Gary Jaeger

Photo by Elizabeth Jaeger

Dear Dad,

This afternoon, I tested for and earned my black belt in taekwondo. Oh how I wish you could have been here to watch. During my whole life you had been my biggest fan when it came to sports. You were always there in the stands cheering me on. Just knowing you were there, standing in my corner always made me feel important, as if I could succeed at anything. Last year, when I decided to get back into taekwondo, when I realized I could no longer live with the regret of not having finished what I started in Korea, you were excited me for me. At the time, I had no doubt that you’d be there watching me test, no doubt that when it was over you’d be here to celebrate with me. And if you were alive, I’ve no doubt that you would have Zoomed in to see the test. But your absence has made the experience bittersweet. I think I cried more today than I have since you died. When it was over, and Mr. Peterson tied the black belt with my name on it around my waist, I was crying. G3 noticed my tears and asked why I was crying. I told him it was because you weren’t there. My first athletic accomplishment in a post-Dad world.

I was so incredibly nervous this morning. G3 kept telling me to calm down, that I had practiced so much there was no way I could fail. But it wouldn’t have been the first time my anxiety defeated me. A catch-22 I suppose. Being nervous that my nerves were going to cause me to stumble or completely forget my form, or not break the boards. I marvel at how calm G3 is during the testing. (He midtermed today and also passed.) Nothing seems to rattle him. But he’s also used to competing, and in the ring during tournaments, the standards are much higher.

Due to the pandemic, two of the kids testing for black belt had to use the bag during the sparring portion of the test. I was lucky. I got to spar G3. He went easy on me, although he did kick me in the head once. I think he enjoyed that. It’s not every day he gets to beat up his mother and not only get away with it, but also earn points for doing it. You’d have gotten a good laugh at it. More than that, you never would have let me live it down. G3 and I also got to partner up for the bahng-mahng-ee techniques. Doing the disarms is so much easier — and more fun — when you aren’t trying to disarm an imaginary opponent. 

I didn’t do my form as well as I had hoped. I lost my balance a couple of times. And according to my score sheet, my technique needs work. Also, on both my form and the bahng-mahng-ee, I lost points for lack of rhythm. Oh yes, you would have laughed at that too. You always made fun of me for having absolutely no grace. Again, that’s something G3 outshines me in. His performance is much cleaner and sharper than mine will ever be. The forms are like dancing, and you know how poorly I dance. 

As for the boards, I crushed them both on my first try. I knew I had the power, that was never a question. I knew I would break the board with my hand, it was the aim and balance of my kick that I was worried about.

When kids earn their black belts, the instructor asks the parents if they’d like to say a few words. Since I’m not a kid, he asked my spouse if she’d like to speak. However, she thought G3 would like to say something about me instead. He began, “When my mother first started, I wasn’t even an idea.” I laughed. He was correct. The first time I stepped on a taekwondo mat it was 1996, right after I graduated college. My joints were better, my muscles not so easily pulled or injured. Physically, so much was easier back then.

After the testing, we went out for ice cream to celebrate. I thought of you. So often you used to take me out for ice cream after a big athletic victory. We went to a place in Somerville. It’s not nearly as good as Eddie’s Sweet Shoppe, but it is one of the few places open around here in the winter.

When I first re-embarked on this journey, I intended to only go to classes until I earned my black belt. That’s all I wanted to do. Put that one huge regret to bed. But I’m sure you are not at all surprised that I now plan to continue. I enjoy it too much, but more importantly, I enjoy the bonding with G3. I know you understand that. I’m looking forward to G3 helping me learn the first degree form.

I miss you!

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