My Dad was given this necklace by his fellow educators when he retired from teaching almost 40 years ago. It is a symbol of the tough love disciplinarian he was at work. He never took it off.
He was especially proud of it as it symbolized more than his retirement from the Newark, NJ public school system. In part, the boxing glove charm reminded him of his days as a semi-pro prizefighter and of when he competed on and coached boxing teams in college and in the Army during WWII.
When he passed away at the age of 100 earlier this year, I asked my Mom if I could have it and she said “Of course.”
So I took it home and put it in a safe but visible place in my room so I could reconnect with him in my own way when I wanted to. I never actually planned to ever wear it. I just felt proud to be the one to keep one of his most prized possessions safe for, hopefully, the next few decades.
When I look at it, the necklace often makes me smile. It sometimes reminds me of how, when my brother and I would visit him at the school where he worked as a Vice Principal, the kids at his school would approach us and say things like like…”Y’all are Mr. Nolley’s kids? Does he beat you? I bet you NEVER get in trouble!”
We would laugh and neither confirm or deny how his at-home persona as Dad was so different than the Mr. Nolley they knew when he was at work. Besides, we didn’t want to ruin the Mr. Nolley mystique!
Don’t get me wrong, my brother and I knew my Dad was never afraid to step up and, let’s say, handle a situation. But ironically, at home, Mom was the disciplinarian and Dad usually only used his superpowers to protect us from outside threats (unless, of course, we did something super crazy to warrant catching the wrath of Dad)!
Besides, growing up, we had also heard many legendary first-hand accounts of his, let’s call them “street boxing,” capabilities from my Mom and others who had witnessed him in action. Through our own observations and these testimonials, we learned a lot about him. And through his own telling of his life’s adventures in Street Boxing Land, we learned from him as well.
For starters, my Dad was never one to start a fight but he was always happy to finish one if provoked. And he raised us to be the same way — to never go looking for trouble but to always stand up for ourselves and fight for what we believed in.
From the time he was about 8 years old, my Dad pretty much raised himself. So he learned to navigate the world of working class people living on the straight and narrow and the world of those who, let’s say, lived on the other side, very well. Having never had one growing up, he valued family tremendously and taught us that family was about more than just DNA. Perhaps that’s part of what’s helped me deal with my own issues of infertility and becoming a “mom through acquisition” much easier.
He also made sure to expose us to as many people, places, walks of life and experiences as his teacher’s salary could afford, so we would be proud of who we are and also know that we weren’t inferior or superior to anyone.
My Dad held a bachelor’s degree from Virginia State University and a master’s from Columbia University. In his younger days, he always worked a respectable day job but made his real money shooting pool, throwing dice and playing cards after hours. He never made it seem like a glamorous life that we should aspire to nor did he ever make it seem like something to be ashamed of. It was simply part of the backdrop and soundtrack of his life, providing a context through which to teach us life lessons based on his own experiences. Perhaps that’s why I don’t gamble but do enjoy a game of billiards or cards every now and then to this day.
Because of his Oliver Twist-like upbringing, my Dad occasionally ran in circles where some people carried guns. But he didn’t. He carried a switchblade but I never heard tell of him ever using it. His weapons of choice were his fists — that’s after his wit and intellect proved inappropriate for the situation at hand. He firmly believed that if he could see them coming, his opponents were always outnumbered even if he was one to their many. And by all accounts, he was usually right.
That was my Dad.
My mom recently told me how she once saw him make good on a promise he made to one would-be foe, “I see you have a gun, but if you take it out, you’ll be knocked out before you have a chance to use it.”
That was my Dad.
He once told my kids of an incident in which a guy pulled a weapon on him.
Dad: “…and so, I had to give the guy a sundae.”Kids: “A sundae? What’s a sundae?”Dad: “Well, I hit him on a Tuesday and he woke up on a Sunday!”
That was my Dad.
Tough. Brave. Kind of crazy, but in that “who you gonna call when stuff gets hectic” good way. A fighter his whole life. Strong in mind, body and character.
My Mom calls him “the strongest man I ever met.” And she’s right.
That was my Dad.
So now that his earthly presence is gone, I wear his prized necklace which truly represents who he was, how he saw himself and how others saw him in more ways than one.
Proudly, both of my daughters want to get boxing glove necklaces made just like it in his honor. Maybe Santa will bring them matching ones for Christmas….(note to self: DM Santa next week).
At first I was reluctant to wear my Dad’s boxing glove necklace. Too soon? Maybe. Out of respect? Definitely. Was I ready for the responsibility that comes with it? Not so sure. But then I one day I realized that wearing it might be a great way to honor him. And, if it also allowed me to channel some of his super powers, then all the better.
So I recently started wearing it.
I sometimes get asked about it, especially by people who know that my words are the only tools I’ve ever used to win a fight (that and the occasional call to my big brother)! And when they do, I’m always happy to tell people about its meaning.
That’s my Dad.
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