Off The Ropes: Why My Late Father Reminds Me Of Pro Wrestling by Hab Rich

**As you the reader enjoy my column today, I will be laying my dad, my hero, to rest. A good friend of mine (John Canton…yeah, I’m namedropping) gave me the idea to use writing as my escape, if only for a minute or two. As his only son, one of my goals in life has always been to make my dad proud of me. Months before passing, he told me he’d always been proud of me. I’m dedicating this column to my Pops.**

Today’s “Off The Ropes” column is an explanation of the ways in which my dad was a combination of all my favorite wrestlers rolled into one. His combination of style, substance and character was truly one of a kind.

“The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes is the wrestler that instantly comes to mind when describing my dad. The second line of Dusty’s WWE theme music suited my dad to a tee, “he’s just a common man, workin’ hard with his hands.” My dad was an electrical contractor in my hometown; he left his electrical fingerprints all over the city. Rhodes’ common man mantra fell right in line with what I witnessed for 18 years while living under my parent’s roof. Dad was up at the crack of dawn and worked until the sun went down, sometimes later to provide for our family. Judging off Dusty Rhodes’ appearance alone, it’s easy to see how and why the everyman character approach endeared him to so many people. He didn’t have the best looking body, he wasn’t the fastest nor most athletic, but what he did possess was an uncanny way of connecting with wrestling fans to take them on a journey through in-ring storytelling. My dad similarly wasn’t the biggest, tallest, nor the strongest (he was only 5’8” and I reached 6’1” at 15 years of age) but like Dusty, Pops could connect with anyone, anywhere from any walk of life. He never met a stranger and wouldn’t alienate you for any reason for any amount of money. I never envisioned having lost our fathers this year as something I would have in common with Dustin and Cody, but in the exact same way they admired their father, I also felt like I was born to the greatest man to ever live.

“Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels is another wrestler that reminds me of my dad, but not for the reasons that one might think. One word I often use to describe HBK is passion, and as one of the best to ever step foot in the ring, I’d say that he had more of it than any other superstar before or after him. Pops and HBK are inexplicably linked due to their passion for sharing the gospel. My dad was a preacher for my entire life, even starting his own ministry in 2001. He was never shy about sharing the love of Christ with complete strangers. Watching HBK in the ring and my dad in the pulpit were two instances where I could both see and feel the passion of two men doing what they loved.

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock were probably two of the biggest and greatest trash talkers in professional wrestling. One thing that made them so great at it was the fact that they were 100% believable. If The Rattlesnake told you he was about “to open up a can…” or The Brahma Bull told you he was about “to lay the Smackdown…” you could take it to the bank. Granted, my dad would never use the colorful language that they used, but his guarantees of a butt whipping were all the same. If I showed out in school (which I did often) and knew I was about to have a mudhole stomped in me, the sound of my dad’s work van pulling in the driveway was the equivalent of Austin’s shattering glass. That sound gave me goosebumps and big gulps long before Vince McMahon swallowing hard when Austin’s music hit. Dad’s promos over the phone were to the point and very believable; so when he got home, there were no long drawn out speeches, simply him sprinting to the ring like The Rock and throwing haymakers. In this case, dad’s B2A was ‘belts’ instead of ‘boots.’

Damien Sandow, in his role as Intellectual Savior of the Masses, was by far my favorite of his characters. He attempted to raise the intellectual bar for the WWE Universe and it was very entertaining. My dad was no intellectual per se, but he did encourage his children to use our brains for more than a dumping ground for useless pop culture information. On days when we worked out of the city limits, he’d buy a newspaper and have me read it cover to cover. He wanted me to be informed; to take what I’d read, process it and form my own opinion. Even though he didn’t insult me the same way Sandow might have insulted the WWE Universe, he did teach me to despise willful ignorance. He gave my sisters and I change to catch the bus to the library during the summer to do book reports. He cut my basketball season short in high school because I brought home D’s on my report cards. My dad cared so much about our education, he’d often say, “You don’t have to be stupid.” You can fake being an intellectual, but there’s no substitute for acquiring knowledge through reading and education, so in that vein, Dad and Damien Sandow are one in the same.

Bret “The Hitman” Hart is my all-time favorite wrestler (it’s in my author bio) and when contrasting his technical work in the ring with my dad’s electrical work, he’s the wrestler that most embodies everything my father ever stood for. Bret was known for putting his matches together from start to finish and for being the ‘excellence of execution.’ You don’t do something like that without a plan, and whether he was reading a blueprint or drawing diagrams in dirt to show me something, my dad always had a plan. Before Bret coined his ‘best there is…’ catchphrase, my dad impressed upon me to do my best to become the best at whatever I was doing. He encouraged me to “do it right the first time,” and eventually my work would speak for me. So once again, before the influence of pro wrestling, dad wanted me to execute excellently, to be the best there is and to always have a plan.

I reference my family in my columnist’s bio as something I love and care about very much. In creating this tribute to my dad through the tint of professional wrestling, I hope I’ve given readers a glimpse into just how great a man, father and provider my dad was. I do know that it’s been highly therapeutic and I’m thankful for the gift of being able to express with words what is really on my mind. Long after the lights at WrestleMania are turned off, fans have left and the ring crew has deconstructed the set, the WWE Universe is left with memories.

My dad passed away on December 23rd and just like the WWE Universe, I’m left with a lifetime of memories, laughs and good times that make for excellent stories that will live on forever.