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 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: 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.

REAL MEN: TOM MCKAY

Every gentleman I write about is special for one reason or another. 

They are all in my Hall of Fame of Human Beings. 

All for different and unique reasons. 

This chapter is about, perhaps, the funniest.  My late friend, Tom McKay.

Yes, I certainly considered Tom a ‘friend’ as I aged into adulthood but he was truly a member of my late father’s “Rat Pack”. 

Tom, Dad and a whole other consortium of sordid characters spent decades having fun and laughs.  They had an incredible group of old school dudes that simply had a ball; led by Mr. McKay.  If their crew was the Rat Pack, Tom McKay was Frank Sinatra. 

Tom was the most electric, dare I say iconic, person you could imagine.

Tom could have you dangling on a string listening to his stories.

Tom could make a story about the DMV funny.

Tom could make anything funny.

The most devilish laugh you could envision, Tom always made your day better. 

And here is the best part, Tom’s life was dedicated to showing us all a good time.  A saloon owner for many years then evolved into the city’s ultimate party planner as the head of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Tom was the guy you looked to when you needed some fun in your life. 

Tom brought musical acts, comedians, and legends of stage and screen to the Mill City. 

Tom brought Sesame Street to Lowell for Christ Sake! 

Tom flirted with Dolly Parton and teased Bill Cosby (ya know, before we knew what a giant sicko he was {Cosby, not Tom}!).

Tom made the Golden Gloves feel like a heavy weight championship bout in Las Vegas.

Whether it was a Broadway show or just a private conversation, Tom made everything an event.  Tom made everyone that graced his presence feel special and loved.

Kind, generous, and absolutely hilarious. 

I loved Tom.

Real Man.

Below is the tribute I wrote to Tom just after he passed away.  No prouder words written.

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LIGHTS IN LOWELL A LOT DIMMER

2.10.2014

The City of Lowell is a darker place today. This week we say goodbye to one of its brightest stars, Tom McKay. Tom McKay was one of the most recognizable, active and socially responsible citizens in this city’s history. I could write a whole lot of words outlining all of Tom’s professional accolades as a businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist over the past 50 years, but I want to tell you about the man.

If you did not know Tom, I honestly feel bad for you. Tom was one of the most electric personalities you could ever meet. When Tom McKay walked in to a room, you knew it. He lit it up. I am not sure whether it was his big Irish smile, his always dapper appearance or that unmistakable voice? I am not sure it was any of those things. Tom just had “presence”. And when you had the great fortune of being in Tom’s presence, you knew you were about to be entertained.

Tom had an uncanny ability to make everyone around him feel welcomed. As one of my family’s closest and oldest friends, I had the luxury of being around Tom my entire life and I can say with conviction; it was always an ‘event’.

“How ah ya, buddy?” was one of Tom’s signature greetings when he reached to shake your hand. Many have joked that Tom called everyone ‘Buddy’ because he could not remember your name. The irony is Tom McKay was everybody’s buddy. He really was. Tom lured followers and friends like the Pied Piper. Perhaps the greatest story teller I have ever known, Tom’s charisma was captivating and you did not want to miss one minute of his wit and banter. Tom had a story (some may have been exaggerated) for every occasion and every audience. All of them were priceless. If stories can be considered gifts, then Tom was Santa Claus.

A devout Catholic, Tom was always one to give his time, energy and resources to those in need. When it came to charity and giving, Tom never said the word ‘no’. Both personally and professionally, Tom gave to any worthy cause that crossed his path.

While Tom led a very busy professional life, he was a family man to the core and they were always his first priority. His devotion and affection for his wife Lori and daughters Jennifer and Meredith were unwavering and always obvious. Tom was blessed with two beautiful granddaughters and in his last days another blessing came in to Tom’s world; his first grandson, James THOMAS. Oh the stories you will hear, Little “T”.

Yes, the city of Lowell and beyond is a darker place, but the Kingdom of Heaven is surely brighter with Tom in it.

Rest easy, Buddy, we all loved ya.