My father, the champ

First Person

December 03, 2006|By Lori Watkins | Lori Watkins,[Special to the Sun]

I know everyone has a story about the first person they loved.

My story is different. My first love was my father -- boxer Rudolph Valentino Watkins Sr.

My father is the first man who instilled in me what a man or what a gentleman is all about. My dad would always have these different sayings, such as, "A man has nothing but his word. If a man does not keep his word then he is not a true man."

I did not understand what he meant as a child, but as I matured I grew to know what he meant.

When I was a teenager, he would take me aside while we were watching a boxing match and say things like, "I know you are getting ready to go to college but please whatever you do, don't be an educated fool.

"You can get all the education in the world, but if you don't have common sense it means nothing. Common sense is what will get you by in this world, and if you have them both you are powerful."

My father was No. 14 of 16 brothers and sisters. He had asthma. At 17, he took up boxing and running, which helped his condition.

Later, he joined the Army, where he honed his boxing skills. He won the All-Army Champion Tournament. Father was selected to train on the 1952 Olympic Boxing Team in Germany and France before the games in Helsinki, Finland. He placed fourth each time.

After he left the Army, my father turned to professional boxing. He would tell me about his fights at Madison Square Garden in New York and in Philadelphia and how the fighters were tough to beat. My dad was inducted into the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980.

During his career, he taught me how to box. He would take me to this rundown gym above a strip bar on Baltimore Street and show me how to rap a boxer's hand and then how to jab and move.

I have a mean right hook.

My father was my best friend. We spent a lot of quality time together, with family on the weekends, at Lexington Market every Saturday and in church.

I can recall the time I would walk on his feet to dance with him. He showed me how a gentleman should treat a lady by holding the car door open for me.

He taught me about the importance of family.

"Family is everything. Always remember that, Lori," he'd say.

As he got older, my father would also say things like, "Whatever happens, never put me nor your mother in a nursing home. You take care of us as we have taken care of you and your siblings."

All those life lessons were tested years later.

In his later years, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. It was at this time that our family was drawn even closer.

He could not remember what took place two seconds ago but could remember what happened 30 years ago. He would leave the house and get lost.

I am glad that my champ had prepared me for times like this. As the years went on, my father's health went downhill even further.

My mother enrolled him in an adult day-care program, and each day I'd see him off on the bus. He would be strapped in and wave at me as it took off.

That's when I realized the tables had turned. I was saying goodbye as if I was the parent.

That was the hardest adjustment for me.

During his illness, I would help him get dressed and change him when he would go to the bathroom on himself. I never got mad because I knew he had no control. I just asked God every day to give me strength.

Everything my father did for me when I was little I had to do for him now. My mother and I would take him around family. Sometimes, it was just the two of us, like old times, but this time I was reminding him of things.

He never forgot who I and my mother were because we saw him every day.

There were times when my dad would say to me, "You know, Lori, I am not the same. I cannot remember anymore."

I would always reply in a positive way and say I forget, too.

It was amazing what this illness was doing to his mind. He knew what was happening, but, at the same time, he did not know.

As his mind continued to deteriorate, his body began to change as well.

He was later diagnosed with prostate cancer. The doctors couldn't operate on him.

Eventually, my father's cancer spread to his liver. He was in and out of hospitals for years. But he kept fighting.

My father went into a coma and lived at a hospice for three weeks before his death on Jan. 8, 2005. My mother and I were by his side. He was 73.

He looked like a beautiful angel. I wish every little girl had a father like mine.

.......................

Lori Watkins, 42, is a beauty sales consultant and business owner. She has been in the cosmetics industry for 20 years.

For more information about Rudy "Sugar Boy" Watkins, read Baltimore's Boxing Legacy: 1893-2003, by Thomas Schaif.

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