REAL MEN: OPA! THE GREEKS!

Oh the Greeks. Been surrounded by them my entire life. Lowell Massachusetts is basically Athens West. Met a million in my life, friends with so many. Beyond the likes of local Greek legends Demoulas, Behrakis, Leonis that have each made undeniable contributions to the world through their grit, hard work, determination and generosity, there is also a subset of All-Star Greeks that have made a big difference in MY world.

These are their stories. (insert Law and Order intro)

Oh wait. Hold please. Need to spend a couple minutes on the Greek women.

Oh, those raven-haired vixens dominated the thoughts of this pre-pubescent boy. Those high-hair-sprayed, bushy browed, lip-wax-needing teens spawn of the Mediterranean were my kryptonite in the early 1990s. You were my Achilles Heel….only slightly farther north of my heel. (I mean my heart, you sickos)

I would have worked in their family diners if offered the opportunity.

Made Spinach Pie my favorite kind of pie even though the real answer was Key Lime.

Named our first born son “Spanikopita” if asked (or just called him Paul, George, Nick, Chris or Jimmy like the rest of them)

I even took a girl named “Sue Flaki” out a few times; but, alas, it was fleeting like the ships that Helen of Troy launched.

I tried, ladies, but my Trojan Horse of a plan was not meant to be.

Any hoo.

On to the men.

Here is a brief rundown of some of the great Sons of Sparta I have had the pleasure of knowing (Yes, 3 Pauls and a George)

Paul Diamantopoulos

“Diama!” Paul is literally a chiseled Greek God in real time. I think he came out of the womb and went to straight to the gym instead of breast feeding. As a young man, Paul was a wild man. True badass, wiseass street kind of kid You wanted to be on Paul’s good side. But, Paul is actually a sweet marshmallow of a guy – just don’t tell anyone or he’ll kill me. Hair like Sampson, built like Hercules, Paul evolved from a quasi-punk to an absolute Hall of Famer across the board- football player, husband, father and a friend to all. Glad I have been able to call him my friend more than 30 years. Not a bad fisherman too, I hear.

Paul Grillakis

Only met Paul in recent years, this guy is one of the most unique and balanced humans I have ever encountered. Introduced to him by a mutual friend, I had an instantaneous bond with Paul. Paul fought a profound battle with cancer a few years back – one that doctors assured him would be a short war that he would not win. But, guess what, he had the last laugh and living his best life with his wife and grown children. While watching my Dad fight his own cancer battle, Paul was an amazing and encouraging resource to me. He gave a perspective that only someone who went through the hell of that disease can provide. Just an overall genuine, kind, tough spirit. The best.

George Yfantopulos

George has been a guiding force in my life for a long time. He has been a mentor, advisor and true friend to me for more than than 25 years. For whatever reason the Gods placed me in George’s company in some of my darkest of hours and he has always been the perfect companion in those moments of sadness, struggle and suffering. George is incredibly loyal, honest, and true to the core. George is a like Shepard to so many. Always shouldering the burden for the common good of the flock (or ‘squad‘ as he would put it). Generous and humble. A good man. Can’t pay higher praise.

Paul Davidopoulos

At lastly, BIL (Brother-In-Law) Paul. Paul is an electric dynamo of a man. Paul makes you smile with his energy, enthusiasm and wild spirit. Paul gets the party started and keeps it going. Paul led a hard life as a younger man. Eternally loyal son, he had a hard road growing up. Working his (albeit chubby, stubby) fingers to the bone to help his survive as a younger man, Paul battled and overcame some personal demons. I am very proud of him, his grit and determination to be better. I’m proud to call him ‘brother’. He is a wonderful husband and father. Paul is awesome.

You seeing the theme here? Lot of good Greeks out there; the above are some of the best that I could happily describe to you in further detail, but I don’t think anyone wants to read The Irish Iliad.

“Life is short, the art long.”
– Hippocrates

REAL MEN.

REAL MEN: GINGER MALES

(Get it, Ginger Male…Ginger Ale…nevermind…keep reading)

Approaching the 2nd anniversary since my father’s passing, I think about him. A whole lot. Things he taught me. Stunts he pulled. Funny times. Trying times. Life lessons. And then I got to thinking about one of his biases. His inexplicable love and weakness for a particular species on this earth. No, not puppies. Nope, not kittens. Not even babies. I am talking about RED HEADS.

Frank – a lifelong ginger himself (until the Grays won the final war against the Reds in a Battle of Hair-trition) always believed Carrot Tops were a very special, select and elitist club roaming this earth.

Data tells us that only 1-2% of humans on the planet are red heads so maybe Big Frank had a point? As a younger and, uh hem, heavier man, he was dubbed “Fat Red” so I guess he had to embrace those auburn locks on that giant sun damaged skull of his. I mean, not a terrible club to be in with Lucille Ball, Conan O’Brien, Ed Sheeran, Nicole Kidman and Prince Harry to name a few.

But, this is not a study of the good and fine red-coiffed roamers of the world; this is about people and it’s time a couple of the great gingers get their due and proper; at least from this had-red-hair-as-a-baby-but-outgrew-it guy’s perspective.

And while I have a lot of great gingers in my life, I wanted to recognize two Real Men Reds; Sean Rourke and Brian Hoey.

Sean

My Dad’s Godson and like blood to our family, is the definition of the fiery red head, much like Pops. Sean, now 50 years old, has been around my family since the day he was born. Our parents were the best of high school friends and we grew up with their brood in Lowell our whole lives. The eldest of the 4 Rourkes, Sean had a very special bond with Big Frank. Taken under his wing as a teenager, he became my Dad’s protégé at the funeral home as a wee teenager. Sean learned about all of the dark and difficult ins-and-outs of the death trade and, if I may say so myself, became a Jedi at managing a terribly emotional and eerie world. Following in Frank’s footsteps, Sean, once the Student became the Master when he took control of the Fay McCabe Funeral Home several years back. Consummate professional and kind hearted soul with each and every family he serves during their saddest of hours, Sean is a credit to this trying and misunderstood business. On occasion I volunteer my services to Sean when a loved one of mine passes. Always so very proud to still see my family name on the door (and Sean could have easily and understandably modified that at his discretion), funeral attendees presume Sean is Frank’s son. I can’t imagine why anyone could think such?

Father to 5 beautiful kids and husband to non-red head, Erin, Sean is the best. And while always very capable of a raging “Ginger Snap” when things aren’t exactly going his way, this red has a heart of gold and I consider him a brother.

And now to Mr. Hoey.

Brian

Another red-head-pledge to the society of Real Men, Brian possesses the quality that neither Sean nor Frank did; patience. Brian, another son of Lowell, is the polar opposite of the atypical fiery ginger. Brian is cool, calm and collected (at least has always been from my vantage point).

Brian is the red-headed-rock-of-sense-type of guy you need around you when you are about to make a bad decision.

Brian is the guy on the other end of the phone when you are stranded in an Arkansas lock up and you need bail and a ride.

Brian is the one of the most reliable of the reds and you want him in your (Redd) Foxxhole (whew that was a tricky simile).

Akin to all the men I have scribbled about in this series of tales, I don’t remember a time when Brian was not around my world. Like Sean, Brian and his “older brother” Fat Red Frank Senior always had something happening together. Frank was constantly looking for a set of hands to help out in some capacity. Brian runs a successful landscaping business and was on speed dial with Dad whenever he needed everything looking just right around the grounds of the Moore Street funeral parlor and beyond. But, Brian did a whole lot more than that.

(Brian also served under another Real Man, Mr. David Nangle, for many years and I am confident Dave would tell you Brian was probably his greatest asset as well.)

An almost extinct quality in today’s day and age, NO ONE could say a foul word about Brian. (I can think about 9 horrid things about myself right now off the top of my head) Father to 2 great, young men and married to arguably the only person nicer than him, his longtime spouse, Denise, Brian has done it all right.

(By the way- Brian has a red head brother dubbed Duffa, that is equally awesome but just slightly – and by slightly, I mean wildly more – crazy than he is.)

And so, here is to you magnificent Irish Reds, I salute you.

Slainte!

Great friends.

Great people.

REAL MEN.

REAL MEN: BEAKER

In the past few months, I have been receiving a lot of mail, email and social media reminders of my 25th reunion from college. As with any reunion type event, it reminds us how time flies (and that you are getting old!). After digesting that fact, I was reminded of an important day that would ultimately play a part in choosing to attend my Alma Mater, the College of the Holy Cross.

In the summer of 1992, about to enter my senior year at Lowell High School (do you believe that place is still standing…could probably use a fresh coat of paint or maybe even a BULLDOZER! Sorry, tangent.) I was invited to visit with the football program at HC. Very exciting invite that I happily accepted.

However, in the days leading up to the scheduled visit, my sister got sick. Really sick. Courtney had a long fought battle with major G.I. problems since she was a young child and she took a bad turn at age 15. She would be hospitalized in Boston for nearly one month that summer. My parents, not surprisingly, refused to leave her side for any extended period of time; except to be sure I didn’t burn the house down in their absence, of course. This was fine by me and I managed just fine. (I’d like to tell you it was like Risky Business….and it was. Well, except for the parties, beautiful women, sex, drugs, and wild fun. Other than that, exactly the same. I did dance around in my underwear once…alone. I digress)

But as the days turned to weeks at Children’s Hospital for Courtney, my big day out on Worcester was quickly approaching. And so Dad and Mom had to make the decision to how to manage. This was a parent/student invite. I could not go alone and I certainly could not decline this opportunity. So, we decided to enlist the help of an old friend.

Enter Brian “Beaker” Barry

Brian was yet another close confidant and council to my Dad. Golf buddies, neighbors, occasional business partners, they were quite the odd couple. Conservative Attorney Barry coupled with Often-Off-The-Rails Frank made for a head scratching friendship; but one that seemed to always work.

Brian eagerly agreed to lend a hand to our family and chaperone me out to the The Cross. Leaving behind his own large brood of young children on a Sunday, Brian stepped up. I was quite nervous that day – and a bit unsure if this was a even a good idea. Brian could sense my jumpiness as soon as I got into his little lawyer-mobile Volvo. He made light commentary (and terrible jokes) the whole ride down. I remember it really did help me and the nerves. Brian delivered what was needed. Basically, to serve as the parent that could not be there to help navigate me through this interview of sorts.

Long story short, it was a very successful trip.

Flash forward a few months.

After visiting many more schools and weighing many confusing options I knew I wanted to be a Crusader and could not have been more proud to receive that letter of acceptance. And it was a great ride I have always cherished.

May 1997, Brian and I celebrated “our” victory the day after I graduated.

In hindsight, looking back almost 30 years since that visit to Mount St. James, Brian’s support on that day was so critical. It was the first step in making arguably the largest decision in my young life. We still joke about it whenever we bump in to each other.

Remember that day I got you in to college, Frankie?“, Brian will rib me.

Sure do, buddy.

Outside of his quirky wit, Columbo-like interrogations if he wants the scoop on some sordid subject, Brian is just a great guy and family man. Proud husband to Katie, father to five superstar kids, grandfather to a whole gaggle that’s still growing in size, Brian continues his life well lived over on Clark Road. Pretty damn good golfer, too.

Thanks for that day and for the many years of true friendship.

REAL MAN.

(P.S. Beak was also the co-conspirator of the infamous “Dr. Pleasure 40th Birthday Caper“, but I’ll save that for another chapter.)

REAL MEN: The Old Guard of Mount Pleasant

With Masters week upon us, the arrival of Spring, and opening of golf season , it seemed like a timely tribute to the people and the place I have been a part of my entire life; Mount Pleasant Golf Club.

As I meandered through the clubhouse last evening for the annual “Smoker” (the club’s traditional kickoff event to commence the new season) I was reminded what a great place this is to be a part of. Dad had me up there at 3 years old in the 1970s. Had my first beer there (don’t worry, I was 4 at the time), drove my first motorized vehicle there (fear not, I was 5), played my first game of 45s there (relax, I was 8 and there was a kitty) and made a lifetime of friends there.

I was a full member for more than 25+ years but when my offspring were little, I decided to step back and simply be a social (aka drinking) member. But, I will be back again for certain some day.

Last evening reminded me of the legends that roamed these grounds when, ah hem, the beloved ‘old’ clubhouse was still in place.

OLD SCHOOL

Names like Timmy “Ace” Vaughn, Eddie “Hot Top” Walsh, John “Skippy” Boyle, Tommy “Face” Conlon, Ray “Brooksie” Brooks, and, of course “Mr.” Billy Moriarty.

Those names and many more were absolute legends. Legends on the course, and larger legends in the clubhouse. Fun, tough, hard men. No excuses, greatest generation, “women weaken legs“-type of fellows who spent the few free hours they had each week on Staples Street with their buddies.

RULES

These boys had some basic but hard rules in those days – which had zero to do with golf…

If your wife called the actual phone at Mt. Pleasant, you were an outcast and un-politely asked to leave the premises immediately.

If you were not cracking a cold Budweiser on the first tee (at any hour of the day, mind you) then you were forced to take a mandatory testosterone test.

If every third word out of your mouth was not a swear, slang or off-colored comment, then just shut the f*&K up.

Pretty simple, I think?

These were bad ass dudes.

I have some great memories of those men. Always a life lesson when I encountered them – perhaps not always a good one – but always an education or, at the very least, a dirty limerick or joke.

Forward We Go

As time wore on, those legends slowly – and reluctantly – passed the torch the current Boys of the Old Brigade. Now aging icons with names like Hassett, Wheeler, Livingston, Rourke, Mullavey, Coit, Shaughnessy, McKiernan, Healy, Costello, Murphy, Cassin, Dowd, McCarty, Emerson, Fawcett, Meade…(and the list goes on and on…so forgive me if I missed a few of you).

This generation was slightly softer than their predecessors but equally vigilant in their pursuit to leverage their Mt. Pleasant friendships and comradery to simply ‘do good‘. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been been organically raised by these guys over the years; supporting every type of cause; from cancer to little league baseball.

The Jimmy Fund alone has been the beneficiary of nearly $1,000,000 in the last 30+ years (shout out to J.R.)

All of the above and many more have made this “neighborhood club” awesome. They have protected it, advanced it, and cherished it. For those of you, like me, that have been fortunate enough to be a part of this 1910-founded institution, you know what I mean.

And the “new” guard of MP is certainly in great hands being lead and served by men named Jenkins, Tulley and more.

It’s a great place. Great for kids. Great for families. REALLY great for MEN.

REAL MEN.

Thank you fellas.

Enjoy the Masters.

REAL MEN: McNeil Men

As I have referenced in the past, the entire spirit of this Real Men project was to pay tribute to the men that mean so much to me. Shaped me. Had an honest and true impact on my life.

To date, nearly all of these men I have had the privilege to recognize were friends of the late, great Frank Senior or my powerful blood brothers (uncles essentially).

As I sadly walked in to the Dockray and Thomas Funeral Home in Canton Massachusetts this afternoon to say goodbye to a true Real Man, it reminded me of the very reason I wanted to create this series of stories; to tell these men how important they were – before they were gone from this earthy world.

I have no interest in writing obituaries. My poor Dad spent 40 years of his life doing that meaningful, but painful, chore as a faithful funeral director. And he hated it.

I simply want to acknowledge some great freakin’ dudes of the world. That’s it. Period.

Today, heartbreakingly, I had to give my Father-Son-Holy Spirit through glassy, teary eyes to my wife’s Uncle, Leo McNeil.

Uncle Leo was just 64 years old and fought – like so many – a ridiculous bout with cancer. (Boy, do I hate you cancer. I’ll save that rant for another time)

Leo was the epitome of an old school gentleman. Kind, funny, cool and charismatic. A throw back. A unique specimen that fully deserves the wonderful celebration and mourning of his beautiful life I witnessed today, Leo loved hard and gave hard. A true servant and soldier of God, Leo is a 1st ballot Hall of Fame Human in my estimation.

I loved Leo.

But, Leo reminded me that I don’t want to pen another post-mortem story. No thanks.

Wisely, I took the time to tribute my FIL (father-in-law) several months back. I typed the words I wanted him to read and understand about what he means to me. Proud I did so, and hopefully I remain in his will. ;).

However, my MIL (mother in law) is 1 of 8 children. Leo, the only male in the brood of Big Leo and Ruth, the other seven lady McNeils clearly have a way with the weaker sex. Minus their dear sister Jean, who died many years back from the results of a brain tumor, the other McNeil Misses lassoed themselves a barnful of studs!

Let me just give you the briefest of descriptions, but these are the definition of Real Men and I am so thankful they have been a part of my world for over 25 years….

Uncle Ed – married to oldest McNeil, Nancy, flat-top-quaffed Ed is the big strong silent type. Pretty sure he called me by my actual name once, just a straight down the middle solid guy. John Wayne style man. Respect.

Uncle “Tut” – I didn’t know this guy’s actual name was ‘Paul’ until today, I think. An Italiano James Bond, Tut is a smooth, cool cat. A shaken, never stirred brand of gentleman. Hand him a golf club, martini, cigar …he makes it all look good. A great hugger and a great friend.

FIL – you have already been covered. Enough.

Uncle Pat – Sioux City Iowa native, a quiet rock star of a man, Pat is unassumingly cool. Give this guy a guitar and some time and you will simply relax and be intoxicated by his company. Pat is a man that gives you faith in in the notion of genuine kindness. A warm, welcoming human being.

Uncle Paul – Sharing a birthday with Jesus Christ, Paul may have actually given more to this world than our Savior himself. When I first came on the scene to the McNeil Clan, Christmas Day, Paul wasn’t celebrating his birthday but awaiting a call from the bone marrow receiver he anonymously donated to a year earlier….you know, just because he is awesome. You kidding me? Paul is one of the best, bad ass good guys matriculating around this big blue ball.

Uncle Steve – Steve, the baby of the McNeil-In-Law-brethren is simply just an awesome man. Smart, confident and fun. This dude bought a Winnebago to get to Buffalo for couple Patriots snaps each year! Spawn a crazy Polack Clan, Steve and his merry band of kids have fun – a lot of fun. Great guy – simply stated.

And let us not forget Ginny. The lone female in-law to the McNeil Testosterone Amalgam. Leo’s widow. 😦 Ginny can roll with any of these men mentioned above. Classy, kind, tough and fun Irish lady. You have an army behind you during these awful times.

So, in summation, not a bad group to call “family”. As we mourn Leo during these days, we take solace in what an incredible group of men (and woman) converged in to an already amazing family.

Thanks for not beating me up, fellas.

Real Men.

Rest easy, Leo.

WHAT IS ‘REAL MEN’?

As I continue this REAL MEN series, I assure you, I do not take it lightly. The whole spirit and intent of this project is to pay homage to men that have had an influence on me – not some ass kissing contest. I have nothing to gain. I chose to dive into this endeavor after my Dad passed away nearly two years ago. And while I spent 3/4 of my life in a “funeral home” family, these writings are not intended to be eulogies – but tributes.

Yes, unfortunately, several of these men I wrote about – men named Tighe, McKay and Martin – have moved on to a better place, the point is to convey emotions and share the stories about great men before it is “too late”.

Everyone always says great things about loved ones when they have passed – but why wait? How many times have we all said “(S)he was such a great person. I wish I had one more day with them. I wish I told them how much they meant to me. I wish…I wish…I wish.”

You know?

Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.

That is why I have written these words about some of the great gentlemen I have been blessed to encounter in my nearly 50 years in this earth. In certain cases, I missed my chance during this project. Men like McCarthy and Livingston. Always in my writing sites and plans, but never put pen to paper. My loss.

With that said, I am confident I have made great selections to date and I am so pleased to share them. The reactions from these posts demonstrates just how great these men are and what they have meant to so many others.

Most of these men are blood or blessings to my world. My Dad (and Mom) kept great company and exposed me to such wonderful humans.

Thank you for that.

I have a few more tributes I will pay but I only pen these stories when it feels right. In any case, just giving you all an insight to “why” I choose to author these tales…cause these people made such a mark on me.

Do yourself a favor and tell the men and women like these just how important they are to you…before its too late.

Thanks for reading.