For the past few years, every day has felt like the 9th round of a bruising 12 round fight. You’re far enough into it that you’re badly fatigued and shaken but you’re far enough from the end that you can’t rely on adrenaline and momentum alone to carry you home. Also, when you least suspect it, you put down your defenses for a second and take another punch in the face. It staggers you. You wobble.
Following that unexpected punch, the seasoned boxer would avoid engagement until the bell and retreat to the corner, where the patient guidance of the person in his corner would evaluate the lapses that led to this predicament, ease the pain felt in this moment, and develop a road map for the path forward.
Five years ago today, I lost the best corner man the world has ever seen. My father gave me strength when I was weak, wisdom when I was foolish, patience when I was anxiously rushed. I selfishly lament that he isn’t here during this hardest time of my life. But as any good student who has lost a teacher knows, the teacher has laid out a lifetime of lessons if you’re only willing to see and hear them. My father’s best method of teaching was the example of his own life, and I’m learning that the lesson I need most right now is resilience.
How dare the world give me so many challenges? I have too much work, I cry, when it means that I’m safely employed in a job where people respect and admire my performance enough to fill my plate. This house is a constant headache, I bemoan, even as I stare out the window at beauty and tranquility I never could have imagined. I never have any time for myself, I moan, as I experience what so many would celebrate- a life filled with family and vocation. Why can’t I have times like I did when I was 18, when the greatest question in any leisurely day was whether anyone would figure out how to stop my Martin Brodeur goalie move (which operated like a puck vacuum) and beat me in NHL 95?
When my father was 18, he entered the Army and went on to basic training in Fort Riley, Kansas. From there, he was stationed in the Pacific Theater, the Philippines specifically. One time, he was praying in a church when the Japanese attacked the area. Another time, he was on a boat that was attacked and they lost half the soldiers on board. Eighteen years old and fighting tyranny halfway around the world.
It wasn’t the first challenge of his life. His father left before he could learn his name. He lived above a convenience store with his huge family. The half sister who raised him worked around the clock in that store and also cared for the family. His older brother, just a few years older, became his father figure. They played sports together and they learned how to be men together. It’s remarkable that the man who taught me everything about how to be a man never had anyone teach him anything on the subject.
He would come back from the war and devote his life to public service as a teacher and administrator. The jobs would never pay him much but I’ve read the letters. Teachers and students alike would always return to him and tell him what a force he was in helping them find the right professional and ethical path. He led by example.
He’d spend the next twenty years raising his wonderful daughter while also caring for a wife who was ill for almost all of their time together. He would be a widower in his 40s.
At 50, he suffered a massive heart attack just a couple of years before he lost his beloved brother to the same cause.
And yet, through a life that could have either ended or gone wrong so many times over the years, he lived to 87, the father to two children who loved him more than anything, a wife who fought to keep him alive, and a community that admired him.
What got him there, I’m convinced, was his resilience in the face of adversity. People laugh at my Chumbawumba obsession but the song’s refrain resonates with me more than any other. I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down. Peter George Saharko was a man with a bottomless pit of resilience that took him from fatherless child of struggling immigrants to the very definition of the American Dream. Every day I’ve bemoaned his absence in my corner has been folly. He’s always there, teaching me and guiding me, if I’m only wise enough to look.
Today I felt him in my corner constantly. I felt it as I took my son and his namesake to swim lessons, preparing him for that wonderland of summer joy that my father and I enjoyed in the swimming pool. Then I took him to his first Hoyas game where he could truly understand what was going on, and I was reminded of the last time my father and I went to a sporting event together, as one of New Jersey’s two big basketball schools beat my Hoyas (just like today). I was so honored to bring Rocco to his grandfather’s gravesite for the first time. And then I was so content to spend the evening with his daughter, my sister, and her wonderful family.
It’s been a hard year. It seems like every day since that man won has been worse than the previous one, on a micro and macro level. And my dad would have hated every day that man is in power. But he would have risen above it and endured it, and I’m going to find strength in that resilience.
Every January 13th until the day I die will be hard for me. I will always miss him. But today I felt his strength, and it proved to be a truly wonderful day. Thanks again, Dad.