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A Father's Journal / Livin' the dream

Updated 5:26 pm, Tuesday, March 19, 2013
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I talked to my brother Patrick after I earned my black belt in karate in December.

"Wow," he said, "you fulfilled one of our three childhood dreams."

"Really?" I asked. "I never realized it was one of our dreams?"

"Yeah! You said it was in the Shaolin style. Our dream was to be a Shaolin priest like Kwai Chang Caine in the TV show `Kung Fu.' You remember `snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper?' "

"OK, I guess we had those childhood dreams," I said. "What were our two other dreams?"

"Well, we wanted to get our legs cut off, one arm cut off along with one eye gouged out so we could get them bionic like the `Six Million Dollar Man.' "

"Huh? I guess mom was right," I said. "We were idiots. I am positive I no longer have that dream. What was our third dream?"

"Well we both had some fantasies about Lynda Carter as `Wonder Woman,' " Patrick said. "Wow, so every one of our dreams was a '70s TV show?"

"Yes, we were really impressionable," I replied, "but thank God we have outgrown it."

"Not me" he replied, "I still have a thing for `Wonder Woman.' "

"Yeah, so do I."

I earned my black belt a few months ago, not really realizing I was livin' the dream. Seven years ago, my wife suggested I start studying karate. My daughter had already started, and the Villari studio in Fairfield had Friday evening family classes. My wife thought it would be perfect as father/daughter time.

When I was young, I started karate. It was with two Matthews brothers. I don't remember their first names. But for brothers, they looked nothing alike; one was dark and heavyset, the other was pasty and thin. I felt bad. After I quit, the "school" closed. Actually the school consisted of the three of us and the instructor, or sensei, who taught us in a public park.

Then I took almost 30 years off, until an old friend started producing karate movies in California. He let me be in a few as a bad guy because I am big, not because of my karate skills. Soon after, I joined my daughter.

The Villari Self Defense studio I joined is literally a mom-and-pop school. It is run by Senseis Jerry and Nancy Simon. They have been at the same location in Fairfield for 25 years. It is in the building with the chimney that says "Galleria" near the downtown train station.

The Simons were very patient with me. I'm not the fastest learner, and my memory or athletic ability are not as sharp as they used to be. One of the first things I remember is Nancy Simon facing me and showing me different moves I needed to know. I was confused. If she was facing me, did I copy her as in a mirror, or if she moved her left hand, did I move my left hand, which would be opposite side for me? After a minute she patiently asked me to stop thinking and follow her as if she was that mirror. She knew every move literally backwards and forwards. She was doing the moves backwards. I should stop thinking and just copy her.

It reminded me of the old saying about Ginger Rogers. It is said Ginger did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels. They don't allow high heels in the karate studio -- no street shoes of any kind permitted.

Getting a black belt was slow-going for me; my 13-year- old daughter was a bit ahead of me and helped me. To help, she put most of the moves I needed to learn on video that I could watch on my phone to reinforce them. I had her stand with her back to me when she taped it. Neither she nor I could figure out the backwards mirror thing.

So one of my dreams fulfilled, I'll pass on the whole cutting off my legs thing. But I will never let go of the Wonder Woman dream.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at tlawlor@mcommunications.com.