Muhammad Ali wanted his children to take up regular jobs that did not pose any physical threat and never become boxers but yielded when daughter Laila insisted on picking up boxing gloves, says her sister Hana. According to her, Ali tried to persuade Laila to reconsider her decision, but when he saw that she was serious, he was very supportive and felt proud of her.
”It was one of dad’s many gifts – his ability to support and encourage his children even when he did not agree with our choices. He just prayed Laila wouldn’t get hurt. And God must have heard his prayers because she retired undefeated and was never hurt,” says Hana, Ali’s third youngest child.
She says Ali was not possessive about his children but was ”protective” of them. Hana has come out with a memoir, ”At Home with Muhammad Ali”, which is an intimate, behind-the-scenes portrait of the legend.
”My book was born when I received the audio recordings from dad and then grew into a memoir when I discovered the love letters that my father wrote to my mother. It includes never-before-seen photographs, love letters, and audio recordings,” Hana told PTI in an interview.
In the 1970s, Ali began recording a series of audio diaries, mostly in his Los Angeles home. Through these private tapes, as well as personal journals, love letters and rare photographs, one can discover Ali the family man and see how, despite the complexities of his personal life, he went to extraordinary lengths to keep all of his nine children united and to help others – be they family, friend or stranger.
”This memoir is ultimately a love story and a families journey against the backdrop of a celebrity father and how a woman, in reflection of her childhood, navigates a personal journey of healing and understanding amid the pressure of her father’s fame, his failing health and the demise for her parents’ marriage – all while living a fishbowl life.”
She says this book, published by Bantam Press, is not just for Ali fans, but also for mothers and fathers who want to learn how to be better parents, and for sons and daughters trying to find healing with their siblings and their parents’ life decisions.
Ali was most concerned with making the recordings for his family and he also knew that they would be valuable in some way, but at the time, he was not sure how they would be used, says Hana.
”When he gave them to me he told me to do something with them or that I could sell them if I wanted to. I told him I was going to write a book first then I might sell the rights to the collection one day. He was happy about that.”
Hana has not sold the rights yet but she has licensed about 12 minutes to a documentary film, ”I Am Ali”, and an up-and-coming HBO film.
”Essentially, dad’s recordings are the world’s first reality show. It was a brilliant idea. Daddy was always ahead of his time. But again, most importantly, he knew that moments pass so fast and so many of them are forgotten. He wanted to preserve as much as he could. He thought life was beautiful,” she says.
Ali loved the idea that Hana was writing another book on him and she read him different chapters over the years.
”I sold the book only a month before he passed away. So he didn’t get to see the finished product but he was happy about it and what I had read him so far. He was proud of me. I never really saw myself as a writer or use that as my sole profession. For 10 years I worked as behaviour specialist with autistic children. I considered that my true profession and writing about my father was more like my hobby,” Hana says.
She is the author of three books – ”More Than A Hero”, ”The Soul of a Butterfly”, and ”Ali on Ali”. Hana says there are way too many qualities of her father to mention.
”It’s one of the reasons my book is so long. When people read the memoir they will learn of his compassion, his generosity, his humour, his philanthropy, his spirituality, his strength, his humility, his ability to forgive, his sorrows and regrets and so much more.” Another of his qualities was he was always friendly with his boxing opponents.
”He never held grudges or took boxing too seriously. He was kind and loving to everyone. And they were friends. Someone once asked dad if he got along with the fighters that he fought and my father replied: ‘Yes we’re all friends we only fight for the money.”’
Ali had a deep and beautiful conversation with George Foreman on one of the recordings featured in the book. ”Dad and George discuss religion and boxing. It is a very moving and surprising conversation for boxing fans to read.”
Hana says she doesn’t have any plans to make a movie based on the recordings although she has more than enough audio recordings to do that if she wants to.
”There are about 90 tapes and I’m guessing 70 or 80 hours of recordings. I could also make a few documentary films or a mini-series based on them. But that would be very time consuming and take great skill. I’m trying to decide if I want to do that or just sell the rights to all the tape recordings and let someone else do it. Whatever happens, the world has not heard the last of Muhammad Ali,” she says.