Today is going to be a very tough day for me. You will be fencing in your first conference meet, MIT against five other schools, UMass, BU, UNH, Brandeis and Sacred Heart. It’s going to be a long day. I’m sure the epee squad will do well, as there is some real talent there, as reflected by the fact that MIT epees took first, second and third place at The Big One at Smith College. You did really well, but this is a tough crowd and some of them will want revenge on you today.
But you probably aren’t thinking about this the same way I am. You see, I remember your first competition, the Peanut Butter Cup, back in 2006. You were 12-years-old, and wanted desperately to win. You got your butt kicked. It was better after we went out for an ice cream sundae, but that was a rude awakening. You could have run away from fencing that day, but you didn’t.
You clawed your way up from there. If there was a mistake to be made, a bad thing to happen, it happened. From equipment failures to bad calls to mental errors, it happened. But you learned from each and it rarely happened twice. You have so many medals hanging on the sconce in your room that I’m afraid it’s going to fall off the wall from the weight. And you have a few medals, plaques and the silver trophy that really mean something to you, that you accomplished things that counted. Nobody gave you these for showing up. You earned them, just as you suffered the bad days when someone wiped the piste with you.
Remember how we traveled around the country, to such fabulous places as Memphis, Des Moines and Milwaukee, to fence in the North American Cup? Remember that nasty looking barbecue place that had the best ribs ever? We were afraid to go inside, it was so creepy, but had the best time there. I can’t remember how you fenced the next day, but I’ll never forget that rib joint.
Today will be the first time you compete and I won’t be there. I asked you if you wanted me to come up to Cambridge, and you told me “no.” I asked again, and you told me not to bother. I asked a third time and you finally came clean. You told me, “Dad, don’t come.”
I get it. You’re not 12 anymore. You don’t need me to fix your weapons, to make sure you drink water, to calm you down when you’re too hot and to remind you of your mistakes when you’re overconfident. You’ve grown up, and don’t need daddy to hold your hand anymore. I understand. It was exactly what I hoped you would get out of fencing. You can take a beating and still maintain focus and push through for the win.
Don’t think I didn’t notice how you pulled your nuts out of the fire when you were down 14 to 10 in that direct elimination bout two weeks ago (15 touches wins). Most fencers would give up. Nobody comes back from a deficit like that. But you did. It wasn’t that you won the bout, but that you didn’t give up. You showed remarkable fortitude, a toughness far beyond your years. I saw it. Your coach saw it. I couldn’t have been prouder of you, regardless of whether you ultimately won the bout.
And the final touch, a call disputed by your opponent, where you refused to gloat over the win because you understood why he challenged the touch. Your integrity kicked in, and you never shrugged off a touch when a bad call went your way. You were the first to tell the ref that he was wrong, that you didn’t deserve the touch. Your opponents were often shocked that you gave away a touch, but you didn’t want anything you didn’t earn. This was the way you rolled.
You see, it was never about fencing. Fencing just gave you the tools to mature, to develop that fortitude, that toughness, the ability to stare adversity in the eye and push through it. To suffer a loss and keep fighting. To face an opponent bigger, stronger, better, and refuse to back down. You never disappointed me. In fact, I always wondered what I did right in my life to deserve a son like you.
So today will be a very hard day. Not so much for you, but for me. You will fence and do your best, pushing yourself to win in bout after bout. Maybe you will have a great day and win all your bouts, but maybe you will fight your hardest and still lose a few. That’s the nature of competition, and you will be fine with it as long as you know you’ve done your best.
But I won’t be there to watch you do it. And I can’t tell you how much I’m going to miss being there today, to share in the wins, commiserate in the losses and just be damned proud of you. Fence well today, Jack. But more importantly, have a great time. And call me when it’s over and let me know how it went. Give me that much, please.
The MIT men’s fencing team defeated UMass Amherst (23-4), University of New Hampshire (25-2), Brandeis University (16-11), and Boston University (22-5) but fell to Sacred Heart University (15-12).
Jack went 12-2 for the day. I know it because I read it in the recap.