My Dad, Muhammad Ali, and Boxers

My Dad, Muhammad Ali, and Boxers image

My Dad loved boxing. On weekends he’d watch the televised matches on tv, before the reign of cable. Mom would cut up bite-sized snacks of fruit or ice-cream. She’d arrange the snacks in an artful mandala pattern on a tray or bowl for me to serve to him, geisha style, while he cheered from the couch. He really got into the game, he’d stand up excitedly and shout out, “knock out! KO!” He’d laugh and cheer for each strategic punch and jab that landed, squirting blood, saliva and sweat fountains of pain, while Mom and I winced in underdog empathy with each monstrous blow.

Saturdays were his one day of rest from working ear-deafening blue-collar double shifts, at General Electric. He literally wore a (dark and light-hued) blue-collared uniform as an electrician. He had Sundays off too but that entire day was devoted to the church. Often the whole family was stranded there waiting for him to finish fixing the plumbing or whatever that had broken or because he was a church elder he had to attend endless meetings, long after every sane person had left. I experienced these marathon Sundays at church throughout my childhood and it was one of the reasons that I hated going. Why can’t we go to church and leave in an hour like everyone else? But my mom liked his involvement with the church because she thought it was a good influence on him. He had a vicious, violent temper that no one would have guessed he was capable of. To the world, he was soft-spoken, charmingly handsome and helpful but he morphed into a monster rager at home.

Because he was a workaholic/fix-it-all, his Saturdays were often filled with household chores: mowing the two acres of hilly lawn in 100% humidity, fixing the broken AC, the stopped toilet, patching the leaking roof, etc. After he fixed something, another crisis would emerge like a relentless weed. He’d scowl and grumpily get to the business at hand. He had no official training, he just taught himself to fix everything; braving electrocution or falling off the newly tarred roof. I think he actually did fall off it, but he climbed back on to the finish. That was how he was, hardworking and obstinate. So if he had an actual day off and there was a boxing match on, he was in a kind of Father’s Day heaven. He could watch Muhammad Ali float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!

My father was a handsome man. He had what macho men would call a pretty boy face, fine genteel features that made him look eternally young and somewhat ironically innocent; with the charming guile of a “snake hidden in the face of a flower”, as Shakespeare would say. In my mind, he was a Napoleonic powerhouse, slim but muscular in a 5’6 frame, he had zero fat on his body, his metabolism was always racing. He didn’t work out at a gym but his body was naturally toned. When he was younger, in South Korea, women would mistake him for a look-alike local celebrity, they chased him on the streets as if he were all the Beatles rolled into one. His young face looked so honest, romantic, peaceful and good-natured.

I thought of him as an Iago-like mastermind who lived double lives. He was like a secret agent with various glamourous mistresses, which he visited during out-of-state work trips. My mother would inevitably find credit card receipts for jewelry and luxury gifts, (minks and fancy clothes). She was a powerfully frugal woman who barely spent anything on herself and so the battle of all battles would ensue. My father wasn’t a clever cheater and my mother was exceptionally intelligent, she was the Valedictorian of her high school.

Shouted accusations would quickly turn into hard slaps in the face, with more intensified shouting, cursing. Chairs would upturn, tables would split apart, doors would splinter open, blood, screaming, mad chases through the ranch house like an evil inverted version of hide and seek. Mother would camouflage outside with the night and he would pursue her searching like a prison guard through startled trees with a flashlight, and sometimes he had a gun. He commanded us (the children) to help him search for her. He was an idiot in those moments to think that we’d ever help him. We pretended to look, we covered her tracks, we were never his allies ever. We loved her and hated him silently, while also feeling sorry for him. We couldn’t help it, he was still our father but we did what we needed to survive.

The irony is a cousin of sarcasm. Sarcasm is snarky, intentionally rude but the irony is a naturally occurring situational result.

My father loved boxing. Maybe it was because he was 5’6 with a pretty boy face, maybe he needed to prove his masculinity. He loved Boxing so much that he choose the Boxer breed as our first family pet. Boxers were traditionally bred as fighting dogs. Their ears are surgically cut into an upturned, conical shape and their tails are docked off when they’re puppies. It’s a cruel procedure that’s the only purpose nowadays is for display, to reflect pure-breed status. In the past, the pointed ears and short nubby tail improved their fighting chances (because there was less loose skin to grip onto and tear). Boxer dogs are very social, sweet souls, they’re not naturally aggressive; making them fight is completely immoral.

She was a gorgeously fawn colored Boxer, that the puppy mill breeders named, Bronze Beauty. Somehow the pedigree name stuck but we shortened it to Bronzie. My brother raised and trained her to sit and shake hands. We loved her and she protected us from neighborhood strangers, roaming dogs, and when necessary, our patriarchal father. When she could she would stand up for our mom, by staring down our dad by barking. She was loyal and would never bite any of us but she stood her ground courageously, blocking him from hitting her. I remember how he picked her up like the Incredible Hulk and threw her across the garage. She fell hard, whimpered but still limped forward again, she surrounded him with barks until he finally threw her against the wall. Even though she must have been afraid and in pain, she still kept barking. Bronzie was the bravest, most loyal dog I’ll ever know. She was our family and friend until the end of her life. She died in old age from untreated cancer, when her black muzzle mask turned gray in patches on her whiskered cheeks and her sweet, ultra-soft forehead was adoringly flattened with our pats and kisses. She had an extraordinary, life-affirming impact on our lives.

Judy Eun Kyung Kim , United States

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