A priest, an artist, and a boxer

Before publishing my father’s story of his hobo days, I decided to write a prologue to his manuscript.

As I researched my father’s early life, I realized that his parents were not the biggest influences on him. There were actually three unrelated men who made the greatest, most enduring impact on his life. As I thought about it and pondered what to write, it occurred to me that the shortest possible explanation of my father’s most profound influences almost sounded like a joke.

Here’s the setup:

A priest, an artist, and a boxer are sitting at a bar in Pittsburgh.

The priest says, “I knew a 14 year old boy that I adopted after the demise of his parents and brought to live in the church building next to my parish. I inspired him to pursue the priesthood.”

The artist says, “I knew a 16 year old youth who lived in the same building as I did while I painted landscapes that wound up in fine museums. I inspired him to become a painter.”

The boxer says, “I knew an 18 year old young man to whom I provided shelter when he was homeless in exchange for being my sparring partner. I inspired him to become a boxer.”

And here’s the punch line:

They’re talking about the same person, my father, who fooled them all by moving to Hollywood and becoming a Three Stooges co-star.

The priest was Father James Cox, a well-known Catholic priest and social activist who ran for president of the United States in 1932. The artist was John Kane who achieved fame in his later years as the first self-taught painter to have his work admitted to the Carnegie International Exhibition. The boxer was Frank Novak who was Pittsburgh’s local heavyweight champion. And although it’s a fictional account of them sitting in a bar, the statements in this “joke” are all true.

 

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