after I was married, I thought of seeking him out, to ask him personally why he hadn’t taken an interest in his two sons, but it was too late. He died when I was 23. He was 45, and had started at least two more families besides the one he started with us.

At that point, it didn’t matter much whether we “hit it off” or got on well. I was more interested in finding out what sort of man he was, whether there were patterns and habits of mind that I might have inherited and whether there was anything about which I should be concerned.

But any such opportunity was crushed when mom spoke up casually one afternoon as she and my wife relaxed at the dining table drinking tea and coffee. I was cutting an apple by the sink. “Oh, by the way, Jim died.”

I didn’t expect it to hit me the way it did. I didn’t shed any tears, but it troubled me and left me feeling vacant. My wife graciously walked over and put her arm around me. I must have felt like a sack of potatoes.


I might not have picked my stepfather as the “ideal” model of a man for a young kid looking for a strong father figure, which is what I wanted as a terrified little boy. I would have picked someone like my biological father, whose pictures mom kept showed a man with a powerful, muscular build. My one earliest memory of him, in fact, is of him putting his fist through the bathroom wall.

I learned quickly, however, that my stepfather cared with the kind of devotion that shows real backbone. He made a lot of sacrifices, and paid us a lot of attention. He was our protector, even without the intimidating manly presence a young boy might want in a father.

I’d seen him fearlessly go after people who wronged him or who showed the slightest disrespect, people, for example, who parked their cars in the handicap zone he’d had the city paint on the curb nearest the front door so that grandma could get to her car without trouble.

He’d run out, no matter who it was, and he’d confront the offenders, directing them away from the painted curb. Even the scary looking guys complied.“Dad, you gotta be careful these days,” I said once during a visit to the old neighborhood, “there are a lot of gang bangers passing through the area now.”

“I don’t care,” he said, “they don’t belong there.”

I seldom heard whatever he said to people as they rummaged through his trash on trash days; but he’d shoosh them away and off they’d go.

“I don’t want people digging through my trash or my recycle,” he’d say, sitting back down into his chair to read the morning newspaper. “I pay money for the city to come pick those up. If they want to dig through the trash, let them go to the dump.”

As a father myself, I determined as much as possible not to be like my biological father, who it seemed to me, quit when the family he created put demands on him that he wasn’t ready to meet. He became a flyboy. He fled, spawning more families along the way, leaving more abandoned, fatherless children in his path.

I swore that I would never do that to my child; that I would never flee from my responsibilities, that I would break the cycle, as much as possible, and try to be a meaningful manly presence in my daughter’s life. I failed on many levels to give her what she needed but she knows that I love her and will not abandon her. She’s the apple of my eye.

Without my stepfather’s example, though, I might never have known what it means to be a father. Over the years, I’ve tried to emulate his commitment and respect and love for family. Mom was right. We were lucky to have found him. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.


Life in Hell: An American Bad Dream



by Stacey Warde

My life, as the lives of so many others, has been playing itself out like a bad dream.

I’ve entered the dreaded dark wood of Dante’s Divine Comedy, which begins with the Inferno, where gods and holy personages, the people we thought had our best interests at heart, are seen for what they really are: Evil, gluttonous, corrupt, and villainous. I’ve met my share of them, mostly, like Dante, in the church.

It’s almost 3:30 a.m. and the neighbor’s dog complains through the window next door to be let inside. Her owner sleeps soundly through the plaintive barks.

The moon will be full in less than an hour.

A distant great horned owl hoots, echoing into the crystal blue moonlit shroud covering the surrounding valley. A cop prowls with his lights off, driving slowly, like a drunkard, down the wrong side of the road.

Another car passes every few minutes, the whir of its tires against the cold, blue asphalt sounds like the sudden splash of surf rushing up black sand on a winter night.

Who the hell would be out driving at 3:30 in the morning? And where could they possibly be going? Or, coming from? What occupies their hearts and minds?

It doesn’t make sense to me, the quiet slinking under cover of darkness. Few things do in the underbelly of night, and even more so in the broad light of day when the slinking of ill-intent is less obvious.

This journey of the dark night leaves me with many questions. But one, more than any other, stands out: Where do I belong?

Like Dante, I’ve “wandered off from the straight path,” disoriented, astray. Virgil has not yet arrived to guide me through hell to my Beatrice.

The flat, two-dimensional view of life in popular American culture — good and evil, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight — no longer serves as an adequate guidepost for what is real.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And worse, the church, that paragon of all that is good and virtuous in American life, and which claims to know the “Way,” stumbles blindly, reeking of its own hypocrisy, meanness and wrongdoing, unable even to guide itself.

Without a Virgil, I’m lost. We’re all lost. The gods are silent but stirring.

I’ve given up on church and religion. Its answers about God — “The God” — sound like crystal shattering in my ear. They feel trite, contrived and false; wishful thinking and adolescent fantasies. A moment of silence and prayer for the lost? How about weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth?

The New Age solution to think positively makes me want to puke. It’s whistling in the dark.

CULTURE.JOBI think of Job in the Hebrew scriptures, the most modern book ever written. There are no easy answers. Not even the wisest, most orthodox or even hip person can answer Job’s complaint. His sufferings, as the worlds’, are an anomaly.

And God — “El Shaddai,” the Hebrew word for Almighty — what is God in that story? A cruel and arrogant brute not unlike the Greek gods of antiquity who sadistically toy with their helpless supplicants.

El Shaddai, or rather his consort, Satan with El Shaddai’s consent, murders Job’s 10 children, destroys his household and property, mercilessly assaults Job’s body with disease until he is covered in boils, lamenting his woes, alone in an ash heap. Job, longsuffering and faithful to the bitter end, is the only one who remains virtuous. Even God fails to answer Job’s complaint.

Like Job, I demand an audience with the Almighty to lodge my complaint, and claim my innocence, to protest the senseless suffering of so many. There’s no plausible reason for these sufferings, for the bad dream I’ve been living in concert with others.

“You create your own reality,” one of Job’s New Age friends tells him.

“You’re full of it,” he answers back. “If I create my own reality, what do I need God for? What do I need you for?”

Unlike Job, however, I’ve given up on God, at least the one I have known until now, the one who is All-Everything except dark, contrary, mysterious and evil.

I should consider myself lucky, a friend told me recently, that the Inquisitor isn’t shoveling hot coals onto my disemboweled intestines. He’s right. Five-hundred years ago, my body would have been splayed open and savagely torn apart for spreading heresy against the church.

But I know the real reason for such holy violence. I know, as do Dante and Virgil, the dark secrets and lies that bishops and priests keep safely tucked under their pious collars, how vicious and mean and cowardly they are, how much they deserve their painful, eternal sufferings.

I don’t believe in the devil, another Christian contrivance conceived as the bugaboo of all that is horrible, painful and unexplainable. The devil, the dark god, if you will, is, I believe, just another face of God, if God is the Ultimate Reality.

The primitives knew this long before the church fathers turned the One God into two — black and white, body and spirit, good and evil, God and Satan. Our ancestors understood there was no difference, only shades of grey, turning from light to dark to light again.

They had names, both male and female, for these different shadow-like faces of the One Spirit: Wotan, Loki, Freya, Odin, Kali, Astarte, each emerging from the primordial soup as another aspect of the energy activating the cosmos.

These existed long before there was a church, eons before there was a devil. The devil is a scapegoat. Even Flip Wilson — “The devil made me do it” — knew that.

The dark god inhabits the Underworld, where sooner or later everyone visits — in dreams, mythology, Dante’s Inferno, in life and death. There’s no escape. And when we arrive at the Underworld, we don’t necessarily encounter a devil, only shades of ourselves, our enemies, all that has been rejected from our consciousness.

We have met the enemy and enemy is us. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” What then? What remains of this dark night? What am I to do? There’s no turning back.

The dark god dwells in the loam of our own repressions and denials, appearing in the night with horns, cloven hooves, and the pungent vitality and fecundity of earth.

He inhabits the shadowy wooded places where men and women have danced naked together for ages, drunk in their own eroticism, muscled, virile and potent, drawing sustenance from one another and from their Dionysian longings to release their own vibrant power.

It’s no wonder that the Western world, driven by the Christian ethic to subdue the earth and deny the body, has nearly decimated the world’s forests. So why not give up on God, at least on the one-dimensional Western monotheistic Monolith we’ve come to know? The one who drinks our blood and eats our flesh, and asks us to sacrifice our loved ones on the altar of faith?

We need the dark god, not a being separate from but the other face of God, to awaken from our nightmares and make sense of the parts of our lives and ourselves we fail to understand, to finally discover where we really belong, to know there is no really true safe harbor for this passage.

The cobalt color of the full moon’s light slowly, reluctantly gives way to the silver sheen of dawn’s arrival and the world emerges from the shadows of night but remains as dark as ever, cloaked in ignorance and religious bigotry.

I wait for my Virgil to show me the way through this dark passage, to guide me through the stench and horror of the Underworld, where perhaps I may gain some insight, an advantage from sufferings, and emerge finally to find a home. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.

G’ma loves Cassius Clay

But here was Clay on our TV, blustering, making horrible threatening faces, shaking his fists at the camera, calling Liston a “big ugly bear” and predicting his demise at his own hands in unparalleled bombast. AP Photo/John Rooney

But here was Clay on our TV, blustering, making horrible threatening faces, shaking his fists at the camera, calling Liston a “big ugly bear” and predicting his demise at his own hands in unparalleled bombast. AP Photo/John Rooney

by Dell Franklin

It was January of 1964, shortly before I was inducted into the U.S. Army as a 20-year-old, and then-Cassius Clay and soon-to-be Muhammad Ali was going to fight terrifying heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, an ex-con whose scowl in the ring was so menacing several opponents melted before the first punch and folded like accordions.

But here was Clay on our TV, blustering, making horrible threatening faces, shaking his fists at the camera, calling Liston a “big ugly bear” and predicting his demise at his own hands in unparalleled bombast.

Dad, an ex-amateur champion boxer out of Chicago who could have turned pro but instead chose baseball and reached the Big Leagues, said, very sourly, “He hasn’t fought anybody, except Archie Moore, and he’s fifty years old for Chrissake! Moore would’ve made a fool out of him ten years ago. This guy’s all talk, a showboat blowing his own horn, Liston’ll knock him out and shut his mouth.”

Mother, an Eleanor Roosevelt Democrat, said to me, very quietly, but matter-of-factly, “A black man has to blow his own horn in our society, or he’ll never be heard.”

We all watched film of Clay training. He danced and glided around the ring, occasionally going into a frenetic shuffle and throwing punches so rapidly he reminded you of a lightweight, and it was hard to believe anybody could lay a hand on him, much less beat him. He was undefeated and had embarrassed every opponent, and only Doug Jones, who lost in a decision, had come close to beating him. As we continued to watch Clay spout and threaten and predict, making those faces, Gramma, about 4-feet-10, Russian born, who raised seven kids (including my mother) without much help during the Depression piped up, “Oh, that man, look at his eyes, they’re so kind and gentle. He’s a beautiful young man, he’s just putting on an act.”

That was it for me. Gramma had the wisdom, the X-ray insight. Mother nodded. I was all in on Mr. Clay.


A month later, I was in my third week of basic training at Ft. Ord, California, and our company DI announced, to our disappointment, and his sadistic gratification, that we were to clean our barracks and no radios were allowed for us to catch the Clay/Liston fight. Luckily, our platoon DI, a three-striper named Jeffries, a towering scary black man, informed us if anybody found a transistor radio, we could listen to the fight, because he wasn’t going to be around, he would be watching it on closed circuit and didn’t give a goddamn what we were doing as long as the barracks was tip-top in the morning.

So, around 40 of us surrounded a small transistor radio. Almost everybody favored Liston. My dad, with whom I’d gone to fights and watched the Gillette and Pabst Blue Ribbon bouts on TV and listened to his predictions of when and with what punch would end most of these fights, and was almost always right, picked Liston.

I picked Clay as bets were made.

We were glued to the radio, yelling, whooping, and when the fight was called and Clay won, all those who picked Liston yelled “Fix!” The few blacks who had picked Clay were shuffling, throwing punches, gloating, boasting just like Clay. I called dad a couple nights later and the first thing he said was “Fix. Goddamn fix.”

Yeah, sure. Later, when I saw the film during my 15-day leave, and Cassius Clay was now Muhammad Ali, I told dad, “Look at the size of Ali, dad. He’s BIGGER than Liston. Nobody’s gonna beat him. Let’s face it—he is the greatest!”

Dad didn’t want to hear it. “Bullshit,” he muttered. “Joe Louis takes him out in five.”


September of 1966 I had about three months left in the Army, was stationed in Northern Italy, and my first sergeant, a black man who’d been in the Army since 1940, Pastell Gardner, wanted to borrow my car to drive to Frankfurt, Germany, to watch his man, Muhammad Ali, dismantle the German contender, Karl Mildenberger.

At the time, I was a Spec 4, a medic, and owned a VW Beetle I’d managed to buy with black market dealings with Italians, for no GI could afford to buy a car clearing $118 a month. Our company was primarily black, but for some reason Sergeant Gardner, the slickest person I’ve ever known, a bulky Sugar Ray Robinson look-alike with a walk and an attitude right out of a New York Jazz joint (he was originally from South Carolina) took a liking to me, and I have to say I admired him as one of those special characters who come along and show you how life should be lived to the fullest—and with uncommon style.

I asked couldn’t he just take a train? But no, the sergeant wanted some independence, promised to be good to my heap, and so I said yes, and he took off toting his finest silk suit and wide-brimmed hat, and when most of the post gathered in the EM club to watch the fight on TV, if you looked closely, there was Gardner, ringside, a blonde German woman beside him (he was thrice divorced) as he puffed on the biggest cigar he could find.

As most of the white GIs rooted for Mildenberger, representative of a country we’d defeated in a war just 20 years earlier, every black rooted for Ali, who sliced Mildenberger up like beefsteak, and once again every black GI in the room slapped hands, danced and shuffled and threw punches to the wind, while white guys shuffled off in defeat.

No fix here. When Gardner returned, my car in tact with a full tank of gas, he couldn’t stop smiling. “Greatest time of my life,” he said, as I visited him at his desk in the orderly room, a framed, autographed photo of Ali on the wall near the one of President Johnson. “Ali, my God, you got to see the man up close to believe it. Ain’t nobody like him, never has been, never will be. Man is magic.”

He handed me one of his cigars. How he got them from Cuba I’ll never know.


One of my customers, who knew I was a fanatical fight fan and liked Ali and supported him all during his exile from the boxing world, gave me a poster by Leroy Neiman of the coming fight.

One of my customers, who knew I was a fanatical fight fan and liked Ali and supported him all during his exile from the boxing world, gave me a poster by Leroy Neiman of the coming fight.

Before the Frazier/Ali match in March of 1971, as I tended bar in a hotspot in Manhattan Beach, California, one of my customers, who knew I was a fanatical fight fan and liked Ali and supported him all during his exile from the boxing world, gave me a poster by Leroy Neiman of the coming fight, and then framed it for me—brown and tan wash depicting sleek Ali, rough charcoal portraying gnarly Frazier, so different from Neiman’s other colorfully gaudy fight posters. I quickly hung it up in my studio apartment—my only (to me) museum piece. Forty-five years later, it’s still the centerpiece among my collected art.

I awaited the fight with dread, having watched Ali against Quarry and realizing he was not the same, he was heavier, slower; rusty from a 3 ½-year layoff. At this point, dad sort of admired Ali, but still insisted Liston took a dive, and I told him I thought Liston probably quit both fights because Ali had him psyched out and terrified of looking embarrassed in the ring in front of millions of boxing fans who once admired him.

Dad picked Frazier over Ali. I insisted Ali would have easily beaten Frazier had he fought him in his prime. As it was, in defeat, Ali stood up from a devastating left hook in the 14th round that would have retired most boxers, showed his courage as he fought gamely on, and humility in this first defeat, and came back to beat Frazier and all the contenders while being half the fighter he had been before they took his championship away. He was also easy to hit, bigger, slower, with only sporadic dancing and electric footwork, but he still had that jab and those hands—and the will of two teams of oxen.

Much later, when he became a human punching bag for Larry Holmes, I refused to watch. Every fighter comes to this point in his career, but Ali? Yeh, Ali. He was mortal, and damaged beyond recovery, and as time passed and he lapsed into the most severe symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, became largely mute and unrecognizable in his puffiness, there was still that twinkle in his eyes, like he was still putting you on, what my gramma described as “kind and gentle, a beautiful young man.” §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., and publishes his observations on sports, politics, and culture on his website,, where this article first appeared.