REAL MEN: Roger

The men described in this series all possess similar traits; loyalty, character, humor, humility, grit, compassion, “bad-ass-ness” but most, kindness.

This guy embodies that last trait.

Roger Landry.

In keeping with the common thread, Roger is a dear and old friend of my late father and the entire McCabe family. Roger is a true friend.

As a lifelong educator and principal, Roger will appreciate the math that accompanies this chapter.

Roger grew up in the Acre section of Lowell, 2nd oldest to a brood of 8. Six sisters and a brother. The Landrys are”breeders”. Roger’s two daughters represent just a couple of their 28 first cousins. The latest generation producing upwards of 63 offspring (footnote to Ancestry.com).

Jesus, folks, don’t you have Netflx? Bon jour, ya animals.

You need a formal organizational chart to keep track of these people. Make note, if you are doing business, eating dinner, having coffee, sitting, standing, driving, golfing, voting or breathing there is 73% chance you are in the presence of a Landry. Amazingly, I know approximately 81% of them and they are all simply good, decent, hard working human beings. That can’t be said about most.

Back to Rog.

With a glorious quaff of snow white lettuce covering his dome, Roger was a lifetime educator and principal. Began his career as a 6th grade teacher but spent the lion’s share of his professional years as a Principal in Lowell Public Schools. The very first Principal of the Murkland Elementary School, constructed just steps from his childhood home in the Acre, Roger had the perfect affect and effect on so many young students. My mother had the privilege to work in the library of the Murkland under Roger’s direction, and I would frequently visit. I witnessed first hand the firm but gentle hand Roger lead this school. Many of the students came from poor and broken homes and Roger served as a leader, role model and father figure to so many. Regardless of what condition these children entered that place, I can guarantee they came out better students and people when they left. Roger was truly born for this mission and good work.

Away from those classrooms and hallways, Roger was a very fun and social guy. Never would shy away from a card game, a sporting event or just a “night with the boys”.

More math you request? You got it.

Roger has been to Las Vegas 51 times. 51! The only people that have been to Sin City more than Roger are Frank Sinatra, Sigfried and Roy. Sammy Davis Jr. was only there 46 times, based on my non-research.

While always a gentleman, Roger is no softy, especially when it comes to common courtesy and politeness. A great tale of Roger from way back. Dad was working late, Mom was at some type of event tagging along with the Landrys and other friends. Allegedly, a fellow guest of this party was being a bit inappropriate toward Mom. Legend has it Roger had him pinned against the wall quicker than you can say “Get to the Principal’s office“. Thanks buddy.

A family man to the core, Roger has lead a wonderfully humble and great life; just ask wife Margie and daughters Carolyn and Patti.

A gentleman, a scholar and a friend.

100%

Real Man.

REAL MEN: “The Boys”

Ironic title given the nature of the series, I know.

The subject of this chapter is about a very special and unique collection of REAL MEN; the collection of students I have had the privilege to teach the past couple of years.

The Boys” is the term I always affectionately used referring to this cluster of exceptional young men that I spent all of my professional time with during my brief, but incredibly meaningful chapter, of my professional life at Lowell High School.

After nearly twenty years in the private sector of the business world, I was at a crossroads in my career. Uncertain of exactly what I wanted to do next, I was afforded the opportunity to teach in the Life Skills program within the Special Education department at my alma mater. With a teenage son impacted by autism, I understand this population quite well, but by no means as an educator. Nonetheless, the fine folks on Father Morrisette Boulevard took a chance on me and I am eternally grateful for that confidence.

And the next thing you know, I was off. All of a sudden, I was a “teacher”. I was surrounded by a wonderful and supportive team guiding me through my early days and in the relative short term, I found my groove in the classroom.

What I quickly learned was what an amazing, kind, considerate and diverse cohort of young men (yes, my crew was comprised of all boys for the majority of the school day) I had the privilege to spend my work day with each day.

Ages 16-21, I was responsible to help prepare these “boys” for the next steps in their lives. While most of these students are not equipped with the tools for a college career, they are certainly capable individuals with so much to offer the world.

The Boys” and I covered a lot of ground during our days at school. From the basic lessons of daily living, to self-care and health to pre-vocational and career preparedness.

We were the “Job Gang” of Lowell High School.

We delivered the mail around the campus.

We cleaned up cluttered classrooms and offices.

We cooked and delivered meals when needed (including a Thanksgiving dinner and St. Patrick’s Day feast for all comers).

These individuals are forever enthusiastic and eager to impress and please their teachers and peers alike.

You will never walk by The Boys without being on the receiving end of a genuine smile, a hard high five (or a fist bump in Covid Culture) and a very energetic “Hello“.

While each labeled with a “disability” I can confidently proclaim that these gentlemen bring so very much to the proverbial table each and every day.

They love coming to school.

They love to learn.

They love to be a part of this nearly 200 year old institution.

These “Boys” make Lowell High School, our community and the world-at-large a better place.

They are a gift; certainly have been to my life.

Although I am moving on to a new chapter of my professional journey, I can’t imagine a more meaningful time.

I was blessed to teach, and LEARN from, them.

Thank youfor everything, fellas! You’re truly the best.

REAL MEN.

REAL MEN: Big Joe

F.I.L.: (noun) an acronym for FATHER-IN-LAW.

Example: You know Big Joe? Yeah, he is my FIL and scares the bejesus out of me.

I’m kidding…kinda.

Joseph Edward Kelleher, a proud product of Canton Massachusetts, has the distinct pleasure of being the father-in-law to his oldest child’s husband. Lucky guy. As I reflect on my nearly 50 years on this big blue ball, I realized I have known Joe for more than half of that time. As a 20 year old wiseass kid from Lowell I wanted to date his daughter and I would need to get this guy on my side.

Easier said than done.

A firm handshake and hardened gaze into my fearful eyes when we met, I quickly understood I best not mess around with this cat. While certainly kind and polite to me, I realized that his respect would need to be earned if I would be a part of his clan.

After a few years dating his baby girl, he warmed up to me; I want to say the temperature of a 2 hour old cup of coffee. Nonetheless, progress! The day finally came when I decided I would like to get married to his pride and joy. And while I was excited to make that leap of faith, I also knew I would need to get blessing from The Stone Wall of Silence. Yikes.

A cold, early winter evening, I was visiting their home of almost 30 years at the time and decided this was the day. I stalled. I hemmed. I hawed.

“You gotta do this buddy. Man up. Right thing to do. And if you don’t, this guy will bury you in the deep woods of his backyard,” my inner monologue screamed as I stared into the mirror of their bathroom seeking courage (or maybe a bottle of Jameson).

OK. The thought of the task is worse than the task. Right?

Created a diversion for my hopeful-future-wife and future MIL (Mother In Law, if you aren’t paying attention), I found myself alone with Big Joe in his man cave as he was watching Bruins’ action.

Here it goes.

Squeakily I began my plea.

“Um, Mr. Kelleher….”

A slow and deliberate turn of the head indicating to me, he was watching the game and what could I possibly want right now?

“I, uh, well….I really, um, well would like to ask Amy to marry me.

Joe sat up in his cozy recliner (that I still don’t think I have ever had the courage to sit in to this day?) and pondered my inquiry for what seemed to be 7 years. After this eternal silence he finally deemed his verdict.

Well, I guess you wouldn’t be the worst son in law?”

Sweet! Ringing endorsement. Good enough!

Great. Thank you sir.”

Awkward, brief handshake/man-hug followed and I raced upstairs to look for Xanax.

The rest of that story is long history.

Bottom line, Joe is simply the strong, silent type and I have always respected that about him.

John Wayne is a bumbling, blabber-mouth compared to Joe. Joe is the REAL Quiet Man.

Humble, firm, fair; that’s my FIL.

Hard working, honest, loyal; that’s my FIL.

(Handsome SOB too! (you know what that acronym means, right?)

Over the last quarter century, our once slightly awkward relationship has evolved in to a true bond and friendship. Joe has always been there for me and, of course, his daughter and our children.

Joe is the guy that drives 40 minutes to fix…well anything, since his SIL (Son In Law, if you aren’t paying attention) is the most inept homeowner since The Money Pit.

Joe is the guy that offers sage advice and council during our darkest hours.

Cool, calm and collected. Always.

If actions speak louder than words than Joe is really loud.

To quote a classic movie line, “Would you rather be loved or feared?

Well, Big Man, you have both of those emotions from your (favorite) son in law.

Love ya, FIL!

REAL MAN.

P.S. Joe’s other son-in-law asked for his blessing in some weird Men’s Hockey League locker room…nude. Real classy, Matty!

REAL MEN: LEO

There are REAL MEN, and then there is this next entry.

Leo Richard Creegan.

Next level “REAL”.

Next level husband, father, father-in-law, brother, grandfather, uncle and friend.

I am scared typing these words because Leo is a very private kind of gentleman and will probably not be pleased that I am telling a small portion of his life’s story but, I have to do such.

Strong, tough, cool and composed.

Let me explain.

Like most of the men in this series, Leo has been a part of my life since I was very young. As a kid, he was an impressive figure. With a white beard (and I think he was like 35 years old, but anyway) and predictable stone cold expression on his countenance, Leo was a bit, shall we say, intimidating. However, that demeanor was backed up by an incredible, patient sensitivity.

Leo was a teacher, coach and school principal in the first chapter of his life. With an iron fist, Leo made hundreds of Lowell kids better students, athletes and humans for many, many years. He knew how to discipline, but he also knew how to build young people up with praise when needed and deserved. Truly a gift.

I played Little League baseball for Leo and recall simply wanting to play hard and make him proud. Not sure there is a bigger compliment I can pay him.

Leo’s wife, Judy, and their four children built a wonderful life on Surrey Lane. Growing up with the Creegan brood, they were always fun and kind neighbors. Their only son, Ricky (yes, refuse to call him by his adult name, “Leo Jr.”) was an older kid I looked up to. Their older daughters, Elizabeth and Stephanie, babysat my sister and I. They witnessed my first embarrassing attempts to impress girls as an 8 year old when I would get to hang around them and their cool friends (hey there Tina, Sophia, Kerry, Martha and the rest).

Their youngest child, Colleen, was my age. Colleen was my true friend. Tragically, the Creegans lost Colleen when she was just 16 years old. Horrific. Not surprising, given her roots, Colleen was an incredibly beloved person and so many wept with the Creegans through this unfair suffering.

While managing incomparable sadness and pain, the Creegans stuck together and moved on to great things.

Lead by Leo.

Leo kindly ushered his sister, May Jane, through a lengthy battle with cancer. Never wavering in his unconditional love and support. What a brother he was to her.

Leo has always carried on and has continued to live an incredible, meaningful and full life. Often found with a neck-breaking-sized cigar dangling from his chops, Leo is one of the greats to be around. Story telling legend, Leo is a fun Teddy Bear of a guy if you can break past that faux-tough guy exterior.

One of my late father’s best friends, Leo stepped up from the moment I had to deliver the devastating news of my Dad’s passing. Never missing a beat, he checks in with me all the time. Joking he has become somewhat of my “new Dad”, Leo and I meet regularly for a coffee or cocktail to just catch up.

Offering direct and deliberate advice, Leo’s words always resonate with me. Always.

I am very blessed to have Leo keeping an eye on me. I certainly need it. Thank you, “Mr. Creegan”

Real Man.

P.S. Oddly, I never met a bad guy named Leo (Creegan, Shaughnessy, Mendez, McNeil, Sheridan, Flynn). Weird.

REAL MEN: Schindler

June 2000

I was about to accept the first job I was ever excited about, it was my final interview. I was scheduled for a full day “on the road” with my future boss to get a feel of the routine of what my professional life would be like. Soon-to-be-boss had a full day planned touring me around the future sales territory and the very first stop was to meet his best and favorite customer, George Schindler.

We walked into a dark warehouse in Woburn and I was feeling out of my usual element. As we meandered around the dark, busy industrial building seeking George, I was very curious about this introduction.

And then he appeared.

A Santa Claus like build and a snow white cascade of glorious hair flow, this was a guy you could never mistake or forget. (over the years I often joked he looked like Barbara Bush’s twin brothersee pic below)

George, this is Frankie McCabe. He is hopefully joining our company in a few weeks,” new boss exclaimed.

With a devilish smile and an extended hand, our first conversation involved an off color Irish joke that immediately assured me, I LIKE this guy.

And that was the start. The start of now a twenty-plus year friendship but an automatic lifetime bond from my kneejerk perspective at that moment in time.

Interesting to our friendship, George is 25 years my senior. In fact, born just 13 days apart from my own father, George would become another great figure like many of the others I have described in these REAL MEN readings.

Funny, kind, loyal, hard working, George is simply an awesome human to be around to enjoy his company, wit and banter.

After that first meeting, George and I have had many adventures over the years. Mostly connected through our professional lives, he and I quickly became great friends, confidants and traveling buddies. We often were on the road for mutual business meetings, conferences and events. We co-chaired a local industry association and spent many nights of hilarity, all around the country.

George was the father figure that you shared stories and adventures with that you could not share with your actual father. It was the best. Dinners, golf, cigars and maybe an occasional libation or two and maybe a little bit of WERC (inside joke, not a typo).

Bonnie and Clyde.

Thelma and Louis.

Smith and Wesson.

We were a unique, dynamic combo and we have created many great memories over the years.

Raised in Mattapan, proud Vietnam Veteran (via the Naval Air Force), protective oldest brother to six, wonderful father of four, fun grandfather to five, and lucky husband to one, his wife Deb, for more than 30 years.

George has lead a life well lived….and keeps on going and keeping those around him smiling.

REAL MAN.

Keep making us all laughing, pal.

REAL MEN: CHICKY

Like many of the other men I have described in this project, I have known them my entire life. This gentleman is in that class. And “class” is probably the best word to describe Kevin J. Ahern Sr.

My earliest memories of, at the time, “Mr. Ahern” were when we were neighbors. My family just moved into a new neighborhood and the Ahern family was about 6 doors down the street. As a shy young kid, I was feeling my way around the new ‘hood and quickly found out that Ahern Compound was the place to be.

Mrs. Ahern“, a.k.a. Jenny, was the local Super Mom and babysat nearly half of the town during the day.

After a few timid walk bys I meandered into the Ahern yard to see what all the excitement was about.

I was immediately greeted with open arms and, if memory serves me, one of Jenny’s infamous chocolate chip cookies. Whether it was the warmth I was welcomed with or that cookie, the Ahern family had the hook in me; and I am still thankful for it.

Within a few days my after school routine was race home, throw on the “play clothes” (as we called them in the 1980s) and race up to the Ahern Backyard Carnival. Kids from ages 3-13 barreling around the Ahern grounds playing tag, hide and seek, basketball…it was a party every afternoon.

Some days, I never even saw Big Kevin as he was sleeping. Not cause he was some lazy ass but because he needed to get some rest before his night shift ahead at the printing company he worked at for many many years. However, most days he would emerge to the yard to join the fray and that is when I was first exposed to his amazing character.

Kevin would push open the backdoor of their Glenwood Street home and join the kids for some fun. Always with a giant smile and a couple of jokes, Kevin made you feel like one of his own children.

Big Kevin…alright, at this point I should delineate the Kevins for clarity.

Kevin Senior had a million monikers throughout his life including “Grease“, “Monk” and, later, the one that stuck, “Chicky” in reference to famed Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hern. (Kevin Jr, only had one nickname, “Razor” which has also stuck for more than 40 years)

We clear now?

Welcome to Lowell. The Land of Nicknames.

Now that I have cleared that up, back to Chicky. Chicky would usually grab the round ball and meet up with any takers in their oil stained driveway (if you didn’t go home smelling like Quaker State, you weren’t doing it right) in a friendly game of hoops. Nearly a professional basketball player in his heyday (true story), Chicky had game. Even in his 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, Chicky could shoot a basketball.

Swishes, bank shots, trick shots Chicky was impressive…especially to an 8 year old kid just learning the game. Chicky loved to teach us all to play. The basics of the game. How to shoot, dribble, pass and compete. He taught me everything about the game that I fell in love with as a youngster. Years later, Chicky was the coach of our CYO squad and it was the funnest sports team I was ever a part. I could wax poetic about those times alone but I want to teach you about what Chicky has meant to me.

He taught me that you didn’t need to swear to be cool. Legend has it as a young man, Kevin was a curser of the worser until someone simply set him straight and said it wasn’t what a gentleman needs to do to be heard. That lesson stuck with Kevin as I have never heard a foul word leave his mouth. (I’d like to say the same for myself, Chick, but thanks for trying.)

Kevin taught me a lot of little one line, often comical, lessons through my upbringing that I never forgot.

One time I wandered up the street on a hot summer Sunday afternoon to find Chicky in a lawn chair, shirtless, watching a small black and white TV he rigged to the yard. Puffing a tiny cigar, sipping a cold beer and watching the Celtics play the Lakers in the NBA Championship. I slowly crept up and Chicky, per usual, politely greeted me with a smile.

Hey Frankie. Come on over. Have some potato chips, it will put hair on your chest.”

Not only did I accept his offer, I later went home and crushed about 3 bags of Lays hoping he was speaking truth.

When Chicky was my coach and I would start to take the game a little too seriously, he reminded to me “Just smile” during a time out.

Never forgot that one and so many more.

Chicky taught me a lot. His wife, children, son-in-laws, daughter-in-law and grandchildren have been a huge part of not only my life but my family’s life.

As the best tribute I can pay him, I was honored to have Kevin help usher my Dad through his funeral services when he passed away last year as a Pallbearer.

Chicky, you’re the man.

REAL MAN.

P.S. Thank you for teaching me the jump shot that never measured up to yours.