Toasting My Son and His Bride

17 03 2017

Some thoughts on this coming weekend – celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day and the wedding of my son…

As the Father of the Groom, I am obviously excited to be part of this wonderful celebration. But I have stayed in the background through most of this process. There have been reception decisions, food tastings, dress fittings, showers, etc. I have endeavored NOT to be Father of the Groom-ZILLA! And I think I’ve succeeded.

This weekend is for Anya and John. Tomorrow is their day, and I will be smiling from ear to ear the entire time… reveling in the many beautiful moments. But as I have explained to Anya and John – well, mostly Anya – the rehearsal dinner was my night.

It’s not their night, it’s mine. So I told everyone last night to fasten their seat belts… I had some shit to say!

Some of my thoughts…

The Groomsmen – Only one thing to say about this group… there has never been a more unsavory collection of characters roaming this earth.

Over the past ten years or so, I have seen and heard some crazy stuff coming from my basement… and I know these guys have been responsible. Myself, my wife and Colin will be sad when Johnny is no longer in our home. But some people will be very happy… the guys who pick up our recycling every week! There will be a substantial weight drop in beer bottles alone.

These are all good men and great friends to my son, and I am very thankful for that. I am sure they clean up nice and will be resplendent on Saturday, as they support their friend on his special day.

But no one will be looking at you guys much. Not at all, really…

The Bridesmaids – The eyes of the wedding attendees will all be looking left at the most beautiful bridesmaids ever assembled. A wedding is a special day, full of so much fun for the bride and her bridesmaids – hair, make-up, maybe a little champagne. It will be an awesome day.

And Anya chose all of these women because “she can’t say ‘I do’ without you”.

And from what I’ve heard about bridesmaid duties, they all have a very important job on Saturday: holding Anya’s dress up when she has to pee. Is that true? I think I read that in a magazine or something…

I am grateful for all they have done for Anya, and for their presence and support for the both the bride and groom.

New Family – Last night, I officially welcomed the Cervinos into my family.

Colin, John and I have been lucky to have one wonderful woman in our life, now we have five more! So to Candy, Martina, Candace and Aleena, welcome! Anya too, of course. But I will talk about her later.

We are looking forward to many good times and traditions in the coming years.

Mother And Son – One of the best moments in a person’s life is the realization that their parents are proud of them. To this day, when something positive happens in my life, I think about calling my Mom and Dad

My Mother was very proud when I chose Robin to marry me. Or really, when she finally broke down and agreed. Some say I tricked her, but that’s a story for another day.

Johnny’s Mother is very proud of his choice as well.

All About Anya – In December of 2007, my son went on a high school retreat weekend called Kairos.
The weekend ended with a closing ceremony in the school chapel with the parents sitting in the back. I remember very vividly, sitting there thinking, “Who’s the little redhead sitting with my son? Never saw her hanging around before…”

That was our first glimpse of Anya and the beginning of a journey that shifts into high gear tomorrow.

In the scheme of things, Anya was just a kid when we saw her that night. And we have watched her grow to be an exceptional, young woman. She is beautiful, smart and funny, and has always been very respectful to our family. Now I’m wondering how John landed her… did you use the same trick I did to get your Mom?

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about Anya. For example: don’t say “God Bless You” until at least the third sneeze. And some people don’t know this, but she starts to make her bed before she gets out of it. That’s talent!

Anya is the perfect match for Johnny, and I know she will continue to support and challenge him. They are a good team. A great team. Johnny, like his Dad, has made a fine choice.

As a Father of two boys, I’ve been asked how I feel about having a girl in the family. Anya officially becomes my daughter tomorrow, but I’ve considered her just that for many years. And I love her as my own.

My Son – He’s my offspring, my namesake, and one of the heirs to my throne and vast fortune.

He wishes…

I’m not going to waste words describing John. Everyone knows him… how can you not? He’s one of the biggest personalities in any room he enters. WHERE DOES HE GET THAT?

That’s exactly what I meant when I said that Anya will continue to challenge Johnny.

“John, settle down.” “John, keep quiet.” “John, shut the F%&# up!” Lots of luck to Anya!

And as I am thinking about my son and his future, I think about my past. If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that your priorities, views, and beliefs change over time. Mine certainly have… from the time I was getting married at 27 years old to now – when I’m 57 years old getting ready for my son’s wedding. Colin and John are my inspiration. They have both been my barometer in this ever changing world. For that and many other things, I am forever indebted.

Back to the Kairos weekend where John and Anya met… we were asked to write a brief letter describing John for that weekend, and this is what I wrote.

It is a bit unfair.  Ask me to write something about my son, and then be brief?  I could fill many pages listing the positive qualities you possess.

I admire so many things about you.  The most important thing is that you are good person.  You care about your family, even when you fight with your brother and give your Mom and me a hard time.  You are a “fierce friend”.  You very loyal and honest, most of the time.  You are respectful, about as frequently as I can expect from a 17 year old.  You are artistic and talented, and sometimes inspired.  And I am convinced that you are so smart, and haven’t come close to realizing your potential. 

But you will never, ever beat me in Jeopardy!

I do a lot of preaching to you.  I know that you sometimes think I am a pain.  You hear these words from me a lot – choices, focus, commitment, priorities, maturity, etc.  I may be a pain, but I am really just a father who wants his son’s life to be better than his.  I don’t want you to make the mistakes that I have made.  Part of my job is setting the bar high, and then helping you reach up.

I remember when you were born.  I was standing outside the nursery with Uncle Mark looking at you, wondering and worrying what kind of Dad I was going to be.  Seventeen years later, I still don’t know that answer.  I only know that Mom and I do the best we can.  When you leave our home, I hope you are prepared to meet the challenges of life.  We will be there for help and advice, if you want it.

You are great.

Love you pal, Dad

PS… What are we?

When Johnny was a little boy, I would ask that “PS” question every day. His response has always been, “Best friends in the great whole wide world.”

Right back atcha, buddy. For the rest of our lives.

The Beautiful Game – One of the things John and I have together is soccer. In fact, he is responsible for my love of the game because he played as a kid and I was his coach. We are Philadelphia Union supporters, we are Sons of Ben. He also supports Arsenal, but I can always look back at this photo on the right for hope.

But this weekend, despite a full slate of Premier League matches, we are all supporting one team… Anya and Johnny!!

Some Irish and a Toast – Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, and I would be remiss if I didn’t honor my heritage. It is not a coincidence that Anya and Johnny picked this weekend for their wedding.

May the lilt of Irish laughter lighten every load.
May the mist of Irish magic shorten every road.
And may all your friends remember all the favors you are owed!

Everyone celebrating this weekend will be joining in many toasts. Last night, mine was simple:

To friends old and new, to family old and new, to love… and best wishes to the bride and groom.

To Anya and John! Slainte!


My Mind’s Eye

13 11 2015

I was sitting at a family get-together about fifteen years ago, and I took a good look at my parents across the room. For some reason I really studied them that day, and was a bit of a surprise to me that they had aged so much… that the vision I had in my head was of long ago, when they were younger and more vital.

Both of them passed in hospice some years later. The last time I saw them they were sick, and haggard. But still – in my mind’s eye – they are smiling, laughing and full of life.

I’m beginning to think this happens with your children as well…

Tomorrow, my niece Stephanie gets married… my sister’s daughter. She is the first of this generation of my family to make that leap. My son got engaged last week, so that ball is rolling now.

At the wedding rehearsal last night, I was watching all of the young people… the bride and groom, the groomsmen and bridesmaids… all smiles and excited in what the next days would bring.

Later, at the wonderful rehearsal dinner I realized something else. The father of the groom made a wonderful speech about his son’s choice in a bride, and how proud he was of his choices in life. Later, my brother-in-law did the same… standing in front of us, so emotional. Mostly talking about how proud he is of his little girl.

The happy couple, Stephanie and James, are adults. But to their parents and all of us old fogies, they are still the little kids we watched grow up. In our collective mind’s eye, they will remain that way forever.

Damn… I dread the speeches I will have to make for my sons!

My niece has honored me with a small role in the ceremony tomorrow. I am charged with remembering the people close to them who could not share this happy day. I am very sure that when I say those names, all in attendance will remember them and see them vibrant, and full of life.

In their mind’s eye.

Keeping with this theme, these are photos I’ve taken of Stephanie over the years. She will be so beautiful tomorrow… like she has been her entire life.

Vintage Maire Brown

7 05 2015

“A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.” ~ Dorothy Canfield Fisher

I was thinking about Mother’s Day this morning, making sure to remind my sons that it is this weekend. It occurred to me that I’ve written about my Dad several times, but not much about my Mom. Although I was always closer with my Father, I’ve certainly turned out to be more like my Mother.

Family 05aBeing the economist that I am, I decided to mine some passages from the eulogy I wrote for my mother in 2004. Hers was the first I had ever done, and now I have three under my belt… an old pro! Lots of memories came flooding back, and some tears. Damn… has it been 11 years since she’s been gone?

The opening line of her eulogy was, “For those of you who did not know, my Mother was Irish.” It was intended to be a joke, and it succeeded. Brought the house down! It wasn’t just that brogue, not one bit tempered after fifty years in America. It was because a lot of the adjectives associated with the Irish also accompanied descriptions of her. She was small, but powerful. Feisty, but sometimes quiet and reserved. And she had a bit of a temper…

She was one of six children born to Charles and Mary Brown, and she was named Maire.  She came into this world in September of 1928 – at the beginning of a new Ireland.  Though living in Belfast technically made them subjects of the British Empire, the Browns were Irish – through and through.  Her brother Michael was supposed to be named for his father. In those days, babies were given names when baptized in the hospital. That morning, the President of Ireland – and famous Irish freedom fighter – was assassinated. So my uncle was baptized Michael Collins Brown, and he was a rebel for most of his life. And my grandfather was more than a little pissed at Granny Brown. It’s clear where my Mother got her grit.

Mom spoke of growing up in harsh times. It was very difficult for Catholics to live and work in the predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland. But the family took strength from their incredible faith and community.

484575_10151029838858494_1004293327_nShe told stories about hiding under the dining room table when air raid sirens sounded during World War II. As a kid, I thought that was so cool. As an adult, it’s one of those “WTF” things that I can’t get my head wrapped around.

Mom was a singer, and I used to hear from other family members that she was pretty good.  She actually made a record, but its whereabouts was one of the world’s most closely guarded secrets. I think her sister Anne had it at some point, but to this day it remains only a legend.

Mom regaled us with stories about growing up in Ireland. About going to ceilis – Irish dances. She told us of the great times she had with her sister Betty, and her friends – Patsy and Bunty. It seemed they were always coming home too late, sneaking cigarettes, and ALWAYS getting caught by their parents. She was clearly making a point with those stories, and years later I used that same method on my boys.

Mom loved Ireland deeply. She loved her childhood and her siblings – brothers Michael, John, Ted and sisters Anne and Betty. And she loved her niece Mary most of all. She loved her parents, and the home they provided.  But she wanted more.


Off to the honeymoon…

In 1952, she went on a long boat ride with her sister and her friend, and came to America. She settled first outside of Newark with her cousin Jack and his family. After a visit with friends in Philadelphia a year later, she decided to make this town her home.

To Americans she was known to as “Marie” Brown, because Maire was difficult to say. In front of strangers she spoke very slowly, because she always felt her accent was a distraction. She worked at the American Pulley Company, and lived in an apartment with Betty and Bunty. A co-worker, Peg Floyd, introduced Marie to her nephew Joe – a dashing young man just out of the Air Force. Details of what surely was a whirlwind romance were never disclosed, and they were married in August 1956. They lived in a second floor apartment near Oxford Circle, just down the street from his Mother and Aunt Peg. On the first floor were Pearl and Eugene Hegh, who would become their very good friends and my Mom Mom and Pop Pop. What is it about the Irish and having so many “faux” family members?

Family 02b

The Miracle…

If things had gone according to plan, I would probably not have been the first choice to eulogize my parents. Mom lost four children over the years, including a son who is buried in Ireland. But in 1960, the best possible thing happened – I was born! Mom always told me I was her miracle because she prayed so hard for me to come. When I misbehaved, she delighted in telling me this… an effective form of Irish guilt! My sisters were also her miracles, and she dedicated her life to us.

In 1962, Mom, Dad and I moved into a new home on Bandon Drive. My earliest childhood memory is a barbecue at the new house, when Dad and Pop Pop were setting up my new swing set. Mom and Dad were founding members of Saint Anselm Parish. I suppose I was too.

In the sixties, the Dads worked and the Moms were at home running the household. Clearly, that’s a better situation than today. As children we were completely safe, and afforded the freedom to explore and learn. But we were always under that guiding hand.

22683_10153198247460871_6644957615264759857_nI loved to make Mom laugh. If I heard a joke, I couldn’t wait to tell her. She loved Polish jokes for some reason, and I delighted in the irony when my youngest sister became Mrs. Ron Zlakowski. I told her once that we could plug any nationality into those jokes, but she said it was funnier this way.  But no offense to anyone, she loved a good Irish joke too.

But all was not rosy growing up with that wee Irish woman. We had some epic battles in my teen years, and well into adulthood. I inherited her stubbornness, and never recognized that she viewed these battles to be part of her responsibility to see that I did things correctly.

I suppose that all mothers have very distinct relationships with their children. As the oldest, and as a male, I was certainly treated differently than my sisters. But in certain ways she was very consistent. Mom always challenged us to be better – to work hard, to strive, to make good decisions, and to be a good person. Ask my sons today how many times I tell them that they are judged by the decisions they make… vintage Maire Brown.

100_0789From my Mother I got my passion, and also that stubbornness. I got the ability to distinguish the right way and the wrong way of doing things. I’m proud of my heritage… an American, but with pints and pints of Irish blood coursing through my veins. And most of all, I was instilled with the understanding that the most important thing to have in life is love from family and friends. My Dad is always credited with the quote, “Ah family, that’s what it’s all about.” She might not have said it, but again… vintage Maire Brown.

As she got older we argued less, if at all. I think she realized that I was okay… that she done a good job. I know she was proud of the person I became, and of the choices I made in my life. She loved my wife and her family. She loved my friends, and always asked about them.

Mom did a hell of a job with me and my sisters. Because of her, we are strong. We have made good choices. Our children are fantastic. And the best part is that we are all very close, and always will be.

No conversation about my Mom would be complete without mentioning her partner in crime, Aunt Betty. I guess raising us – or as Mom always said, “rearing” us – was a two person job. Aunt Betty lived in our home, and she was a big part of who we are today. It was a surprise to no one that they passed on only months apart… always connected.

100_0065My mother’s final chapter was typical… she exited this life on her own terms. When faced with a long list of medical challenges and aggressive solutions that were far too risky, she decided to accept God’s will and use the time she had left to be with her family. Instead of lamenting her fate, she wanted to prepare us for life without her. But she had been doing that for years. She visited with old friends. She made sure – one last time – we did things the right way. Most importantly, she delighted in her grandchildren’s laughter. She left nothing incomplete… vintage Maire Brown.

For a few years, one of our parish priests would sing to his Mom during mass on Mother’s Day. Mom loved this, and would cry every time. It’s an appropriate verse to close this post, a great tribute for Mother’s Day. It is an Irish folk song from “only” a hundred years ago…

There’s a spot in my heart, which no colleen may own.

There’s a depth in my soul, never sounded or known.

There’s a place in my mem’ry, my life, that you fill.

No other can take it, no one ever will.

Sure, I love the dear silver that shines in your hair.

And the brow that’s all furrowed and wrinkled with care.

I kiss the dear fingers so toil-worn for me.

Oh, God bless you and keep you, Mother Machree.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom… Miss you.