You don't talk much, though, about how it felt to have a dad like Abba. You say it made you stronger, made you suck it up, and without him you wouldn't have made it to your first pro fight—you'd be in jail, or dead. You never saw Abba shaking, Abba sobbing, the way he did back in 1981. He had failed at a fundamental level: His family was gone. He became, he says, a madman.
The Bureau of Child Welfare wanted proof that he could be a fit father, that he could provide a stable home? O.K. He earned a promotion from laborer to supervisor at his job with Halcyon Construction, bought a car, rented an apartment with more bedrooms. He socked opponents and socked away cash—his rate for a kickboxing bout would rise to more than 10 grand-rushing back in time to see your brothers for that bittersweet hour of weekly visitation. He slogged away in the court system, petitioning again and again. After a painful year and a half, Abba got his sons back.
He took you and your three brothers to Gleason's Gym and told you to behave while he trained. You swarmed the heavy bags, ambushed the speed bags, dive-bombed off the ropes, kamikaze'd the boxers in training: four little Boobies unleashed like Biblical locusts. All of you had his movement and power, but quit grinning, Zab—you know who the peskiest, the pluckiest, the most natural of all was. The guys at Gleason's began nudging your dad, saying, "Judah, that little Zab can box?
Remember that night, back in the '80s, when Abba came to the apartment and woke you in the middle of the night? "Yo, guess who's here?" he asked with a grin.
"Who, Abba?" you whispered.
What a thrill it must've been when Mike Tyson stepped out of the shadows, brandishing his heavyweight title belt. The amazing thing was what you said. "Someday," you told Tyson, "I'm gonna have one."
"You can," he said. "Just work hard."
You were the kind of kid whose fingers couldn't be unfastened once they took hold of an idea. "A-a-a-abba, when we goin' boxin' again, whenwegoin' boxin' again? WHENWEGOIN'BOXIN'AGAIN?"
"Soon. Yo, don't start again, Zab."
"A-a-a-abba, when can I come live with you?"