A Soldier and His Son, A memoir

 

Before he became a family man, Ronald E. Glover I was a soldier.

Twenty years ago I lost my father when I needed him more than ever. I wasn’t really sure how the rest of my life was going to play out. Dad wasn’t the preachy type on life’s lessons. The life that he lived serves as my compass as I navigate through my life as father, son, brother and companion.  As an African-American male raising his family in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement and Viet Nam War, Dad’s work was cut out for him.

Looking back on the moments with my father that I’ve chosen to share, I was unquestionably one of the fortunate ones.

Hangin with my mom, dad and sister Sylvia on New Year’s Eve. 

The Seed

I credit my father with planting the seed of my love for sports. Before I could read he would bring sports books home for me. I would look through the books over and over and the images of important sports moments became embedded in my conscience. These are the stories of Hank Aaron, Jack Johnson, Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones (golfer), Joe Namath, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and countless others. When I was in second grade my mom ordered me a two-year subscription to Sports Illustrated. That was a big deal for a kid who talked every Monday with his gym teacher about the NFL games the day before.

Dad was also my first editor. Learning to write letters in kindergarten was like walking on coals. If it wasn’t done to his standards the entire line was erased for me to do over. He was my toughest critic when it came to assignments and pushed me like no one else during that time.

When it came to education and morals my father didn’t cut any corners. I remember telling him a lie and instead of catching hell he gave me a nugget that I still hold on to. He simply said, “Never lie Skeeta, people die for telling the truth.” Of course as a seven-year old I’m thinking if a lie is going to get me to the next day there is no choice, but his reasoning was deeper than that because it always was with him.

Eventually my body would catch up to my head.

Couch Potato Conspiracy

My sports education took place on the living room couch. Saturdays during the winter months were the best. Dad tuned into ABC’s Wide World of Sports and posted up on the couch. We watched everything from giant slope skiing to the Harlem Globetrotters. No matter the event the channel never changed. I watched gymnast Kurt Thomas master the pommel horse and invent the Thomas Scissors on Wide World of Sports.

It was also what sparked my love for boxing. This was just fine with my dad who conspired with my grandfather and his friend (the late great Georgie Benton) and introduced me to the gym at the age of seven or eight. Unbeknownst to me, this sudden affection I had developed for boxing was the ol’ man’s way of building my untapped taste for blood.

Somehow my mother and grandmother got wind of their plan and thwarted any chance of me stepping into the ring. My mother told me later that it was my grandfather and Mr. Benton’s idea. Dad bought in when Benton told him he could make me a world champion when the time was right.

Salt In My Sugar

I was introduced to many of great fighters watching ABC on Saturday afternoons: Matthew Saad Muhammad, Larry Holmes, Roberto Duran, Dwight Braxton, Wilfredo Benitez, Ronnie Lyle, Jimmy Ellis, James Schuler, Jeff Chandler, Earnie Shavers, Renaldo Snipes, etc.

In my eyes, there was a boxer who stood out from everyone else. That boxer was Ray Charles Leonard was became my first sports hero. He was a baby-faced assassin who dazzled in the ring. I revered Leonard the way kids in the ’50′s and ’60′s revered Mickey Mantle. I looked up to Leonard with the love and admiration reserved for a big brother.

The night he defeated Wilfredo Benitez for the WBC Welterweight Championship was my first euphoric moment as a sports fan. From that moment on I felt there was nothing he couldn’t do or anyone he couldn’t beat.

Dad knew better.

After defeating Benitez, Leonard faced number one contender Roberto Duran in June of 1980 for his welterweight title. Duran, dubbed The Hands of Stone, was 71-1 with 55 knockouts when he contractually agreed to fight Leonard. What I didn’t know at the time was Duran was dad’s favorite fighter and like Duran, he didn’t care for Leonard. In the week’s leading up to the fight, dad talked about how Duran was going to beat Leonard up, but I wasn’t trying to hear any of that. Although I wouldn’t be able to see the fight, I was confident Leonard would handle his business.

In the wee hours of June 21, 1980, I was awakened by my father who told me that Roberto Duran defeated Sugar Ray Leonard by decision. He ended it with a knife-twisting, “I told you.” In disbelief, I turned on the radio I kept by my bed and heard the official news of Duran’s victory. I wasted no time in crying myself back to sleep.

In November of the same year, Sugar vindicated us both in the famous “No Mas” rematch.

Football Fanatics

When my father noticed my passion for football he went overboard. Anything with a Philadelphia Eagles logo was pushed on me. Posters, pennants, hats, pins — anything you can name. My life slowly began to revolve around the gridiron. I like to think that I was forced into Eagles fandom – no matter how much I screamed Lynn Swann was my favorite player — another Kelly Green sweatshirt was shoved in my face. The more I talked about the Steelers and Mean Joe Greene the more he talked about how great Harold Carmichael was. Since the Eagles were on every Sunday, I was eventually reeled in.

I always wondered why he took to the Eagles since he migrated from Charlotte, NC at the age eleven. I thought there would’ve been a team other than the Birds. Sometimes I thought of all the teams he could’ve chosen was this was the best that he could do?  I better count my blessings because I guess I could be a Cowboys fan.

Philadelphia Eagles football turned my otherwise reserved father into a roulette wheel of emotions that I still cannot fathom. I’m almost sure there was a time or two where a word was uttered that I hadn’t heard before or since. One minute he’s at the apex of joy, and in the next you would think he’s headed to the gas chamber. An Eagles victory carried him through the week — while a loss hung around his neck like rotting meat.

In September of 1989, Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham signed a new deal before taking the field against the Washington Redskins. Little did I know that this day would be my baptism into his madness.

The Eagles and Redskins played in a game that tested the patience of the most docile fan. It was a see-saw battle that included close to 1,000 yards in offense. There were nine turnovers in a 42-37 Eagles victory. It was a miracle neither of us ended up in the cardio unit that day. Between the two of us there was enough whooping and hollering to wake up a small country. When Jerome Brown stripped Doug Williams and pitched a lateral to Reggie White who raced 50+ yards for the touchdown, I thought we were going to tear the house down. It was one of those days that I’ll always cherish. Young Quentin, my son, was properly introduced into my world when DeSean Jackson’s game-winning punt return defeated the Giants in ’10.

Moses Malone helping the Sixers win the title in ’83 was a landmark moment for me and dad.

The Parade

If I had to pick a moment to define my pre-teen years it was the 76ers winning the NBA Championship in 1983. When Mo Cheeks slammed the door on the Lakers as time expired, I ran out into the street — barefoot and half-naked with the sound of celebratory bullets screeching skyward.

A few days later it was time for the victory parade down Broad Street.

Mom made me go to school for the Phillies parade in 1980, but I wasn’t missing this one. School was darn near out and Dad gave the go-ahead. We exited the subway at City Hall into a sea of people still hung over from the title clincher. Dad grabbed me a Sixers World Championship pennant that I left home. We set up camp at 15th and Market (for those familiar with the city, it’s right on the turn). It was a hot June day and the yellow sweatshirt I was wearing left me on a slow broil. As the buzz got louder, I could see the huge flatbed turn onto 15th street and as my champions inched closer I looked for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. And before I knew it, the trophy appeared in the hands of Moses Malone — the brightest of jewels in the hands of the man who proclaimed it.

Once the flatbed turned onto Broad Street, the crowd was moving in all directions. Some chose to follow the procession, while others simply stood around basking in the moment. My dad and I headed towards 11th street for the dreaded ride on the 23 trolley back to North Philly. If you’ve ever been on the 23 trolley before 1990 in the summer months, you know what I’m talking about.

My parents were married for 22 wonderful years.

Mr. Emotional

All my life I’ve had people tell me about my stern facial expression and I heard the same about my dad growing up. As mean as he looked, he was the most engaging person and once you got to know him you had a friend for life. Outside of his family no one really knew how emotional my father really was. He could go from James Evans to Dick Vermeil in no time and with emphasis. Of all his emotional moments there was one doubling us over in laughter.

The first Thanksgiving in our first and only house became an epic event for one reason; dad couldn’t bear the fact my younger sister skipped out to spend it with our grandparents. Everyone seemed to be cool until it came time for dad to bless the table. The blessing started out like any other full of gratitude and humility; then you heard his voice crack a little and before you knew it Niagara Falls was at our table. The only words that I could make out were…”and I wish my baby was here“. Mom was at a loss for words and so was I. Thank God dad invited his godfather Mr. Clarence who had the perfect comeback for the moment. “Pretty emotional today aren’t you?” Mr. Clarence blurted out. My father promptly shot back “Yes I am.” When my sister returned on Sunday, dad was still feeling the sting of rejection and didn’t talk to my sister for two days.

Of everyone in the house, my sister was the one that could do no wrong. The wrath I caught I brought on myself. Like the time I broke the chandelier bulb while dad was upstairs sleeping and I had to wake him up on his day off and tell him what I did. My mom dealt out the pain in the Glover household. Dad just came in with his voice and that was enough to straighten us out.

He came downstairs looked at the chandelier and went back upstairs. I hear the buckle of his belt like he’s getting dressed and he came back downstairs with the belt in his hand. I’m thinking to myself, I know this isn’t about to happen. Before you know it he’s flailin and I’m wailin. Some years later my mom told me how my ol’ man cried in bed that night because he thought that I hated him for beating me that day. I experienced the same thing years later the first time I had to discipline my son. When it was over he was upstairs crying and I was downstairs doing the same.

Dad and the well-known Pistons hat on my prom night.

Joe Dumars and The Walk Home

Dad never claimed a basketball squad other than his beloved UNC Tarheels. During the down years with the Sixers he took a liking to the Detroit Pistons. One night we went game when the Pistons were in town in Joe Dumars second season. He was having a productive night against the home team and I remember dad saying “Joe Dumars is going to be a pretty good player.”

Once again he was more than right. He stuck his chest out with pride as the Pistons bullied the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan on the way to back to back championships. Like my hero Leonard, dad didn’t like Jordan — not the NBA version anyway. I brought him a Pistons cap after they won their second championship and to say he wore this hat proudly would be a gross understatement. He wore it until it literally fell apart — which was right around the time Jordan began his reign.

During our night at the aforementioned Pistons/Sixersgame, dad was befriended by a man who was enjoying a night out with his wife. By the time the game was over dad had about four beers in him and a subway ride to look forward to. When we arrived at Broad and Lehigh he was beyond nice. Walking back to the house he asked me if he could lean on me as we walked. He put his arm around my shoulder and we walked home. On the way he asked me if I embarrassed him. I responded emphatically “No”?

I knew where he was going with his question and for the first time we talked about it.

Dad had his struggles with the bottle to the point where it became noticeable at home. I was at the age where I was hanging off the block and had friends in the neighborhood. There were nights I had to walk past friends with my dad who I know just got out of the bar simply so he could get up the next day for work. It was tough facing some of them the next day, but I lived with it. Some had tougher situations than mine. Some had mothers who were strung out on crack and sisters who were the neighborhood tool. So I had a father who drank. I’ll take that all day over not having one at all.

Another Walk, Another Lesson

The summer drew to a close and everyone was getting their back to school gear. I worked in the neighborhood meat store on weekends and bussed tables at a cafe in town during the week. I had everything but my sneakers. Dad promised me the newest pair of Barkley’s that were just about to come out. He got paid on his day off so we had to go to his job to get his check.

Two things here: My dad was notorious for walking what would be considered ridiculous distances to a normal human being. Second, his job was no hop, skip and a jump from home — at least an hour both ways. Throw in an August heat wave and you have a recipe for heartbreak.

The day arrives and all I can see are these sneakers on my feet, but before I get my golden fleece I have to walk through this concrete Hades.  After the 30+ block hike, we got to the job and after another brutal 15-minute wait, his supervisor surfaces with no check and a mouthful of excuses. It was probably the closest I came to cursing in front of either my parents. Instead of seventy bucks in my pocket, I walked those 30+ blocks back home with a lump in my throat the size of a pumpkin — cursing the City of Philadelphia human resources with every step. When I got home, I went to my room, buried my face in the pillow and bawled out. I would eventually get the sneakers, but not without some heartache.

One Diploma, Two Graduates

My high school graduation was a big deal for me because I was looking forward to college and being on my own for the first time. It was a bigger deal for my dad for more important reasons.

Dad is the one with the butterfly collar. I’m on the far left.

Dad dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade to enlist into the Marine Corps. He was the oldest of eight children and while enlisted he lived his dream of being a Marine and providing financial help to my grandmother. He passed up high school graduation for his mother and siblings. Instead of graduation parties he was in Camp LeJune preparing for his deployment to Viet Nam.

As I thought about these things it all became more clear: He pushed me to be a perfectionist as a student because no one to pushed him. My father sketched anything whether it was in front of him or from memory, but he was never pushed to go further. For as much talent and smarts as my dad possessed, there were other forces deterring him from his ultimate greatness.

Now I know why he wept the way that he did after my graduation. I wasn’t just walking for me, I was walking for that eleventh grade dropout that gave up his life hoping his seed finished what he didn’t. The only reason I’m doing what I do know is because I’m sure this is what I put here to do. The proof is there and always has been.

Near the end of his life, my dad told my mother he never finished anything in his life. It hurt me to type that just now. I don’t agree with that at all because he finished everything placed in front of him.

It’s up to me to finish the game.

8 Responses to “A Soldier and His Son, A memoir”

  1. Ryan says:

    Thanks for sharing this personal remembrance. As a boy with a former Marine for a father who was around only half the time I was growing up, it made me wish I had a more active dad. Although, since he was a rural Oregon racist perhaps it was better that I was left to find my own role models!

  2. Ron Glover says:

    Thanks for reading Ryan.

  3. Ryan says:

    These are the posts that keep me coming back to The Starting Five, in addition to the no B.S. talk on race and sports. Thanks to everybody here.

  4. Sylvia says:

    Took me over a month to finally finish this with out crying…I almost made it

  5. Ron Glover says:

    You grew up strong and are more than he could’ve imagined in a daughter.

  6. TC says:

    Thanks Ron – your Dad would be proud of you I think. I wish my Dad had been more active in my life as a youngster but we’re friends now I’m a bit older. THat was really touching anyway, and my Dad and I did-and still do-share sports too…thanks for sharing.

  7. Michelle says:

    Wow!!! Very touching Ron. Thank you for sharing your story with us!!!

  8. Ron Glover says:

    Thanks for reading :-)

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