The Wrestler-1998
From the Spotlight, Champion Dad Reigns
By Bryan Ethier

Kevin Nash's normally booming, Diesel truck voice is backfiring like the sick engine of a cement truck stuck in reverse. This time--hours before the sun's strongest rays are to sear his Phoenix home--is usually reserved for sleeping off the crippling effects of a night inside a WCW ring. But right now Kevin Nash has swapped a night of NWO for a night of TOT­--that is, his toddling son, Tristen.

Nash's head is thick with fatigue; over the last few nights, he and his wife, Tamara, have not enjoyed their usual complement of shut-eye. Tristen is carving his two-year molars, and the ache he feels in his jaw has resulted in intermittent sleeplessness for him and his mommy and daddy.

This is acceptable. Dad stresses, because a child is the most precious thing in the world. To be exact, Tristen Nash is one year, 357 days old. The question his daddy now faces is this: Will I be at home or on the road when those molars burst all the way through?

Such a concern might seem inci­dental to those WCW fans who con­sider Nash's chief nemesis to be Holly­wood Hogan. But Nash no longer measures success in terms of gold belts or victories.

I've been a champion. Now I wanna be a champion dad.

Today Nash is not considering his next ring opponent. He's pondering a day at the family pool with "my boy" or spending hours whizzing around Matchbox cars with "my boy.”

Who can blame Dad for jealously clutching at these precious moments to be spent with his son? When you're on the road for four or five days at a time, then back home for a day or two, and so on, your "boy" does not comprehend where his daddy is for much of the week. This the toughest part of making big dollars in wrestling, of enjoying fame and the spotlight. Sacrifices must be made, and a chief sacrifice is family time.

Still, Tristen’s about to enter the 'terrible twos," and Daddy can't wait.

I just wish my mother was here to be a part of this, he thinks.

A degree of separation anxiety clutches the Nash household; ironi­cally, however, Tristen is not the one burdened with it. A Day earlier, Kevin Nash had slept in later than usual, and upon rising at 11:30 he was surprised to see his son's bedroom door still closed. Tristen rarely slept this late. Dad was concerned.

"Is Tristen up yet?” Kevin asked family's nanny, who works a cou­ple of hours a day. “No." she re­sponded.

Oh, God. Nash thought. He felt his stomach quiver, his pulse quicken as they do in panicking parents. He peered outside the bedroom window and saw workmen busy around the house, The racket they were making had roused the dogs, who were yap­ping up a storm. It was almost impossible to sleep through this din, and Tristen was a light sleeper.

What's going on?

Oh my God. Kevin was scared deep within his soul.

He walked warily across the hall toward his son's room, taking those long steps with his huge stride. The door grew larger and larger as it does for a convict taking his final steps toward the room in which his execution will be carried out.

Nash paused outside his son's bedroom door and took a deep breath. He pushed the door open and peered anxiously inside. Suddenly all Daddy could was his son's big, happy, smiling face looking back at him. Kevin Nash smiled just as dopily, like his soon-to-be-two-year-old boy. Thank God he’s okay.

Daddy picked up his little boy; his mind was oddly weary and super­charged by the thoughts spinning through it: I've read the stories of people who have lost children.

Kevin Nash could think of no greater loss for a dad.

That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Like Tristen Nash's dad, who loves to play with toy cars with his son, Robert Nash loved playing toy soldiers with his son Kevin. In fact, Robert Nash loved doing anything silly, goofy or childish if it kept him young and his kids feeling wanted and loved.

What an army commander he was! With the kind of bizarre strate­gies one would only find in a wrestling federation, Robert Nash sided against his son in a battle of those little two-inch plastic toy soldiers “My guy's bayonet just killed your man” Dad would declare while prancing around the room.

No matter, thought his son. I’ll just send a dozen of my field troops up the left flank and bury your guys! The battle increased furiously with opposing soldiers making fear­less runs through bunkers, over hills and through bottomless oceans (and the kitchen floor) just to precipitate a sneak-attack.

Eventually, both commanders collapsed in a heap, exhausted by this merciless battle. Dad, like Mom, Wanda, worked at the local Ford Motor Company, a short drive from the family’s bricked ranch in suburban Detroit. The assembly line at the plant may have been robotic, but Robert Nash was spontaneous, jovial, kid-like. Toy soldiers comprised just a part of his repertoire; many mornings he would walk into his son's room, trench coat pulled over his head, his hand waving a butcher's knife in the air. His son jumped a mile into the air, then crumbled with laughter.

Bath hour was hardly safe, either, for Kevin, his older brother, Mark, and younger sister, Kim; just when they were soaking in a nice warm, relaxing bath, Dad would barge into the bathroom and dump a glass of cold water on their heads.

Dad was at his best when he was surrounded by kids, his peers. Often he would load the kids into the car, drive them to the local Dairy Queen, and fill their tummies up with chocolate, vanilla or, if lucky, a twist. All came home with ice cream mustach­es and smiles to match.

Despite these tight-hearted moments, there were rules in the Nash household. One of those edicts concerned religion: Sunday Mass was mandatory, and this rou­tine would instill in Kevin a deep sense of faith over the years. After church, the family would drive over to their favorite restaurant and stuff themselves silly. Then Mark and Kevin would take the proverbial Sunday drive through Detroit, past the local ginger ale plant, past all the tall, impressive buildings.

If Dad was the comic, Mom was the disciplinarian, the emotional backbone of the family, and she condoned no malarkey from her chil­dren--especially the time Kevin and a friend sneaked onto the roof of a neighbor's housel They were drop­ping smoke bombs and firecrackers down the chimney when the police arrived. The two transgressors dashed off, apparently in the nick of time. They might have escaped with impunity had they not left their lad­der leaning against the house. The police noted Nash's name and address on the ladder and made a beeline to the humble bricked home.

Suffice to say, that night Kevin Nash got "lit up" by his mom. As a boy, Kevin Nash had two hobbies" comic books and pro wrestling, with emphasis on the for­mer. He grew up watching famous grapplers such as Bobo Brazil, Dick the Bruiser, The Sheik, and Pampera Firpo. But seeing these heroes on TV was inadequate; consequently, he frequently sneaked over to Uncle Chuck's house to satiate his appetite for the sport Uncle Chuck owned a priceless collection of the cheesy wrestling magazines that Kevin loved. Back in the 1960s and '70s, the wrestling mags tended to glorify the bloody world of wrestling in vivid color. While this feature greatly ap­pealed to Kevin, his mom was loss than thrilled.

"Stay away from Uncle Chuck's house!" she warned.

“Don't worry, Mom I won't go back.”

Yeah, right.

To her children Wanda Nash im­parted a philosophy that it you believed in something, you fought for it. This maxim made her stronger, unwilling to take any nonsense from anyone. It also fortified her on the day her husband died.

Robert Nash was just 36 when he died. The games, the ingenuousness, the toy soldiers, and the humor could not prevent a heart attack from felling him at an age when most parents are having their most profound effect on their chil­dren.

Kevin Nash was eight years old when his dad died, when his toy sol­diers stopped firing their toy guns and toy cannons. The commander was gone, the trench coat hung up for good.

Wanda Nash, who had left the Ford plant to raise her children, returned to work. Times were tough, but not oppressive. She did what she had to do to feed her three children. Sometimes she worked second shift at the plant, and that meant Kevin, Kim, and Mark would have to stay with a neighbor across the street until she got home. The first Christmas without Dad was a solemn one for the Nash children; there was just enough money around to provide each child with a gift or two.

But the kids always had clothes, shoes, and books. Some two years after she had lost her first husband, Wanda Nash married a man named Allan MacDonald. In the slanted world of television, stepfathers are often depicted as cold and overbearing. Allan was neither, and, ironically, he possessed the same warmth and sense of humor that Robert Nash had. Models replaced toy soldiers, while footballs and baseballs zipped around the yard. It took little time for Kevin Nash to refer to his stepfather as "Dad."

Amidst these changes and tribu­lations, Kevin Nash grew up-literally--and grew and grew. Although he goofed around with wrestling, as he approached his teens, he adopted basketball as his favorite sport. It should have come as no surprise, for by age 14, he was 6’10. He was always a tall child-lanky but not goofily so. Actually, he used his size to his advantage: Kids would flock around him to watch him suck in his stomach and transform himself into a two-story tall bug.

But there was a line between laughing with him and laughing at him. Pick on Kevin Nash and you'd end up with a set of knuckles rapping on the top of your head.

In sixth grade, he began playing organized basketball. He made the varsity team late in his freshman year at Detroit's Trenton High. Now that, was cool! Hardly anyone ever made it onto the big team in their first year.

His most vocal cheerleader? Mom. Go after what you believe in, she told him.

Kevin Nash starred at Trenton, and upon graduating from high school. he had a decision to make: Where should I go to college? He had received invitations from nearly 200 schools.

Stay close to home, where I can go see you play, his mother re­quested.

That eliminated the West Coast schools. After some deliberation. Nash chose Tennessee, a manageable eight-hour drive from Detroit. In 1978, 1979 and 1980, Nash was a mainstay on the learn, and Mom and Dad attended games whenever they could. But Nash's three seasons under head coach Don DeVoe were not always harmonious. Later in Nash’s career, coach and player did not always agree on Nash's role with the team.

He took his inside game to Germany and played in Europe for five seasons, until a serious knee injury ended that career. Doctors feared the 25-year-old would never be able to play organized sports again. With no reason to stay in Germany, he returned to Detroit, back to his biggest fan, his mom. Nash got a job on an assembly line, and on Friday nights (payday) he and his colleagues made a night of it. One such evening, they collected Nash but refused to disclose the night's activities.

The last place Kevin Nash ex­pected to end up was Joe Louis Arena: the last thing he planned to do was to watch the World Wrestling Federation. But there he and his buddies were, some 10 rows from the ring, 10 rows from his future. It had been years since he had watched the matches, but now Kevin Nash saw pro wrestling in a different light. I can do this, he thought.

To that point. Nash had never considered wrestling a potential career. But now, almost 26 and 6'10", 290, he recognized his assets: First, he was big, and big was big in pro wrestling. Second, he could talk. He was the sort of guy who could capture an audience with his quick wit.

But to think he could do the job in the ring was different from actually doing it. So Nash relocated to Atlanta and secured a job as a bouncer in a strip club. The idea of wrestling still bounced around in his head, however.

Where do I go? How do I start?

One could hardly be seven feet tall, possessive of a voice like the percussion section of an orchestra, work in an Atlanta bar, and not be recognized by a local WCW wrestler. During his five years in the bar busi­ness, Nash developed friendships with popular wrestlers Barry Windham and Rick and Scott Steiner. Through them, Nash learned of a wrestling school run by Jody Hamilton--The Assassin--some 35 miles away.

This is for me, he thought Nash continued to work at the bar from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Around that, he sandwiched two hours of weightlifting in the morning and a couple of hours of wrestling school at night. Most nights, he arrived home at midnight. The hard work paid off, how­ever, when Nash joined WCW in 1991.

Nash would not achieve star status for another three years, when he received the support of WWF owner Vince McMahon. In the spring of 1993, he entered the WWF as Shawn Michaels' bodyguard, Diesel. Diesel quickly formed a passionate relationship (both positive and nega­tive) with the fans; he also forged a kinship with colleagues Scott Hall, Sean Waltman (X-Pac) and Hunter Hearst Helmsley. The group became known as The Kliq, and for a while, they were inseparable.

In time, Diesel split from Michaels, went out on his own, be­came a superstar. But in Detroit, he was still Wanda's son, the good soldier who called home every Sunday, regardless of his location­.

But while her son was beating on characters such as Doink the Clown and Owen Hart, Wanda Nash was struggling to beat a more serious foe: cancer. In November 1994, the loco­motive known as Diesel cap­tured the WWF World title, stun­ning champ Bob Backlund in a mere eight seconds. But Kevin Nash's celebration was short-lived; two days after Christmas,his mother, his confidante, his inspi­ration growing up, lost her four-year battle with the disease.

here are days when Kevin Nash spots an elderly woman with her adult son and wonders, Why? Why does she get to be here when my mother does not? Kevin Nash has, for nearly four years, searched his soul for the answers. He is by his own admission, a deeply religious man. But he says he finds few answers in and little solace from the Bible. He has shared his pain with fellow Christians and compatriots Ted DiBiase and Van Hammer. They bear his grief but do not bear the talisman to ease their friend's lingering anguish.

Nash’s pain is its most profound when he and Tamara are holding Tristen, mar­veling at his size, his strength, his joy.

In his son, Kevin Nash sees himself and wonders, What was I like when I was two? When did I walk? But Mom is not here to open up the family scrapbook or to recount her son's days as a tot.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Ironically, what made Kevin Nash stronger almost killed him.

Last winter during the Christmas holidays, Nash’s stepfather devel­oped a blood clot in his intestines that ruptured and became septic. Adult respiratory distress syndrome ensued, and doctors gave him a 10 percent chance of surviving. For two months he was on a respirator. At times, his family thought the end was near.

The prospect of losing another family member, of dealing with the attendant stress, was more than Kevin Nash could bear. He worked himself into such an uncontrollable frenzy that one day he believed he was having a heart attack.

Dad died from a heart attack when he was my age, he remem­bered. Fortunately, cardiovascular tests showed no signs of a heart attack. And as the weeks passed, Allan MacDonald began to rally. Finally a few months after the onset of the ill­ness, he returned home.

Perhaps it is the fear of dropping dead at an early age, just as his father did, that keeps Kevin Nash looking over his shoulder, worrying that maybe today is the day God takes him or Tristen or Tamara from this world. Life is so fragile, he has come to learn. Each moment is a lifetime in and of itself. He first learned this lesson when Robert died, then when Wanda died, and when he nearly lost Allan.

Most at all, Kevin Nash learns the lesson every time he plays monster with "the boy," The lessons have taught him that when his contract with WC W express in three years, he should trim his busy work schedule. Thirteen knee operations have slowed down his body: the loss of his parents have told him to slow down before the years pass him by. Work maybe 75 days a year, keep his hand in the wrestling fray, but focus on what counts most: family.

Eight years of consideration passed before Tamara and Kevin Nash finally resolved to have a child. During his WWF glory days, Kevin was on the road constantly; there was no time to raise a child the right way. But after some seven years of marriage, Nash recognized that age and the constant rigors of travel were stealing those precious moments, those minute-by-minute mini lifetimes. Six days after Nash returned to WCW to help form the New World Order, Tristen was born.

Today, that son knows nothing of the NWO, or of the squared circle. He leads a well-rounded life in which Morn is Mom and Dad is Dad…except sometimes Dad's not home. Dad makes a living sticking an over­sized boot into the oversized mush of a sweaty, oversized man.

He makes a good living, provides well for his family. But when he unrolls the tape from his wrists and rests those battered knees, Kevin Nash takes the time to listen to a voice in his soul. The voice reminds Nash that he has outlived his father by three years, that Mom is gone, and that Allan almost followed her. But Tamara and Tristen are still at home in Phoenix, waiting to go out to the pool. "The boy" has his Matchbox cars out on the floor; he needs a mechanic.

Nash pays great heed to that inner voice and then answers: Please don't take me. l want to see my son grow up.

Back to the Kevin Nash archive