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: 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.

REAL MEN: PAUL

I have been really excited to pen this chapter of REAL MEN.
The subject: Mr. Paul Dubuque.

Adding to my list of guys that were near and dear to Dad, but have always meant so much to me; and continue to do such. Paul is no exception.

Product of the Acre section of Lowell, Paul came up a poor French neighborhood kid in the 1950s and 60s. A veteran, Paul served his country well before settling back in his beloved hometown with his (saint of a) wife, Jackie, where they raised their five great kids.

I obviously did not know Paul way back then, but middle age (and now “quasi-old”) Paul has become an amazing friend and confidant to me.
Another member of “The Pall Bearer Squad” (I suppose he was a PAUL bearer! Rim Shot…tip your waiters and waitresses, I am here all week!) for Big Frank, Paul is as close as it gets to my heart and that of my family.

My first memory of Paul goes back to the late 80s when I was pre-pubescent teen that cared not for the opposite sex, but only sports and video games. Early Sunday mornings, Paul and another legend would pack a gaggle of us kids in to the car (seatbelts optional because there were not enough of them to go around) and take us to play basketball at a local high school. I thought it was so cool. We had private gym time. Paul and the others Dads played in our full court games. Despite his girlish figure, Paul actually had some sick hoop game back in those days! Always easy, fun and kind to us youngsters, Paul was an “adult” I surely respected.

Flash forward a few decades, and the relationship changed drastically. The respect remained, but the relationship dynamic certainly evolved from Sunday morning roundball many years back.

Now, all of a sudden, I could matriculate with Paul and the rest of the Merry Band of Mad Men my father hung around, like peers and not ”fathers and sons”. I was Junior Scout seeking full time membership to the Whacko Pack, this was a new chapter for me. (Read previous REAL MEN entries and you will see what I mean). Yes, this new segment was surely more interesting than sweating it out on the bball court on the Lord’s Day.

Translation: golf, cigars, maybe a bourbon, dirty jokes and the like!

Which brings me to a not-to-be-overlooked component of knowing Paul Dubuque; THE JOKES.

Paul must have been a Court Jester in Medieval France in a previous life because he can tell a joke like no other and can certainly “hold Court”. Masterful in his delivery and timing, Paul can capture your full attention when you foresee a 1-liner or a 30-minuter coming out of that beautiful ,quasi-large, jovial, cologne-wafting cranium he has somehow managed to operate for over 70 spins around the Sun. And the only one laughing louder at the punch line than his audience? Paul himself! That fact always makes it more the funny.

A true friend, Paul calls me often and opens with a kind, genuine ”Hello”, a earnest inquiry about my life and happenings to follow, a quick hilarious quip or story for sure, but always closed with an “I love ya, pal“.

And that’s no joke.

That’s just Paul.

REAL MAN.

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: 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!