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  May 6, 2000

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He's my hero

Heart of gold lies beneath gruff exterior

By BRET "The Hitman" HART -- For The Calgary Sun

  "I read a folk tale about a father pursuing a son who's run far away from one world to the next. The father called to him, 'Please come back!', but his son looked across the great gulf between them and shouted to him, `I can't get that far!' So his father yelled to his son, "Then just come back half way!" But his boy replied, "I can't go back half way!" And finally his father shouted, `Walk back as far as you can -- and I will go the rest of the way!' "

 (Ron Hansen)

 People outside of my family usually think of my father as a gruff grappler famous for making the toughest of men scream for mercy.

  The perception is right.

  Make no mistake about it, even considering the many wrestlers of all shapes and sizes that I've locked up with from near and far, Stu Hart is the toughest man I've ever known.

  But he is also the most fair and compassionate man and an indulgent parent to 12 children. My father has iron hands that have brought down giants -- but these same hands have also gently cradled wounded birds and stroked the dogs and cats that follow him from room to room. My father is a man of gentle strength. He takes a common sense approach to life that enables him to keep a calm head when things go wrong, or to unleash his harder side when he deems it necessary. It's a balance I may not have understood as a young boy, but that I quickly came to respect.

  I remember when I was quite young, tossing a football around in the yard with my brothers and my dad would come out and punt these perfect spirals really far. He'd tell us about when he played with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1937-38 and he put his huge, strong hands lightly over mine and showed me how to line my fingers up with the laces.

  Years later, when I played defensive tackle, my dad drove me to practice every morning before 6 o'clock and he picked me up in the afternoons. High school football is one of my fondest memories and I used to think that was because of my triumphs on the field or with the cheerleaders but now, being a dad myself, I realize the really special part was the time I spent with him in his car, getting pointers and listening to the radio. Even then I thought it was strange that lots of times the song Loves Me Like A Rock came on as that is the perfect subtitle for our entire relationship.

  I can remember getting into one of my regular schoolyard scuffles at Wildwood elementary. I was in Grade 3 and locked together in a stalemate with this bigger kid when my dad arrived to pick me and my Grade 6 brother, Dean, up for lunch. Dad started driving back and forth in front of the school, honking the horn of his old beat up eight-man limo and Dean said we'd better hurry up or dad would kill us. I was far more afraid of making my dad angry than this kid, so I released a face lock I had on him, jumped up and ran off, the whole time him and his buddies yelling "chicken" at my back.

  When I got in the car, I was kind of upset, thinking I'd somehow soiled the family honour by retreating. Upon hearing Dean's assurances that I was not a chicken, my dad quizzed me on what had happened. When we got home, he pulled me aside and told me if I ever get in trouble to reach up and grab hold of my opponent's face, almost like I was going to kiss him and then use my back teeth on the tip of his nose and bite the hell out of it. After school that day, me and the big bully were locked together in a tangle of arms and legs out by the old soccer posts when he suddenly jumped up screaming and crying and ran all the way home. The kids gathered 'round couldn't figure out what happened and I casually said, "I guess he's chicken."

  I walked away and softly said out loud, "Thanks dad".

  On the other hand, I remember a time when I said "thanks but no thanks, dad." It was the night before the city championships in Grade 10.

 Mom kind of got on Stu like 'Why don't you show him some wrestling' (mom never really knew what went on down in the dungeon in our basement) so I figured it can't hurt (oh yes, it can!) he might show me that one little trick move to win. After enduring each tortuous hold I'd explain, "But I can't do that, dad, because I'll get disqualified." The next day, I showed up for the cities feeling all confident and ready that the training session would pay off but what happened was that I was so sore I could barely raise my arms or move my head.

 I lost my first two matches and got eliminated. Thanks but no thanks -- but it still meant a lot to me that my dad was there to 'help' me!

 Stu celebrated his 85th birthday this week. Happy Birthday dad.

  My father is my biggest hero.

 The only thing I want to be is what my dad has been to me.

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