August 20, 2016

Source: Bigstock

An item in an American newspaper had me thinking of my father all last week. Old dad died 27 years ago, which means I have outlived him in age, the only thing I have ever outdone him in. His achievements were too many to list here, and everything I have I owe to him. Compared with his accomplishments, mine have added up to the under performance of the century, not that he ever made it obvious. To the contrary, all he did was praise me. He was extremely generous to everyone, especially his employees, and he took care of those who couldn’t care for themselves. He was a decorated hero during the occupation, and I’m proud to have inherited his sense of humor and his womanizing. He’s never far from my mind, so I didn’t need the item in the newspaper to remind me of him.

But it sure brought back memories. Here it goes: For most athletes in the Olympics, a medal is the ultimate payoff. Not for wrestlers, however; their sport remains as pure as it was in ancient times, but its name has been muddled in the public’s mind by that phony show that is called professional wrestling. An Olympic wrestler does not get the endorsements after a victory that, say, a great track-and-field athlete does, or a swimmer.

“Everything my father touched turned good, and nothing I can think of is better than the Novogratz family.”

At least not in America, where wrestlers are not sponsored by the state, as they are elsewhere, and are mostly dependent for a college education on scholarships to make ends meet. Until now, that is. A billionaire by the name of Mike Novogratz, a private-equity tycoon, heads a fraternity of well-heeled former wrestlers, several of whom have made it big on Wall Street. They have offered a prize of half a million greenbacks for a gold, and less lucre for silver and bronze, suddenly making wrestlers the envy of athletes not named Bolt or Phelps. I say bravo to Mike Novogratz, which brings me in a roundabout way back to old Dad.

Back in 1951 I had been kicked out of Lawrenceville, a top American boarding school, for insubordination and had been accepted to Blair Academy, a strict wrestling factory prep school, because of the promise I had shown at Lawrenceville as a 12-year-old grappler. Although under probation, I did okay, even becoming captain of sport and proctor of school.

One of my teachers, who also coached American football, once approached my father during a wrestling meet and asked him to help a young Pennsylvania coal miner’s son by the name of Bob Novogratz, who had applied to the school. The Novogratz family was one straight out of The Deer Hunter, proud, patriotic Americans of Polish extraction.

Although one doesn’t mention such matters, it is now more than sixty years, and the helping hand my father gave has been outdone by Bob’s and Mike’s achievements. Bob Novogratz became one of my closest friends while in school, was a star football player, and was undefeated as a wrestler throughout his Blair years. Bob was a heavyweight, and I wrestled 141 pounds. I managed to get him into trouble once after a wrestling meet in New York when I took him to a nightclub and a place of ill repute, but he helped me pass my final exams via cram tutoring in math.


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