Full Circle: The Fight Club
When it came to life lessons, my father pulled no punches
By Maury Z. Levy

I never hit my father. It’s not that I never tried.

In my house, Father’s Day was every Friday night. It was the night my mother took a good book and went upstairs, alone. It was the night my father vacated his big green chair in the corner and sat next to me on the couch. Right next to me. It’s the closest we ever sat since he drove all my cousins to Greenwood Dairies for a Pig’s Dinner, and I got to squeeze next to him with my heels on the hump.

It was the night that, together, we ate and drank and yelled at the TV. My father got a whole plateful of Bond white powdered donuts, just for the two of us, the donuts I was never allowed to eat in the living room. The donuts that sprayed when you spoke. We had donuts and French apple Tasty pies and deviled eggs. The deviled eggs were all for him. I never did find out why they were deviled. There are some questions you just don’t ask your father.

Our cold drinks were right at arm’s length, so we never had to move. Mine was milk. Straight. Abbott’s from a bottle. My father’s was a bottle of Schlitz. Not Schmidt’s. I made that mistake once and never heard the end of it. And there was smoke, lots of smoke. The dense, acrid smoke that only a cheap cigar could make.

The entertainment for this special night? The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports: Friday Night Fights, a program that all men who were men and all boys who wanted to be men watched. Live from Madison Square Garden, where I had once seen the circus, the best fighters in the world came to duke it out. There was Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore, Rocky Graziano, Willie Pep, even Jake LaMotta.

And there were always losers, the nameless, faceless men who spent more time on the canvas than on their feet. The men who got counted down and out by the referee as the real fighters bounced on their toes, their fists in the air.

In the true spirit of the night, between the fights, there were commercials for razor blades. The Friday Night Fights theme song became a tune you whistled in your sleep. “To look sharp every time you shave/To feel sharp and be on the ball/To be sharp, use Gillette Blue Blades/It’s the quickest, slickest shave of all!”

My father used Gillette blades. I guess this was the reason why. A tough guy needed a tough razor. After all, only tough men were fighters. Men who spit in buckets. Men who cut their eyes and bandaged them with Vaseline. Men who bled in black and white.

On the couch, my father bobbed and weaved with every punch. “You’re doing it all wrong,” he would yell at the screen.” Carmen Basilio never responded. “You’re winging your hook.”

This is where our closest moments came. “Stand up,” he would say to me. “Now this is what he’s doing wrong.” And he would throw a haymaker hook instead of a straight, sharp one. His fist would stop an inch from my face. Every time.

“Now you try to hit me,” he said.

“I don’t want to hit you.”

“Oh, don’t worry, you won’t. Now swing.”

And, as I did, he bobbed left and weaved right, and I never did lay a hand on him.

“Now, you remember,” he said, “when you get into fights, use your head, not your hands.”

That turned out to be pretty good advice for life, use your head. I won my share of fights in the schoolyard. Sure, some kid broke my nose once. But not my spirit. Nobody could do that. Because, in the final round, I was my father’s son.

June 2013
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