Fallen Soldier: The Death of A Champ And Coming To Terms With My Own Father’s Mortality

Muhammad Ali’s death has been tough for me. The “Champ” reminds me so much of my own father. They carry the spirit of warriors.
The Champ- Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was larger than life. The “Champ” was known for talking shit and backing it up. He embodied strength, grace and wisdom- all the characteristics of a noble warrior. On June 3rd, 2016– we lost him.

Yes, we.

Throughout the years, we watched his virile, youthful body give way to a frail shadow of his former self. His death has been hard for me. It is forcing me to come to terms with my father’s mortality. My dad turned seventy-five years old a day after Muhammad Ali died.  I wished my daddy “Happy Birthday” with tears in my eyes. We laughed and joked but things were different. My “Champ” lost his baby brother, Al Riley, on November 15, 2015, he is battling Alzheimer’s, suffers from dementia and he is still recovering from a stroke that he had 4 years ago. He is withering away and it is unbearable to watch. I have always told my daddy that he is the strongest man I know. It was no different on his birthday except this time his response to me was, “I’m tired, baby.”

I struggled to hold back my tears. Those are words no child ever wants to hear their parent say. My sister and mami are caring for him. I live almost 1200 miles away.  I panic and am anxious whenever my sister calls me. It’s real for me y’all. I’m not ready to lose my hero, protector- my Superman. I’m sure the Ali children weren’t either. He is our Mufasa. The first man that my sister and I ever loved.  My dad would and will move heaven and earth for his girls.

The Champ- Photo courtesy of NBC Nightly News
The Champ- Photo courtesy of NBC Nightly News

Muhammad Ali’s life and my dad’s life are almost perfectly paralleled. Both were/are unapologetically black. Unlike Muhammad Ali, my daddy served 8 years in the military during Vietnam. Not because he wanted to fight for this country but because he wanted to be somebody. He wanted to live a good life and the military promised him that. The military damaged both of these black men. My father suffers from PTSD, nightmares of seeing fallen comrades and the effects of Agent Orange. Ali suffered not being able to make a living in order to support his family because “our” government deemed him a traitor. Both men were/ are role models to many people. They were also impeccable dressers. My dad’s penchant for tailor-made suits  and custom shirts have a reputation of their own. Both were boxers although my dad never boxed professionally, he was nice with his hands thanks to my Uncle O’dell (Ishmael). Finally, both were/ are proud Muslim men.  I, actually, said a D’ua in his honor. I’ve not prayed in Arabic since my Uncle O’Dell’s (Ishmael) funeral. I’m not a practicing Muslim anymore. Haven’t been for decades but I felt such reverence for Muhammad Ali that I had to pay my respects.

My hope is that I have a lot more time with my “Champ”. I need him here with me-physically. My once strong, fierce warrior is now fragile and his memory is fading. His fiery spirit has diminished. He doesn’t remember things that I would do ONLY for him like make him homemade chicken soup from scratch. I made it for my husband for the first time and I told him. He didn’t remember the soup. He apologized for not remembering. My heart broke. My dad has lived through the death of our oldest sister (Lisa). He was never an emotional man during my childhood. Now, he openly mourns all of the people whom he’s lost. He weeps and it is unnerving. My stoic rock is now reduced to a shell of fragility and I’m scared. I’m frightened that he will leave me and I won’t be able to hear him call me “Chucklehead” or “Big Girl” again. I’m terrified that I will not be able to give comfort to my own daughter if she loses her “PawPaw” because of me being so distraught.

Maybe if I do an ebbo AND a prayer in Arabic, I can buy him more time. Maybe orisha, eggun and Allah will grant me another decade or two to relish in his wisdom. I’m not ready to lose him. I need him.

I love you, Daddy! Stay with me.


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