Don Lorenzetti, my childhood karate teacher, my sensei, turns 80 today. He loomed large in the working-class Verdun of my youth. This is due, in part, to the extreme scarcity of worthwhile father figures in my neighborhood.
At least a third of my friends lived, like me, in single-parent households where father was nowhere to be found; and at least half of those who did have fathers around, wished they didn’t—because Dad was a drunk, a lazy loser, a teenager trapped in a man’s body, who smacked Mom around from time to time, watched TV all day, and spent the rent.
Don was the very opposite of this. He was a man who kept his promises, a grown man you could count on, and an adult who always acted like an adult.
In the midst of a thoroughly screwed-up neighborhood—wracked with record levels of unemployment, a pernicious culture of poverty, and all sorts of social problems—there was the Centre de Karaté Verdun: an island of order in the midst of a sea of urban chaos.
Many of us looked up to Don. And for good reason: he was a thoroughly honorable man: a real mensch. He was more than just our sensei: for many of us, he was a moral exemplar and a fountain of wisdom. Though I’m 44 now, I find that I can remember much of what he said to us with astonishing word-for-word accuracy.
One hot summer night, when we were all clowning around like idiots in the dojo, Don lost it and thundered: “The boy must die for the man to live!” We fell silent, froze, and blushed.
You could hear a pin drop. His words stung, not because we feared him, but because we loved him, respected him, and desperately wanted to please him. We wanted to kill the stupid boys within us. He made us want to be men.
Here’s to you, Don! Thanks for being a man in my life when I needed one.