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.

A Damn Good Week

14 03 2015

_DSC0027This had all the makings of a shitty week.

I departed last Monday on a four-day road trip for work, driving south for meetings with six customers in Virginia. As I’ve gotten older, I dread trips like these… three different hotels in three nights, lots of car time and traffic. I don’t sleep well in hotels, and too much crappy restaurant food gets old.

People who don’t travel for business on a regular basis think it is glamorous and fun, and sometimes it can be. And I am grateful for the benefits – hotel points and frequent flier miles. I don’t complain much because I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world and experience great things. This week was a good one…

Any trip through Virginia gives me the opportunity to visit with an old friend. Mike and I grew up on the same street, but really didn’t become friends until the summer before seventh grade. In those days, young kids didn’t wander far from home, and Mike’s house around the corner might as well have been ten miles away. His home atmosphere was much different from my conservative household, and his family had the perfect combination of cute sisters and a younger brother we could pick on together. So I spent a lot of time there. newspaper_readersCritical to the development of our friendship was our mutual discovery of the girls our age blossoming during that summer. It was a magical time…

We went in separate directions after high school, but remained in contact. I was an usher for his wedding, and he was for mine. We started families within months of each other. When Mike and his family moved to Virginia, they welcomed us for numerous visits. We usually talk on each other’s birthday – much easier for him to remember because his daughter was born on mine. And since his wife and I are Facebook freakazoids, we keep up with all of the family news.

Dinner with Mike this week was great as usual, cranking out multiple laughs and stories. We caught each other up on our kids, Philly sports, and our friends from back in the day. We had a good chuckle that we were both sporting Rite Aid bought 3x reading glasses. And we had a cathartic chat about our childhood friend Pudge, who passed away a couple of months ago.

IMG_2446We also talked about his Mom, who is now experiencing early stages of dementia. Marilyn has been living near Mike in Virginia for years now, and has entered an assisted living community as her condition has grown worse. Growing up, she was like a second Mom to me. She remains someone I admire very much. When we were young, she was very active in the community and city politics. She also worked with mentally challenged adults for many years. Most of all, she was smart and funny, and respected people – including us kids… adult behavior we were not used to in the seventies.

I was fortunate to get some free time the next day for a visit with this wonderful woman. We chatted for an hour about her life today, her family, and the old days back in Philly. She was pretty sharp for most of the conversation, but I could see her struggle a bit staying focused on her thoughts. And she did repeat herself a few times. But she remembered who I was through the entire hour, and I think the conversation made her happy that morning. It did much more for me.

Both of those visits gave me the energy and positive vibes to power through the rest of my grueling trip. It also gave me a lot of stuff to think about, some items to mentally organize… families, friends, neighborhoods, kids, life, mortality, priorities… just to name a few.

My business trip was a success, but the real wins were measured in conversations, smiles and laughs. We all scored well.

It was a damn good week. Can’t wait to do it again.

The Spare Tires of Justice

17 12 2014

“Not all cops are bad. Not all black people are criminals. Not all white people are racist. Stop labelling.” ~ Unknown Author

FergusonI have a fairly large network of social and business connections. Because I work in sales and marketing, part of my nature must be to cultivate relationships according to my various interests – marketing, social media, soccer, writing, etc.

These connections consist of friends, family near and far, business relationships and many other types of acquaintances. In social networks I try to connect with people and professionals I know, or can maybe enrich my network or career.

A quick study of my network shows that I am connected to very few people of color. This is probably because of my geography… born, raised and still currently residing in northeast Philadelphia, an area that has been historically white.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about race lately – relations, prejudices, etc. I recently found something called an Implicit Association Test (try it here). It’s an interesting exercise, designed to measure the prejudices that may be buried in your subconscious. Do you harbor a secret dislike of another social or ethnic group? How do you feel about that?

I was pretty sure that I had a good awareness of my values in this regard. But the test did show that I exhibited a slight bias toward White people versus Black people. According to the study that is a normal result for someone like me. There are a load of reasons, mostly dealing with environment and socio-economic status. My son used to call it “middle age racism”, and I bristled because I didn’t really understand.

ferguson-free-hugAll of this is to make a point… Although I have sympathy for the volatile situations in Ferguson and Staten Island, I will never have true understanding of the feelings of the people involved and affected.

But like everyone else, I have opinions. I will paraphrase from the quote above… The majority of police officers are good people, some are not. The majority of black people are peaceful, law-abiding citizens, some are not. The majority of white people are blind to race, some are not.

I have many acquaintances, neighbors and friends in law enforcement. I have the upmost respect for the police and the job they do to protect citizens every day. I’ve always felt safe and protected. But I’m also smart enough to realize that while the vast majority of police officers are solid citizens, some are not. They choose to shape their opinion of an entire group by a small sampling of behavior. Accordingly, similar biased conclusions are drawn by a small portion of white people and black people using the same process… “If one is bad, they’re all bad.” Remember when the teacher would punish the entire class because one or two students misbehaved? Did that ever make sense to you?

The wheels of justice hit some potholes in Ferguson, MO or Staten Island, NY, largely because the system allows instances for the truth to be suppressed. The details of “why” are too large and multilayered for this forum. I’m not saying that the police officers involved are guilty or innocent, but using a grand jury to decide in these cases clearly did not work. Evidence must be examined without agenda, and the implementation of an independent investigation process for incidents of police using force is the only way to determine the facts. These are obviously hot-button issues generating extraordinary passion – by all groups involved. It is vitally important that all incidents be investigated with complete transparency.

JusticeIf all of that happens… we would still have a long way to go. The media speaks about the latest terrorist “threat”, or the ebola “crisis” but these are small problems in comparison. Mistrust is the crisis, and a true embarrassment for the United States on the world stage. The continuing belief that every member in a specific group have the same behaviors is the largest barrier to meaningful change.

We all have choices… some easy and some difficult. We make them every day. I want to understand issues before I speak, so I choose to be informed and not divisive. And I also choose to disassociate myself from those who are misinformed and feeding the fire with hate… a difficult choice disguised as an easy one. So if I suddenly disappear from your network in the next few weeks or months, this will be the reason.

For years I’ve joked, “I hate the word ‘hate’.” It can no longer be a joke, and I’ve done my best to strike the word from my vocabulary. Ask either of my sons, who by example have taught me more about understanding people and being more open. It may be generational, but we cannot accept that as a reason for resistance to positive change. We shouldn’t accept any reason.

I will happily continue to be a work in progress. Peace and love… to everyone.


4 07 2014

The colors of the flag of our nation are on my mind today, maybe because of all the World Cup/USA soccer fever over the past three weeks. Here are a few red, white and blue thoughts on the anniversary of our nation’s birth…

photo (2)Speaking of the World Cup – Although it’s still going on, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a sporting event more than this World Cup – and I have no idea who these people are in the photo! With very few exceptions, the games have been edge-of-your-seat fantastic. Even if you are a soccer novice, it’s been the sports story of the year. Our U.S. team performed admirably, and I think soccer has finally reached the level of acceptance it deserves. Who could have pictured hundreds, and in some cities, thousands of people getting together to watch the World Cup? I can’t wait until 2018! There is a lot of work to be done, and many matches to be played before the next World Cup. But it’s a great time to be an American soccer fan!

If I Had A Time Machine – I often wonder what our Founding Fathers would think of our United States today. These brave, brilliant men could never have foreseen this future, as I’m sure none of us could accurately paint a picture of our world 238 years from now.

6a014e8c33f773970d017ee7f226ce970dImagine if we could pluck Thomas Jefferson from the past… I think he would revel in flying back and forth to his beloved Paris in a jet, and look in wonder at the massive cities that have sprung up across the wilderness he knew. (He might wonder how we got all of this done without slaves.) And, I think that he would be in shock to learn that his two century old parchment writings are considered by some to be the letter of the law.

By definition, a patriot is “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors”. Today, many describe themselves as “patriots” because they are convinced that their beliefs are the only solution to the ills of our nation… and all non-believers are to be treated as enemies of the state. They cloak themselves in the Constitution or the Bible, and spit upon those who dare to question their ideas. But they forget those very writings were made to be a beautiful framework for a vision of a free state, or a guide for all of us to be a better, kinder people.

We should continually inspire to be just that.

tumblr_l5aly0HcB01qa944oo1_1280Family and Friends – I’m looking forward to a great weekend. It looks like rain today for the actual 4th of July in Philadelphia, with remnants of Hurricane Arthur that making his way up the east coast. But it should be clear, blue skies on Saturday, and I’m heading to my sister’s place for a fun-filled afternoon by the pool with a bunch of family and friends. Sunshine, good conversation and cocktails are the only things on the menu… maybe a burger or two. Be warned, sis… watch out for a great big cannonball, and – to my chagrin – much water displacement.

As a wise man once said, “Family… what it’s all about!”

Quoting Myself – This time last year I wrote this tidbit, and then stole something from a “so-so” author:

Here’s something you’re not used to seeing on my page… great, great writing:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Happy 4th of July, my friends.


Ode To Joey

14 06 2014

Dad 01Tomorrow is Father’s Day. One year ago, I wrote a post about how celebrations like it can get lost among all of the other “fake” holidays on the calendar. I also noted how much I really like the Father’s Day, and how much more special it was with my Dad after I had children of my own.

I think about my Dad all the time, and he’s been on my mind more frequently leading up to this weekend. I wanted to write about him, and share some of my memories,. But as I started to gather my thoughts it all seemed eerily familiar. Deja vu all over again? Then it hit me… I’ve written this post many years ago.

One of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life was eulogize my Father. It was a sorrowful, yet exhilarating process. I relived some of that this morning as I sat in my living room reading it… bawling my eyes out.

By the time my Dad passed in March 2009, I had become a eulogy veteran. First Mom, then my Aunt… both in 2004. I also reread those two speeches this morning… more bawling! But after reading my Dad’s, it occurred to me that I was going to say anything more – or say it any better – than I did that day five years ago. So I’m going to “steal” from myself.

Some thoughts about my Dad…

I would like to start my speech by going over my Dad’s various nicknames. There is Joe, of course. Joey. Yukon Joe. Daddy Joe. Pop. Pop-Pop Joe. And Jello… my cousin Karen gave him that one. When I moved out and left him with a house full of women, some called him St. Joe. Only one person that I know of called him Joseph, and that was our pastor, Father Dunleavy. I referred to him by a few of those names, but I mostly called him Dad. And to anyone who would listen, I also called him the nicest guy in the world.

This week my sisters and I have been flooded with accolades and stories about my Dad. Almost all of them contained that word – nice. To quote a few… “He was such a nice man.” “The nicest person I ever met.” “He was so nice to me”. A former neighbor called him “the nicest person on Bandon Drive”. I’m sure she meant no offense to anyone of the other neighbors.

In all of my years with Dad, I have never heard him say a bad thing about anyone. Not once. I’m sure you will agree that this is an incredible feat.

Dad 02When we were growing up, my Dad worked two jobs – mostly to keep us in Catholic school. Throughout our childhood, Mom ran the home and Dad was the silent provider. When I was 15 years old, Dad got me a part time job at the Four Chefs Caterers in Mayfair where he worked that second job. It was great to have that extra connection with him, experiences that only he and I shared. I think I worked there for three years or so. Dad had worked there since I was very young, and a couple of years after I left. Looking back I realize how hard that must have been – working 15 hour days three times a week, and most Sundays. In later years I would often say how I missed some of the traditional Father/Son time. But he did it for his family, he sacrificed for us – without question or hesitation.

My Dad was simple man. He worked hard, and delighted in the time he spent with his family. “Ah Family, that’s what it’s all about.” That was one of my Dad’s favorite phrases. When he was getting therapy after the strokes, the therapists would ask me what hobbies or interests he had. His favorite things in the world were his children and his grandchildren. He would rather have a conversation than read a book. He would rather have a laugh with you, and sometimes a cry. He would rather do something for you, than do anything for himself. His favorite thing was just being there in the room, while all around him the chaos of grandchildren would reign. In the middle of it all was Dad, sitting and smiling.

Another of his phrases was “God bless us”. That was usually reserved for when technology was placed before him. Like cable TV versus 3, 6, and 10. Or the microwave that he seldom used. Or the VCR that he never used. He delighted that he had an answering machine after my Mom passed away. I remember showing him my digital camera and explaining that I just looked at the pictures now on my computer or iPod, instead of prints. He would just shake his head and say “God Bless Us”.

He would really enjoy the computer technology that allowed me to print the font on these pages so big that I don’t have to use my reading glasses – what he called his “cheaters”.

Dad 04When cable TV did come to the Langan house, it awakened Dad’s other love – sports. Especially Philadelphia sports. I knew his morning routine by heart… Wake up to watch SportsCenter, listen to KYW radio while making his breakfast, then switching to Comcast SportsRise while eating. Sundays during the fall were spent at my house watching the Eagles. We would always be recapping the previous night’s Flyers games. And when he came to live at our house last April, we got to enjoy one of the finest seasons of baseball ever played in this town – together. We watched almost every game, and even got down to see one in person. As the regular season ended, Dad had another stroke, followed closely by a third a few days later. He missed the playoff run and the championship we all shared. The Phillies Word Series win was bittersweet for me because I didn’t get to experience it with my Dad.

And “so forth like that”… another of his favorite phrases connecting almost every sentence he uttered. 

Having Dad live with us was an adjustment, one we were very happy to make. His first stroke was pretty mild, so after a few weeks he was almost back to normal. Our various routines were quickly established and my sons loved having their Pop around. He was so easy to live with, and he wanted to help with more things than he was capable of. If I was going to the store, or to soccer – or anywhere – it was “Come on Dad” and off we would go. Johnny’s job was to take him for his $5.00 haircut every few weeks. He loved the Senior Citizen Discounts. Dad would delight in seeing Colin burst into the room, usually at 100 miles per hour with a pratfall at the end. He loved that he and Colin shared birthdays, but after the stroke he sometimes couldn’t remember the date. 

And the man never met a meal he didn’t like! Robin loved that about him. She would say, “Are you hungry, Dad?” His response was always, “Getting there.” An hour later came the familiar refrain, “Robin, THAT was delicious!!” But Dad’s best friend in our house was Stan, our dog. They were already buddies before he moved in, and now they were daytime companions. Dad loved to give the belly rubs, and Stan loved to get them. And his frequent walks on our street introduced him to more neighbors than I know.  Some of them probably considered him the “nicest guy on Orion Road”.

Dad 03Last September we all enjoyed Irish Weekend in Wildwood. That weekend produced the YouTube sensation Dad Dancing video (below)… the best laugh you will ever have. One night, Dad and I decided to forego the boardwalk and slip into a bar to watch the Phillies. It was the best of times, and it was also the last drink we had together.

And “so forth like that”… A few days later he was back in the hospital, felled by the first of a series of strokes that eventually brought us to this day. It was only five months ago but it seemed much longer at the time.

Along the way there were many hard days and nights. But in this time I discovered that our family is so strong. My sisters and I have the best and most supportive spouses, and our children make us proud… most days. But I would like to thank several people that helped me through these difficult times.  Bob and Rita Kiessling, Dad’s neighbors for over 40 years – who he missed so much. And all of the neighbors on Bandon Drive who kept him in their thoughts and prayers. My coworkers and friends at Penn Emblem supported me, and granted me the support and flexibility to take care of the things that needed to be done. And if you ever have to go through something like this yourself, seek advice from people who are experienced. I thank God for Marie Gallagher who helped me tremendously, and never told me what a pain in the butt I must have been.

And when it came time for Dad to leave us, we were so lucky to have the staff at the hospice floor at Saint Joseph’s Manor. All of us were there, supported by family members and friends, Dave Carr, Rose Poretti, Chris and Bob Taylor, Helene Borell, and Sandy Bickel and Richard Saunders. For the rest of my life I won’t forget my cousin Joanne Langan stopping in around midnight on Saturday… to say good-bye to Uncle Joe.

Thanks to you all.  “And so forth and so on”…

Forever, when I think of my Dad I will remember his laugh and the smile that never left his face. I’ll never again experience the big greeting I got when we saw each other. But what I will miss most is the sense of peace that he had – very calming to all around him. I won’t be able to watch a Phillies game without thinking about him. And I’ll also remember this past week, last night and today.  When all of his friends and relatives told me what I already knew – that my Dad was the nicest guy in the world.

“Family… That’s what it’s all about.”

That’s what I said five years ago, with a some changes because I’m a bit of an editing nut these days. I have nothing to add, other than I miss him very much.

Happy Father’s Day, Joey.