Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Brother's Legacy

Last year I called my brother to wish him a Happy Birthday.
I wish I could do it again tomorrow.
But he died last September. A sudden, unexpected, death.

Boy, I never saw that coming. I’m sure neither did he. That’s a lesson right there. Live each day to...


its fullest. Be kind to yourself and others.
Go happy . . .
My brother did. He worked hard, but enjoyed his life, especially his last few years on earth. He loved playing bass guitar, even got his own band (with groupies!) and met some great people through his music. He loved sailing on his boat, The Witchdoctor. And truly loved his boater friends.

Soon after his death, I mentioned his accomplishments in this blog. But for what would’ve been his 59th birthday, I want to share with you a very cool story. It’s inspiring, and reminds us all, how each of us has the capacity, maybe even a duty, to make a difference in someone else’s life.

The story is written, in his own handwriting, in a letter discovered by his fiancé, who shared it with me. (We have no idea why he wrote it, though it could’ve been for a position in teaching Karate).
Reading it once again, brings tears to my eyes. But they are proud tears.

It’s a 13-page document that holds much wisdom, on more than one subject. I want to share my favorite one, what he called his “life-changing awakening.” But only he can tell it properly. So here it is, as written, though because of its length, I’ll have to edit his work.
I hope he doesn’t mind. . . .

Here’s a lesson gleaned from a man who earned 6 black belts in the Martial Arts:

“As a young teen growing up without a father, I led a rebellious lifestyle and saw my life going nowhere fast. After I began training in Martial Arts, the intense training began to improve both my physical and mental outlook. As I became more involved, I met some of the greatest Karate and Martial Arts masters, and what impressed me most about these remarkable men was how humble they were. Through them, I learned that respect, true respect, was earned with hard work and devotion to one’s art from (as opposed to demanding respect because of who you think you are). Although the spiritual aspect of the training incorporated [many beliefs], it was not about what religion you believed in, but rather how you used the discipline and training to make you a better person.

As I began my Karate Kids program at YMCAs, youth centers and community programs, I realized I had to live my life honorably, not just during class. I ended up teaching to a wide variety of people, some - women and children, especially - who were victims of those who seemed to enjoy inflicting pain on them. . . .

During these early years in my training and teaching, I had a 16-year-old student, a troubled kid with a lengthy juvenile record involving drugs, gangs and violence. [Note: This was a juvenile probation program my brother founded, called “1st Strike” where he gave young offenders free Karate lessons to learn the art of respect for others].
I allowed him to enroll in my class, although the probation officer thought him unredeemable. After he joined, I had an almost nonstop battle about his bullying other kids and using bad language in front of young children. He was constantly downplaying the Karate he was learning from me, claiming he already knew Kung Fu. Finally, I’d had it. I arranged with the janitor to open up the gym for a “private” workout. When the kid showed up, I locked the door and threw him a pair of punching gloves and informed him I intended to see how good he can fight a grown man instead of punching little kids. He refused, saying he was under-aged and I wasn’t allowed to hit him, which I immediately did. Not enough to seriously hurt him, but hard enough to let him know I meant business. He put on the gloves and came at me. (Mind you, he was much bigger than me at 6’3, and a really big kid). He ended up begging me to stop fighting him, and I never saw him again.
Six years later, I was teaching at John Carroll and noticed a well-dressed black man with a business suitcase, watching my class, which was not uncommon. Afterward, he approached me and asked if I was Dennis Fedorko. I acknowledged that I was. He then asked me about a certain date in which I deliberately assaulted an underage juvenile. I looked at him in his $600 suit and said, “Do you mean that punk is going to sue me after all these years?
He looked at me and said, “No, I am not.”
I was absolutely floored! I asked what happened to turn his life around and he replied: “You did.”

He went on to say that because of his big size, everyone was always afraid of him: his mother, grandmother, teachers, other kids . . . so nobody ever said no to him, no matter what he did. After our encounter that night, he gave up drugs, got his GED, and decided to go to Case [Western Reserve] Law School. He became a lawyer, and was now involved as a childrens’ advocate for the court system.
That was the absolute best justification for all the sacrifice and training I did all those years.” . . .

I wished I could’ve heard Dennis tell this story when he was alive. But then again, to have this letter, written by him in his own handwriting, is a gift that keeps his spirit alive for me. And makes me so proud that he was my brother.

Happy birthday, Bro. Thanks for the great story. You did good.