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Brown Beats Bad Breaks, Finds Success in Massachusetts

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Sen. Scott Brown’s childhood pain led to a basketball scholarship, modeling career and political success for the Massachusetts boy later in life.

Parents divorcing at an early age. Abusive stepfathers. Moving around.

These things should have held Sen. Scott Brown back. But according to his new memoir, “Against All Odds,” they prodded him to succeed.

It’s hard to imagine the attractive Senator, with his charming family and athletic ability, as the kind of person who started life with some bad breaks, but he does have an air of luck about him.

Case in point: He starts his memoir with a story about shoplifting at age 13. The newly appointed judge took the boy into his private chambers, where they chatted about basketball, family and school before the judge issued his sentence — a 1,500-word essay on why Brown disappointed his siblings and how they would feel about him playing basketball in jail.

With several anecdotes much like this, Brown tells his story. It’s a compelling one, and unlike some other memoirs (especially of the political persuasion), it rings true. You don’t feel as if Brown is trying to pull one past you; he’s just telling it like it is.

In fact, much of the first part reads like a darker version of “The Little Engine That Could.” His parents, once in love, broke up, which thrust his mother into a pattern of bad marriages. Two of his stepfathers beat him, and the third didn’t care for him. He fought with his mother often, sometimes running away to his father’s, where he felt out of place.

In a much-publicized part of the book, he relates sexual abuse by a camp counselor when he was 10. The telling is quick, but haunting: “If you don’t keep your mouth shut, he said, I will make sure that you never get the chance to say anything.”

After the Senator revealed this in his “60 Minutes” interview a few weeks ago, the story drew the most coverage. But more of a surprise in the book was when Brown tells of another time when, at age 7, a neighborhood boy threatened Brown with a knife while telling him to perform fellatio on him. Instead of acquiescing, Brown ran: “I became a runner then, and every afternoon became a race that I had to win.”

Despite these traumatic experiences, it was basketball, and the people who supported him as he aspired for better things, that became his saving grace.

After he made fun of an unpopular girl, his social studies teacher — a mentor who had introduced him to her boyfriend, the eighth-grade basketball coach — pulled him aside.

“You know what?” she said. “You’ve got everything in the world going for you. You’re tall, you’re good looking, you’re athletic. You could be smart if you put your mind to it. But you’re a jerk.”

Brown recalls how he was “the kid who always felt like a loser, who felt like I had nothing going for me.”

He challenged this self-perception in the years to come. After he became a basketball star in high school, his story switches from reading like a tragedy to something more along the lines of the all-American fairy tale. He attended Tufts University on a basketball scholarship. Cosmopolitan magazine selected him as the first non-celebrity to be “America’s Sexiest Man.” He had a modeling career. He joined the National Guard.

The pain of the earlier years didn’t dissipate, of course. Rather, it became the reason why he did so many different things. He needed his backup plans because he wouldn’t return to a life where he went hungry and he had nothing.

With fate now in his favor, it isn’t at all surprising when his wife, Gail, suggested that he run for town selectman in 1995. The odds theme picks up again when Brown points out the obvious fact that, during his political career, he’s been playing in a Democrat-dominated arena, as he remembers his campaigns for state Representative, state Senator, and eventually, the late Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat.

He leaves much of the political rhetoric to the end and gives a number of reasons why he’s a Republican: He came of age during the Jimmy Carter years, he believes in a strong military and in service, and he identifies with fiscal responsibility and fiscal restraint.

But throughout it all, Brown drives home one point: He’s a Massachusetts boy. Up for re-election in 2012, it’s no coincidence that he spends pages waxing nostalgic on the towns he lived in, despite his rough childhood.

“I’ve got a lot to learn in the Senate, but I know who I am and I know who I serve,” he said on the night he won the special election in January 2010. 

“I’m Scott Brown, I’m from Wrentham, I drive a truck, and I am nobody’s Senator but yours.”

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