Look at it this way: Seneca, my older daughter, will be 8 on November 30. She was born the night I knocked out Archie Moore for the title. I was in training camps then; I'm still in training camps. Maybe I've spent two years in all watching her grow and getting to know her in all that time. Trina will be 6 in February. My boy, Floyd Jr., is a little past 4. My youngest, Eric, will be 3 in December. Eric hardly knows me. I hardly know him. Maybe I've seen him only four months of his life. I've provided well for them, but in other ways I'm not doing the job as a parent well at all.
After beating Machen I was able to spend some time with my family, but in late August I went back into training at my new camp in Marlboro, N.Y. My wife would bring the children up to visit for a few hours and we'd go swimming or picnicking or fishing or apple picking, and once I took them up for a ride in my plane. Each time they'd come, Floydie or Trina or even Seneca would say, "Daddy, we've come to see your house."
"This isn't my house," I'd say. "This is my training camp. Your house in Scarsdale is my house."
No matter how hard I try, I cannot make them understand the distinction, the way I've lived. It's always my house and their house. Inevitably this has made for a kind of alienation in the family. They know I'm their father and they all call me Daddy. They love me, I'm sure, as much as I love them, but there's a kind of stiffness, a kind of unfamiliarity, almost too much of a politeness with which they treat me. I know children should be polite to their parents, and my kids unquestioningly will do anything I tell them, but the easiness that should be in the usual relationship between children and father is not there in ours, and I'm completely aware that it's all my fault. My way of life has kept them from getting that feeling about me. There's just too much formality, too much respect. It's almost like holding your own off at arm's length.
I keep telling myself that whatever it is that is missing, I'll make up to them soon. Maybe another six months, maybe another year, another fight or two.
I'm in my last round now, but I've been saying that for four years and in the meantime the children are getting older. It doesn't make me feel good. I can console myself with the knowledge that if I hadn't done this all these years my children wouldn't have all the necessities and some of the luxuries. They couldn't live in the kind of house they do or go to the kind of schools they do. My mother, father, brothers and sisters wouldn't have what they have. Who knows what I would have been if it weren't for everything boxing was able to do for me? I'm extremely grateful for all this, but occasionally I wonder if I haven't taken it as a kind of refuge, a sort of hideaway from what life will really be like when I take my place as the real head of my family.
I pay the bills. I supply my name and now and then even my presence, but ever since I began to box as a youngster still in school I've never lived in a real world. I mean the kind a father my age must live in—where the kids get sick and you're there, where the furnace breaks and has to be fixed, where the kids come home from school with problems that you have to solve face to face and not over a long-distance phone.
I've thought about that. I tell myself I can and will face it all. When the time comes I'll be able to adjust to it because I've been able to adjust to almost everything. Then I hesitate and I-wonder if I'll really be able to. "I'll think about it tomorrow," I tell myself. Or, "There'll be time enough to worry about it when it has to be faced." I've told Sandra that I'd retire when I was 30, but now when she reminds me of my promise I tell her I'll be 30 until January 4, 1966. "We've waited this long, we can wait a little longer to do what has to be done."
Sandra, I think, understands. She knows that I've got to continue. Otherwise in the years and years and years to come I'd always be thinking that if I'd fought only another six months or another year I could have done the one thing that would have justified me—fight Liston again and do it well, whether in victory or defeat. That's why that night when he refused to come out for the seventh round I was so shocked. It was almost as much a blow to me as being knocked out by him. He, of all people! The unbeatable man, the press called him, quitting on his stool.
Just before the fight began I was in a filling station in Yonkers that is run in conjunction with a diner. While my car was being gassed up, I went in for something to eat. The radio was turned to the fight and everybody in the diner was saying how easy Clay was going to be, and he wouldn't last a round. Somebody asked me what I thought, and I predicted that Liston would win, but not in the first round. Then somebody said that Liston was such a cinch he would lay 9 to 1. I'm not a betting man, but it's never 9 to 1, not even a featherweight against a heavyweight. So I took the 9 to 1 and I won the bet, but I lost my respect for Liston.