OGDEN -- At 6, his father taught him to cook. At 9, he learned to box. At 14, he held odd jobs, so at 16, when he was suddenly on his own, Isaac Jr. had no reservations about fending for himself.
Isaac Sr. did not want to abandon his son, but as they were both living in the country illegally, he predicted that separation was inevitable.
Though Isaac Sr. worked, paid taxes and obeyed the law, the only real control he had over his circumstances, he thought, was teaching his son to be self-reliant for that day when they would have to part.
"He always told me he wasn't going to be around," said Isaac Jr. "He wanted me to learn as much as I could because the more I knew, the better chance I would have for a good future."
In January, Isaac Sr. agreed to voluntary deportation to Mexico after it was discovered he was an undocumented immigrant. Last month, father and son said goodbye at the Greyhound bus station in Salt Lake City, and Isaac Sr. began his journey back to Tijuana, Mexico.
Isaac Jr. resumed his quest to find sanctuary in a city where he has much support.
The family's last name is not being used at the request of Isaac Jr.'s state guardians.
"We've been together since he was 5, and after all we've been through, it just ends up breaking us apart," Isaac Sr. said tearfully before leaving for Mexico. "There are no words. The feelings are there, but there are no words. You want to say goodbye, but you can't."
Originally from Tijuana, Isaac Jr., his infant sister Evelin and their parents came to the United States legally when his father obtained a work visa.
He was 5 when the family left Mexico, but Isaac Jr. has distinct memories of his birthplace.
The family lived in a one-bedroom home with dirt floors in the living room and kitchen. They had running water, but the shower and toilet were housed outside in a shed. Abandoned rattletraps and a pit full of old tires masqueraded as his playground. And a few months after his fifth birthday, he saw a man gunned down.
"The neighborhood was full of gang members and drug dealers," Isaac Jr. recalled. "Everyone thinks they can do whatever they want in Mexico, the cops are so corrupt there."
Isaac Sr. worked in Texas until his visa expired. His wife then returned to Mexico with Evelin. Wanting a brighter future, father and son remained in the states, moving first to California and later to Utah. For the last few years, Isaac and his father lived a low-profile life in Ogden.
"People try to come to America for a better life, but sometimes it's just not possible, unless you have the right connections," Isaac Sr. said.
"For Isaac, my son, I want the best. I want him to finish high school and graduate and get a good career here in the United States, if it's possible."
Last July, Isaac Sr. was pulled over by Ogden police for a traffic violation. Unknown to him, there were two outstanding arrest warrants from a previous traffic violation.
Once it was determined he was in the United States illegally, he was arrested and taken to Weber County Jail.
"Being illegal in the United States is like walking on a rope. At any time you can fall," Isaac Sr. said.
For the next month, Isaac Jr. lived alone in their apartment. With some help from friends, he found the means to get food and to get himself to Foley's Mixed Martial Arts Training Center, where he trains as an Open Class USA boxer.
"I wasn't freaked out because I had confidence in myself that he raised me right," Isaac Jr. said of his father. "I worry more about other people than myself. I worry about my family, about my dad not getting money. Sometimes I feel like bursting into tears, but I can't."
In the boxing community, Isaac Jr. is a celebrated fighter who has won countless matches. He maintains a reputation as a hard hitter and clever boxer with elusive footwork. He has defeated high-caliber fighters, most recently a boxer who has held the title of Golden Glove Junior Olympics National Champion for four years.
"When I'm in the ring, I like the way the adrenaline kicks in. The pain is telling me I'm still alive," Isaac Jr. said. "I was taught to never retreat."
His trainer, Dave Foley, a five-time state Golden Gloves champion and professional fighter, has seen many boxers through the years.
"I've been boxing for 18 years ... and there's been a few kids that have come and gone that are super-talented that I thought could go far, but Isaac (Jr.) is the most talented one of all," Foley said. "He definitely could go pro and go to the USA Olympics. The kid is great."
But if Isaac Jr. doesn't become a citizen, he won't be able to go the distance as a boxer.
"They won't allow a non-U.S. citizen to advance," Foley said. "But if he can get his papers, then he'll be able to enter the Utah State Golden Gloves Tournament as an Open Class boxer."
Foley has never charged Isaac Jr. for training because money was tight in the boxer's household, but he says Isaac Jr. has paid his dues through mentoring younger fighters.
"He's been a huge role model and a huge influence on the younger fighters," Foley said. "I don't think we would have had as much success if Isaac (Jr.) hadn't been there."
For years, Isaac Sr. trained alongside his son, and the two became tight with many members of the gym.
It didn't take long for those members to begin asking the whereabouts of Isaac Sr. Once they realized he was in jail, they rallied behind Isaac Jr., giving him the support he needed.
Mike McAuliffe was one of those people.
"We all take care of each other at the gym," he said. "I was just in a better position to help Isaac (Jr.)."
McAuliffe wasn't living there at the time, but he gave Isaac Jr. a place to stay at his home in Ogden Canyon. Leigh Owen, a high school friend of McAuliffe, moved in and became Isaac Jr.'s primary caretaker for more than six months.
"I became involved in Isaac's life not for the attention or personal gain, but I saw a kid who needed help and I loved him from the beginning," Owen said. "I want his personal sacrifices to allow him to get what he wants, which is citizenship."
Isaac Jr. lived with Owen in the canyon for about five months.
He and Owen then moved to the home of her sister and brother-in-law, April and Ben Bench, and their two girls, making it easier for him to get to school and to the gym.
The girls, Maci, 6, and Kira, 12, helped him paint his new bedroom, where he stayed for more than a month.
"They think of him as their older brother," Owen said, explaining that Isaac Jr. still visits with them on occasion.
"I'm glad they did that (invited me into their home)," Isaac Jr. said. "They're really good people. I really like them."
Isaac Jr. is now in the custody of the state Division of Child and Family Services. Though he's an undocumented immigrant, he was identified as being abandoned and therefore wasn't distinguished from any other youth in need of services.
"Dependency kids come into state custody for a variety of reasons. When reunification is not an option, we immediately look into permanent placement," said Liz Sollis, public information officer for Utah Department of Human Services.
"Safety and permanency are our two priorities. Permanency provides kids with a better life, a better sense of being and self-confidence."
Sollis confirmed that all cases, though unique, are assessed in the same way.
"When kids come into our custody, each child goes through the same comprehensive medical assessment to ensure all of their needs are met," she said.
McAuliffe is currently going through the process of becoming Isaac Jr.'s foster parent, and others are working on a plan that will help him gain citizenship.
"He's an awesome kid. ... He's boxing with some of the best boxers around. He has more integrity as a 17-year-old kid than most adults I know," McAuliffe said. "I think he has a great chance to succeed here."
McAuliffe shares the sentiments of many who believe the U.S. immigration system is flawed.
He maintains that Isaac Jr.'s situation is "no fault of his own" and that the teen has proven to be of good moral character, basically a defined legal concept used for consideration in obtaining U.S. citizenship.
"The circumstances Isaac (Jr.) has come from are brutal. We take what we have for granted here," McAuliffe said.
Isaac Jr.'s future in the United States is tenuous. Dashed were his hopes of Congress enacting the DREAM Act, a bill that would have provided permanent residency to certain deportable immigrants who graduated from a U.S. high school and want to pursue higher education.
But just as in boxing, Isaac Jr. has many in his corner, advising him and encouraging him to go another round.
"Everyone has helped me," he said, "because they know I can do something great with my life."