Growing up on Ali!
Ali’s passing woulda been a tough day for my father. He was an amateur fighter as a young man of the 40's & 50's, as a lot of poor blackmen were. They chose the ring as a possible springboard to lift them from their present condition, the same way so many poor young blackmen want to be rappers today.
Even though it didn’t work out, he remained the biggest fight fan, & his favorite fighter was Cassius Clay. It took my father some time to get with the name change — the constant turmoil of the 60's was tough for him to deal with at times. Change was everywhere, he just needed minute to catch up.
I can still see him there, dead center of our old living room — in his favorite chair, eating his favorite snack “Cheese Nips” by Nabisco — watching his favorite fighter on our floor model black & white. ABC’s Wide World of Sports was showing the latest Ali fight, my Dad’s attention glued to the screen, hand gesturing my older brother to go get him a drink.
As I remembered it, Ali seemed to be on TV a lot then, but not always in the ring. If my Dad was home, I’d ask him questions during commercials about Ali — by this time he’d come around to the name change. He’d explain about the war, Ali’s refusals to being drafted in it & the Black Muslims.
Looking back on it, my Dad could’ve been angry with Ali, being a war veteran himself. But there was no hint of that, just pride, as he respected what his favorite fighter was willing to do — standing up for his beliefs, no matter the cost.
My Dad used Ali’s stance while raising us, — as an example to strive for — that I still believe in and appreciate today. I guess that’s why Ali’s passing feels like losing a close family member, because even though I never met the man, he’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember.
Yes, today woulda been tough on my Dad, he passed on in 2010. But not before spreading lessons of Ali to his grandkids & great grandkids. He spoke to them about the history of Ali, when Ali was no longer able to speak for himself. He reminded them that his favorite fighter inside the ring, was the “Greatest of all time” outside of it as well.
Rest in peace Dad! — You too Champ!