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The Event in 1968 That Forever Changed My World

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  • The Event in 1968 That Forever Changed My World

    By Bernard Fernandez

    It was the most tumultuous year in one of the most tumultuous decades in American history. For those of a certain age, 1968 was a year unlike any other, a time of national angst and change. The country was roiled by the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the Tet Offensive unexpectedly launched by North Vietnamese forces and the Viet Cong raised the stakes in the seemingly endless Vietnam war; there were violent clashes between antiwar protestors and Chicago police at the Democratic National Convention, and tensions ran high after a North Korea gunboat captured the adrift Navy intelligence vessel USS Pueblo in international waters and 83 crew members were held as hostages before their release was negotiated.

    What happened in the sports world that year in no small part reflected what was happening in society on a broader scale: 200-meter American sprint medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists on the medal stand during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at the Mexico City Olympics, and Arthur Ashe became the first black man to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament when he beat Tom Okker at the U.S. Open. In boxing, a power-punching kid from Houston, George Foreman, presaged his two widely separated rises to world professional championships by winning the heavyweight gold medal in Mexico City, and the leaner but just as hard-hitting Bob Foster won the light heavyweight title by knocking out Dick Tiger, the only time in Tiger’s 77-bout pro career in which he lost inside the distance.

    For a not-quite-21-year-old Marine reservist and his 19-year-old bride, however, all those events took a back seat to something that occurred on Aug. 24 in New Orleans, and was of no particular significance to anyone other than the newly married couple and a selection of their friends and relatives. That was the day when my life forever changed for the better when I took Anne Marie d’Aquin as my soulmate, future mother of our four children and cooler-headed adviser on any number of critical domestic issues.

    Now that we have reached the occasion of our golden anniversary – and 53½ years together, if you consider the formative stages of a relationship that began with a blind date of teenagers on Feb. 12, 1965 – I think it is high time to publicly acknowledge what those who know us well have known all along. Were it not for my Annie, I would be poorer and less fulfilled in every conceivable way. What’s that saying about certain sports teams? Oh, yeah, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And so it is with me; I am better, and probably much more so, as part of “us” than I could ever be as just me, a truth that likely would not be so had not I had the incredible good fortune to find a partner who meshed with me as no one else ever could, or probably would even dare to try.

    Life deals you a hand of cards, and how that hand plays out depends in part on luck and in part on how you manage the cards you are holding. Consider this: the girl who lived next door to me during my high school years, a girl who was the same age as I and who also had a policeman father, turned out to be the regular-woman version of Elizabeth Taylor, having been married seven times. I even introduced her to her first husband, a friend of mine who has been married four times. That’s 11 marriages between them. I have known others who have made frequent excursions into marital hell, and it has occurred to me that I might have been a victim, or maybe a victimizer, of the serial wedding craps games were it not for one constant. I got it right the first time, even if Annie – and I’m being painfully honest here – has had cause to wonder if she did.

    My temperament is, uh, a bit more mercurial than hers, and there were occasions when I made the egregious mistake of putting Fernandez the sports writer ahead of Fernandez the husband and Fernandez the father, making for lost moments I can never reclaim, like the time I rationalized that it was proper for me to head off to Las Vegas to cover a Oscar De La Hoya-Julio Cesar Chavez bout instead of staying home to attend my daughter Melanie’s high school graduation.

    This is a boxing web site, so some of you are probably wondering why I am writing this very personal column, which is a one-time-only thing. Not that my wife planned on taking on the responsibility of being my de facto copy editor, but I do frequently ask her to read my stories before I send them in, in case there are errors I have made or improvements she might suggest.

    This has enabled her to know more about fights and fighters than she ever could have imagined, which is kind of remarkable considering that, as many times as she has accompanied me to boxing events in and out of the country, she has only physically attended two cards. One of those was a show in Atlantic City headlined by an aging Roberto Duran, which Annie chose to be at since she served as a companion to a Panamanian girl who was living with us at the time as a foreign exchange student. Bottom line: I ask Annie to read my stuff because she is the only person I truly seek to impress, in the hope it will deter her from realizing she probably could have found someone more worthy of her as husband material, if only she’d been a bit more discerning and patient.

    Not that she hasn’t been patient. Whenever I informed her of a move I was considering that would benefit my career, to newspapers in larger markets or which offered me better compensation and higher levels of responsibility, she agreed to pack up the house and the kids because what was good for me was good for the family, even if it meant giving up a home, a job or friends she loved. She has always put others, not only me, ahead of herself because that is who she is and why she is so well-liked by everyone who knows her. It is one of the little injustices I can’t explain that I have accumulated a number of journalism awards but there is no plaque or framed certificate in our home that pronounces my Annie as the best daughter, best sister, best wife, best mother, best nurse, best friend or best person.

    There is another reason for this story, and it is that I am honoring a pledge I made to a now-deceased friend, Lucinda, who was the third wife of one of my former sports editors. Lucinda, who had earned her Ph.D. in psychology, always spoke to me of the love letters she cherished from her late husband Lee, who found the kind of bliss with her he apparently missed out on with his previous wives. “You should write a love letter to Annie,” Lucinda would scold me. “Tell her how you really feel. It will mean more to her than you realize.”

    But I never got around to doing that, maybe because I do tell Annie that I love her every day, and maybe because it always has been easier for me to write about touchdowns, home runs, jump shots and guys who could hook off the jab than to channel my inner Percy Bysshe Shelley or William Wordsworth. I am too set in my ways to suddenly try to frame my innermost thoughts into couplets or iambic pentameter.

    Hopefully, this paean to the great gift I was given a half-century ago, the angel who is forever at my shoulder, will suffice. And if not, I will reference some lyrics to one of my favorite Bonnie Raitt songs, You, which get to the point better than I or even Shelley or Wordsworth could:

    Isn’t it love that keeps us breathing

    Isn’t it love we’re sent here for

    Wasn’t that loving we were feeling

    It was something, baby

    Deep in our souls … Deeper than we know

    Keeping me holding out for

    You … There was never any question

    You’ll be forever on my mind

    You and I, we were meant to be together

    True hearts in a world where love is dyin’

    Happy golden anniversary, my darling. Thank you for being, well, you. Being with you is more important than the winning Powerball Lottery ticket I might have bought, the Pulitzer Prize I would love to have received, the best-seller boxing book I often thought about doing but never got around to writing. It’s too late for any of those things to happen, but you know what? It really doesn’t matter. Because I got what I wanted, and what I needed, when you said “I do” one fine August day in 1968.

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

  • #2
    God bless the nicest man in boxing. I am honored to call him my friend.


    • #3
      Quick, an insulin shot.


      • #4
        Did she approve of your cameo in Rocky Balboa?


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