Watch for the left hook

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A “standing eight count” is an eight-second “time out” that a referee can afford a boxer who may find themselves in serious trouble. It’s a chance for the ref to assess if there’s any real damage and gives the fighter some time to catch their breath and continue to fight on. In that spirit, this column will feature law enforcement officers or their family members who have overcome serious challenges in their lives, detailing their own standing eight counts, and how they lived to fight on.

Sitting in a corner coffee shop, we enjoy the relative calm between the storms of lunch and dinner. Wearing a grey suit over an open-collar white button-up, a three-day growth of salt and pepper stubble covers his face and head, with pale green eyes emitting a relaxed intensity behind tortoiseshell frames.

“My father used to liken life to boxing; he’d say, ‘Always watch for that left hook; very difficult to see it coming.’ He wasn’t a fighter himself, not a violent guy at all. But he was first generation; both his parents were right off the boat. Dad was just all-around tough, the way most of those guys who grew up in the 1930s and 40s had to be.”

Divorce was the first left hook. Then came cancer.

Divorce was the first left hook. Then came cancer. (Getty Images)

He digs into his pocket to retrieve his phone. Scrolling, he holds it up for me to see; an earlier version of him appears on the screen; scruffily bearded with long greasy hair. The only thing familiar are the eyes, burning brightly with determination. All in all, he looks like a prophet who leapt from the pages of the Old Testament to rain justice upon the Earth.

“I was deep undercover, bro; would go into basements to make deals, no ID, fictitious name; just a .38 snub with no serial number. Crazy hours, incredible rush. Insane as it was, I’d do it all over again.”

Our server takes our orders, pours more coffee.

“She told me over the phone,” he says, staring out the window. “I always called on my way home to see if we needed anything like milk, bread. Three young kids, there’s always something you’re out of. Looking back, I have to give her credit for not sugarcoating it. ‘I’m done,’ was all she said. Stone cold. I’m convinced that today she’d have texted. It took me a minute to process. But deep down, I think I knew, that I’d been on the lookout for that left hook.”

He sips from his mug.

“I’m not going to lie; I was a mess for a long time. Went through the motions, finalized the divorce, felt nothing. Started going to Mass on a regular basis; that was a huge help.”

Our food arrives, and we eat in silence for a few minutes.

“Having the kids to focus on was a loving distraction,” he continues. “And eventually gaining full custody, that was a tremendous win. As a man, having the courts take your side, that almost never happens, especially back in the day.”

Knowing he loves to travel, to be in nature, I ask about that.

“Yeah, dude, growing up in the city, I remember the first time being in the country as a kid. No joke, I said to my mom, ‘This is where God lives!’ During all that mess, I took up hiking. I’d just get in the car and drive 50 miles in any direction. Eventually, I’d park somewhere and just start walking into the woods. Definitely became a second church for me.”

A truck’s air brakes rudely interrupt, rattling the window.

“I first met Julie on one of those hikes. We’re close in age, similar stories; her daughter is just a year older than mine. She got me into real travel, took me to Rome. All that art, the paintings, the statuary; blew my mind in a big way.”

The server returns to check on our progress, pours more water.

“It was a while before I realized how happy I’d become. Content. The kids were doing great. I’d retired and was doing some private investigation work, nothing crazy. We were planning a trip to Japan when I got the call. I actually thought it was the travel agent calling me back. I made them put the doctor on; screw that drama ‘The doctor would like you to come in to talk.’ Really? What does she want to talk about? What kind of gas mileage am I getting with my new hybrid?”

We watch a school bus lurch around the corner and lumber down the street.

“Dad would have said it was yet another of life’s left hooks. To me, it felt like a straight right from Tyson. Thankfully, we caught it early; no spread. And I’ve become a prostate cancer evangelist, telling every guy I meet to go get checked. It’s amazing, right? The tougher the guy, the more hesitation, the bigger the fear seems to be.”

He shakes his head and laughs.

“The kids have been great, every step of the way. I mean, they’re not kids anymore, right? All in their 20s now. I speak or text with them several times a week. Listen, I’m not going to lie, it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. Everywhere I go I have to scope out the restroom situation. And I no longer sleep at night; I nap between trips to the bathroom. Never a problem getting my 10,000 steps a day. But considering the alternative, I’ll take it.”

We pay the bill and step out into the late afternoon sun.

“Mom keeps me and my brother on our toes. She’s pushing 90 and still very sharp, follows the news like a presidential candidate. Between shuttling her to doctors’ appointments and to see friends and family, it’s a full-time gig.”

As if on cue, an elderly man with a cane man passes, smiling and tipping his baseball cap to us as he enters the coffee shop.

Elbowing me in my ribs, he points to the old guy with his chin. “Amazing, right? But like my dad always said, ‘No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep punching!’”





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