This story started over twenty years ago. Life was simpler then. A 24″ television was a big deal. 40 channels of cable was a big deal. Monday night wrestling was a big deal. If you were a really good kid, you got to have some juice. If guests were coming over, you might get some pop too. Oh, and dad bringing home a bucket of chicken wasn’t a sign of poor parenting, it was something exotic to look forward to.
Fast forward half a decade. Here come the 90s. I was a little kid in a big world, just trying to get by. The X-Files were scaring the life out of me, Pamela Anderson was running in slow motion, and everywhere around me were bright neon colors and big hair.
My father was a politician and his party was just elected to government. He was an immigrant who believed Canada was a welcoming land of opportunity, where all you needed for success was the will to work hard. He worked hard to make opportunities available to every man, woman, and child. His commitment to this purpose kept him busier than I would’ve liked.
A few things were sacred though. Once or twice a week we would kick a soccer ball around the backyard. On the weekends we would catch a broadcasted Italian soccer game. When school was out, I would know if it was a weekend because the sound of Italian soccer would flood the house. Those sounds, the kicks, the whistles, the noises of a stadium on it’s feet, all led to the same singular question the very next day: “Is it Monday?”
Mondays were special. Special-isimo. Mondays were wrestling nights. The green of the soccer pitch left us. In it’s place was a wrestling ring. The ring was a revolving door of loud and colorful characters. I was a kid in a circus. Every week was a spectacle. It wasn’t just a freakshow performance of athletes. All of Madison Square Garden burst into life inside of our 24″ TV, and we were a part of the show.
Hulk Hogan, the Macho Man Randy Savage, Yokozuna, Doink the Clown, the Bushwhackers, the Undertaker, Jake the Snake Roberts. For a child, these characters were fantastic! There was one wrestler who we loved dearly, and cheered for religiously. More than I miss watching wrestling with my father, I miss us watching Bret “The Hitman” Hart wrestle.
Bret was the focal point of our Monday nights together. We rallied behind him. We cheered for him. He put on a show. I soaked in his every move, like a sponge. There was no wasted motion. The excellence of execution – efficiency at it’s finest. I knew the name of every hold, every reversal, every cradle, and every submission. In these fields, Bret was the Ace. Week after week he showed resilience, courage, determination, dedication, and heart. Don’t tell me little boys don’t absorb values from wrestling.
Pop your cassette tape into the VCR and fast forward to the late 90s. I lived in Europe for a year but my father couldn’t join us. He stayed behind and when we talked on the phone he would always let me know how Bret was doing. Such was our dedication. Then time faded, careers faded, interests faded, and with every year that passed another wrestler that we cheered for passed away.
Turn on your PVR, it’s the late 2000s. My father was diagnosed with cancer. I began watching wrestling again, once a month, alone, with a drink, or few. A regression to my childhood. This time it was my turn to bring news to Dad.
Then it happened. Devastation. My father passed away three years ago. In his eulogy I mentioned watching and cheering with him. At 27 years old I continue watching wrestling monthly. I know it’s staged, and there are real, mixed martial arts alternatives out there, so why watch wrestling?
The characters in every drama on TV are fictional, but you get caught up in it anyway. The performances you see in every competitive dance, figure skating, or gymnastics routine on TV are choreographed, but you get caught up in them anyway. Wrestling is no less captivating?
That might be why people watch wrestling, but I have my own reasons. Wrestling was how my father and I would bond on Monday nights, discussing every move in every match with our own running commentary. Wrestling was the reason my father and I got to be on the same team, cheering for Bret. Wrestling was the reason I got to stay up past my bed time. Wrestling was me and Dad’s thing. That’s special. Special-isimo.
This morning I was doing about 80 km/hr on Ossington Ave. in Toronto, Canada. The speed limit is 50 km/hr, deal with it. I came out from under a bridge north of Dupont St. and flew past a street sign hidden under tree branches. A fleeting flash of neon pink and black in the very peripheral limits of my sight. I checked my mirrors and slammed the brakes on my Suzuki Boulevard M50 until they almost locked up.
At this time I became keenly aware of something pushing against the tips of my earlobes on both sides of my face. My lips had worked their way back and a wide smile overcame me. “Pink and Black… Attack.” I pulled a U-Turn and parked the bike, leaving the keys in the ignition in my rush, “No one’s going to steal it, it’s a Suzuki.”
I hurried to what I thought I had imagined. But there it was, just a five minute ride away from the laneway named after my father, this sign:
Dad, I miss you.
Hitman, thank you.
For some awesome late 80s and early 90s extra-cheesy wrestling pictures, check this out.
If you’re looking for a fascinating book to read, consider Bret’s autobiography. My ex-girlfriend of no wrestling knowledge enjoyed it so much she read it a second time, and then refused to return the book to me. Seriously.
Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling
Forget everything you thought you knew about the insane world of professional wrestling. The sixth son of legendary Canadian wrestling promoter Stu Hart, Bret Hart was born into wrestling royalty. From his early twenties until he retired at forty-three, Hart kept an audio diary, recording stories of the wrestling life: the relentless travel, the practical ...