It's 1986, I'm 9, I'm about to witness something that will ultimately save my life and restore hope to a soul that had been broken into pieces…..a boxing match.
My father took me to Paul Sauvé Arena to watch local boxer Matthew Hilton fight.
Montreal’s infamous Hilton brothers were well known in the East end of the city where I grew up, but boxing wasn’t on my radar just quite yet.
Growing up in Quebec, hockey was everything for my friends and I. Especially when the Habs won their fifth straight Stanley Cup in the 1970s, establishing themselves as the New York Yankees of hockey, all I ever heard my father talk about was le bleu blanc rouge.
But, little did I know, Sugar Ray Leonard earned the hearts of Montrealers by winning the gold medal in the 1976 Olympics, and the 1980's “brawl in Montreal” versus Roberto Duran made Montreal a hotbed for boxing globally. Now, back to Hilton and my first live fight.
I walked into the arena not knowing what to expect or even what a boxing ring looked like. Then it appeared, the ring, the lights, and a cloud of cigarette smoke hovering over the largest crowd I had ever seen. Amazing sight.
There must have been a slew of fights before Hilton's, but I can't recall them.
I remember the main event in bits and pieces. Whatever the case, I was hooked.
Hooked, Now Heavy Into Boxing, Mike Tyson, Nintendo, Etc
I tried to watch as much boxing as I could or was allowed to because most fights took place after my bedtime. Iron Mike Tyson stormed onto the scene like a madman, the Four Kings, Davey Hilton Jr. What a fantastic time to be a boxing fan.
When the Nintendo was released, I knew I had to have Punch Out.
I played and played but was never able to reach Tyson until the cheat codes arrived. One punch and you're out! Fitting, really.
Then there were Lennox Lewis, Arturo Gatti, hometown boy, Evander Holyfield, and Hector Camacho in the early 1990s, and that got me thinking about getting into the sweet science, but as a trainer. Cutman? Honestly, anything.
But then something else hit me out of nowhere. The guitar. What a wonderful instrument.
The sounds that a six string guitar can produce are impressive, and I had to have one. Now that I'm 13, my adoptive parents have divorced, and I live with my mother in a small two-bedroom apartment in East Montreal. I was adopted, yes. I'll get to it later.
My mother worked long hours at the hospital to make ends meet because we didn't have much money. So asking her for anything was out of the question. But I figured, what the heck, I'll ask. It's a snowy Monday evening, and my mother comes in from work, and I ask, “Mom, could I get a guitar?”
“Yes, grab your coat and let's go,” she says, looking me in the eyes.
I mean, WHAT? This is completely unexpected. Amazed and perplexed, I grab my coat and we head to Consumer Distributors store. My very first guitar. What a thrill, and it even came with a small amplifier.
I later discovered that my mother had always wanted me to learn to play an instrument. Lucky me.
So I played on and off for a year, not sure if I liked it or not, then I took private lessons and it came naturally. I could simply play. Give me a 2×4 and put a string on it and I’ll get you something out of it.
I'm 15 now, and I'm at a party with some high school friends. My friend's father played guitar, so there was one there, and he yelled, “Dave, play a tune!” Sure,why not? I say.
I start playing Extreme's “More Than Words,” and halfway through the song, this girl starts making out with me. My life had changed forever at that point. That's it, I'm going to be a guitarist. I mean, really. I'm suddenly irresistible because of one little song?
YES, boxing’s out and music is in.
So, after a couple of years of playing locally, I left Montreal at the age of 18 to go on the road with a band, and I never looked back. That would be my life for the next 25 years.
I toured from coast to coast in Canada and the United States, playing with many great bands and immersing myself in the rock and roll cliché of Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll.
Over the course of my journey, I lived in six different area codes before settling in the small town of Kenora, Ontario, with my young family.
I continued touring but it became a bit more tricky. The music scene had changed, I was a father and I had developed a pretty significant drug addiction. I mean I was still functional but I couldn’t separate the two worlds.
I’ll get back to that soon.
While on the road, I kept an eye out for boxing and watched many fights, but nothing too serious. Then in 2007 I became a father.
I recall the nurse inquiring about any known family illnesses after the birth of my first son, Charlie. I was like, hmmm, I really couldn't tell you, I was adopted.
I mean, I looked different than all of my friends growing up, and I've been told several times that I might be a racial mix, but which one? I have no idea.
Fighting To Ascertain Identity
So I decided to search for my biological parents and was successful. My mother is French-Canadian, and my father is Mexican-American. There you have it, God.
That makes perfect sense. What a relief, but what a sad story, which I suppose is best left for another time. But the way the adoption process ended would psychologically damage me right then and there.
I was later diagnosed with a severe borderline personality disorder as a result of events that occurred when I was born in 1977. Drugs and my way of life only exacerbated my illness.
Of course, I was unaware at the time. They were warning signs in my mid to late adolescence that something wasn't quite right, but things were done much differently back then.
You didn't complain or felt sorry for yourself, and you certainly didn’t rely on “mental instability” because you suspected you might have one.
My mother and her new husband worked tirelessly and never complained, and I didn't see my father very often.
If I wanted to see him, I had to wait until dark and go to a biker-run dive. So, if I went there, it wasn't to complain about how my head and thoughts weren't feeling right.
When 2019 arrived, I had been living with my new girlfriend after being separated from my three boys' mother for four years. That was the year I reintroduced boxing into my life.
I couldn't settle and couldn't get my act together since leaving the road. I went from job to job and nothing stuck. There was no passion, no fun, and routine work all day long. Not to mention my undiagnosed mental illness.
Nothing a guy like me who lived at 300 mph could get into. So, by late summer of that year, I had suffered a complete mental breakdown and relapsed after being clean for four years.
So, I decided to pack my belongings and travel to Quebec City to enroll in a mental health program. The program didn't do much, but what appeared out of nowhere and entered my mind changed everything. BOXING….. I think I should go boxing.
That exact phrase came to mind while I was sitting at my mother's house. I got up, went to a boxing club, and began going every day from then on. And just like that, a new/old passion is reborn, and this time it will stick.
Eating, Sleeping Sweet Science
I primarily trained in order to keep my head and thoughts afloat. I watched every boxing match on television, online, and on YouTube, including old classic fights. To say I lived, breathed, and slept boxing would be an understatement. But it wasn't until the following year that I decided to become a coach.
I already knew a lot and had my level 1 certificate from Boxing Canada. I watched videos and read everything I could get my hands onto about boxing and coaching.
Boxing taught me discipline, passion, and a better understanding of myself as a man. It also made me realize how fortunate I was to discover another interest later in life.
I have a lot of respect for boxers, coaches, cutmen, refs, and everyone else involved. Let's be clear: it's a difficult and beautiful sport, but it's not a game.
It's an art, sometimes a beautiful violence, sometimes a deadly one.
I'm in my fourth year of coaching and hope to continue doing so for the rest of my life.
Boxing Gives More Than It Takes
What the sweet science has given me and continues to give me is a reason to not give up on life and to always remember that there may be brighter days ahead. All you have to do is keep your head up and keep believing.
When I finish training a kid whose life is in shambles because he feels misunderstood, doesn't fit in, or has other issues and he gives me a big smile and says “thanks coach” as he walks away, I know I've made a difference.
Even if it was only for an hour, I made a difference, and I hope he remembers that hour and uses it to get through the next day. What a privilege to be chosen for such a massive assignment.
My 9-year-old self will be eternally grateful to my father for taking me to that first fight and igniting that spark within me. So, if you think you have nothing left burning inside you, reconsider, because you never know when that spark will rekindle.