As a child, I loved watching him work-out in the garden, shadowboxing in the heat of those summer days. Arms pumping like pistons, eyes fixed on an imaginary opponent, his breath steaming from his nose, while sweat poured down his face. It was like watching ballet with a raw, powerful edginess to it that made you inhale slowly, so as not to call attention to yourself.
At six-one, my Papa had been a handful who took care to avoid becoming a troublemaker. A gentle giant who could cradle his youngest child against his chest, while pounding at the leather speed ball with his other hand. He’d told me quietly how he’d been set to go pro, until mum got pregnant with Vince. She’d been so scared of my dad getting injured, that she’d persuaded him to stop and get a ‘real’ job. The shadow of regret in his averted eyes always made my stomach clench with apprehension.
The life of a professional boxer wasn’t for everyone. The possible injuries from an ill placed blow to the head, could kill a man, and had done so often enough for a man’s family to worry. I’d be stupid if I didn’t understood why any woman wouldn't want that for her man. However, Papa still threw those punches when he had the time. He kept his gear set up in the garage and would take a run nearly every morning.
I’d watch him pummel his frustrations into the large, faded punching bag he’d taken from Marlon’s gym. His fists would fly, punctuated by grunts and snorts like a bull in a pen, all his concentration focused on that padded leather cylinder. Papa would duck and dive, swinging high then low until his old t-shirt was soaked, only to grind to a halt when mum called him to run her an errand, or something she couldn’t do for herself.
His arms would drop, as though his dream had to get back in the box he’d allowed to be created for it. The wide shoulders would sink, shrinking into his everyday persona, and he would once again become nothing more than my old man, my father. I couldn’t help seeing a man who’d allowed life to take control of him, while his dreams were packed away in a box on a shelf in the garage. Those worn boxing gloves that had his name etched on the inside cuff, and the mouth guard that no longer fit right.
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