Monday, February 02, 2015

Measure of a Man

We laid my dad to rest today.  In the middle of a snowstorm that was after a postponement from last week's big snowstorm-after dealing with two funeral homes to get him from Florida to Massachusetts.  The man who hated funerals had a 12 day service!  But he was with us in spirit as his Patriots won another Super Bowl and I'm pretty sure he whispered into Pete Carroll's ear last night to pass the ball with 30 seconds to go.

I wrote this eulogy the night he died but because the snowstorm forced us to cancel the final memorial at the funeral home that usually precedes the Mass at church-I didn't get to read it. 

I don’t even know where to begin when describing my dad to you.  He was strength personified yet bawled like a baby at weddings, births and 4th quarter interceptions.   He was serious and dedicated in his work and totally goofy at home.  He shot a hole in one four times after he took up golf.  He cheated at Monopoly.  Dad coached every sport we played between the ages of 8-15 and won championships in three sports for both boys and girls.  More than 35 years later, former teammates that I run into will tell me they have fond memories of him as coach.  

Like my grandmother before him, he was a practical joker.    There are hilarious stories of our childhood that probably would get him in trouble with child services today!

We started to think of some of the best ones to describe him:

The first one that comes to mind is the Anti-Valentine.  Every year on Valentine’s Day we would be called to the table for dinner and on our plates would be these homemade Valentines from SalMark Cards, which must have been a black ops division of Hallmark.  They were always made on his company's graph paper and hand drawn.  And they included everything that deserved snarking about you that year.  For instance, the year my sister was 13 with teenage acne and braces was especially brutal.  And yet we loved them and looked forward to them every year because it meant he was really in tune with our lives.  I mentioned to him a few Christmases ago that I wished that I had saved them and then the next Valentine’s Day, my anti-valentine came in the mail.  Funny, I just found it last Sunday when going through my desk.
Our kids worshipped him. 
One thing I will never forgive him for was teaching my then second grade daughter how to spell Negotiate.  When he left for Florida later that summer, he reminded that impressionable 8 year old girl that everything is negotiable.  Thanks Dad, I’m still paying for that bit of advice 15 years later.

When my brother was old enough to go out drinking with his friends, Dad used to torture him when he came home on the weekends a little on the intoxicated side.  One night he put a life size cutout of Rambo complete with gun and vest of bullets right on the inside of his bedroom door.   My brother screamed like a girl.  Another night, Dad hid under his bed and when bro stumbled in and collapsed on the bed, Dad reached his arm up from under the bed to grab him-the manifestation of every kid’s nightmare.   It’s a wonder my brother never ended up in therapy!

This past summer when Dad was in the hospital, he wasn’t eating much because he said the food was awful.  My sister started giving him a hard time about eating so he said he would eat if she could be his official taste-tester.  She had to close her eyes while he fed her what was brought on his tray and if she could correctly identify what the food was supposed to be, he would agree to eat it.  After that, she agreed that he didn’t have to eat the thing they had labeled mashed potatoes.

Dad loved to make up names for Mom.  One day he just started calling her “ Ichiro.   He told her that was Japanese for little lotus flower.  A year or so later they were at Dina’s house  watching a game on TV where the Red Sox were playing Seattle and Ichiro Suzuki (a Mariner at the time) came up to bat and Mom was all happy and explained that was her nickname from Dad and it meant little lotus flower. Everybody laughed and Dad confessed that he really started calling her that because when she cleaned, she used to pull the front of her hair up in a vertical ponytail and it reminded him of a Sumo wrestler.  He absolutely loved telling that story.  They bought a dog after that and named him Ichiro.

It wasn’t all fun and games though, so I started to make a list of things I learned from my Dad

#1 Nothing is more important than Family and when you are Italian that means all your family.  We were very blessed to have a very connected extended family for so long thanks to the 8 crazy brothers and sisters that our grandparents raised. It gives me comfort to know that all ten of them are together again.  

#2. Practice, practice, practice.  I remember going next door to Grandma’s backyard where he would hit groundballs to me for what seems like hours.  We would finally stop after one of us was exhausted or Gram stuck her head out the window and yelled at us in broken English about hitting her house.

#3. It’s OK to round  to the nearest dollar when recording expenses in your checkbook and that Mom would understand that the  entry marked Stop and Pee was actually this week’s groceries from Stop and Shop.  I think  he just wanted to make her laugh to forget that the checkbook never balanced.

#4 Little White Lies are OK, like when he took us out to dinner to celebrate when Mom had given birth to my sister and when Mom called from the hospital to see how we were, dad was cool as a cucumber and said “fine” when in reality my brother and I were throwing up in the sink from food poisoning from the dive he took us to.  

#5 Sports teaches you about life, whether you are a spectator or a player.  There actually IS crying in baseball as he was the first person I called after the Red Sox finally broke the curse in 2004 and we cried tears of joy together.  #5B, If mom is downstairs in the basement doing laundry and the team made a good play, do not let her upstairs under any circumstances to avoid jinxing anything.  

#6 When you turn 16-find a job.  I actually think my 16th birthday greeting consisted of Happy Birthday-get a job.   But between school, sports, band and that job-boy did I learn time management and responsibility.

#7 You never know if you are an alcoholic until you take your first drink.  Now obviously with the aforementioned story, my brother never had that talk.  I think it was probably just his way of scaring me away from doing what every teenager does but it really worked because to this day, I don’t drink.   I really wish he had somehow related that to avoiding chocolate instead.

#8 Girls can be anything they want to be.  This may not seem like a big deal to those of you under 35 but back in the 1970’s it was unusual and very inspirational to me.  One of my favorite Dad stories was during my freshman year in college.  It was finals time and some clueless person in the registrar department thought it was OK to schedule three of my finals within one 24 hour block.  I was tired and stressed so he came up to the school to take me to lunch.   As we sat there, he pointed over to another table which was obviously a business lunch and said “see that, that’s going to be you someday and this will all be worth it.”  And that finals week lunch became a tradition for those four years and taught me how to deal with pressure just like sports did.  By the way, that restaurant was also a dive and it went out of business soon after.

My mother always says that she raised three very different kids.  I think those of you who  know us will agree.  Over the years people have often jokingly labeled us since we are so very different from each other.   My sister is the funny and kind one, I'm the "smart" one (although my sister tried to cross that out and write  the cheap one) and my brother is the good-looking, charming, debonair, athletic one with great hair.  But Dad told me recently that my greatest strength was my confidence.   And he seemed to worry most about me when my confidence waivered.  That in itself often helped me to find it again.  I wonder if he ever knew that.
They say you become what you learned from home.  And in thinking about my dad, I think about an old 90’s power ballad. (And no, I’m not going to sing it. Dad used to joke that Mom and I never changed notes, we just got louder).   It ended with the lines
You gave me strength, cuz you believed
I’m everything I am, because  you loved me.

And in the end, those two lines are all you  really need to know to understand who dad was.

When we tried to think of a song to play at the end of the wake, we didn't want anything maudlin.  Dad would have hated that.  So, we chose a celebration of his life instead.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Any Dream Will Do...But I Like This One

The historic Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine is running a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat this month. Clay Aiken is playing Joseph with Keala Settle as the narrator. I’m thrilled that Clay is spending part of his summer in New England and that I can make the drive there next week.

For the first half of this year, I found I was getting frustrated with limited public communication (especially since he’s very funny on Twitter) and not attending important industry events like the Tony Awards, etc. It was really because I was hoping to see some direction, some plan, something other than what felt like professional ambivalence hidden within the roar of silence coming from Raleigh.

Perhaps, he was doing some soul searching about what it is he wanted in this difficult industry, or if he still wanted an entertainment career at all. (I still think we’ll lose him someday to politics, the banner on this page is from his appearance on Face the Nation.) Maybe, as some have mused, being cast in the lead in The Drowsy Chaperone at North Carolina Theater alongside Tony Award winning Beth Leavel, sparked something in him because it was more than an ensemble of first quality players like when he was in Spamalot. He had to carry Drowsy in a role that was 99.9% acting, not singing. From what I've seen of it, his part was the glue that held the whole thing together. And not only did he excel in it, maybe he felt the joy again. Maybe he felt the thrum that fans feel when we see him perform.

I still want to watch him perform pop music on stage again, someday. His voice is well suited to good pop. But doing theater is what surprises people with the breadth of his talent. Doing theater is where he gets some of the best promotion. Doing theater lets him sing (in most cases) but also requires him to stretch. He does his best work when he stretches out of his comfort zone, in my opinion. In a recent interview, he said this role did just that.

And I like that he's dedicated to whatever decision he appears to have made to do something like this. A challenging part, a lead in a musical, nine shows a week with a short time to rehearse with people he's never met before. And maybe it's not only his yellow brick road back to Broadway but his side door back to recording the pop music that was made for his voice and that created the most success and the largest breadth of fans.

But for now, I’ll spend a long weekend on the coast of Maine watching him perform in a part that was made for his voice, made for his stage presence and made for his love of working with a “family”. My friends and I will travel from various parts of the country to watch new people experience that too. That’s always a perk when Clay performs in a new region or with a new project. Patrons may walk in with a mixed bag of anticipation, reluctance and uncertainty but they almost always walk out a fan.

I'm a planner, probably to a fault. Heck, planning is in my title at work so it's how I'm wired. I know that for Clay's career one plus one will never equal two and even though I struggle to see the plan sometimes, I’ve mostly come to accept it. For Clay’s career, one plus one often seems to equal the square root of a mango. But what I like right now is that he seems to be taking a great big bite of it.

Get tickets here at Ogunquit Playhouse. Joseph will be running through August 25th.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Come Sail Away

Three years ago,I wrote a blog called Landslide chronicling the conflicting emotions of seeing my daughter graduate and prepare to go off to college. It was bittersweet to write; a kaleidoscope of emotions ranging from pride and anticipation to one of pending separation where the phrase “coming home” becomes temporary. She’s handled herself well and has worked very hard to graduate this December, thereby finishing her Public Relations degree one semester early.

But there was never a feeling of complete finality that there is now as her brother (and our youngest) begins that same journey. I loved spending more time with him after she went off to school, even though in typical teenage boy fashion he preferred to retreat to his mancave in our bonus room; a digital and music superdome filled with every possible video game console, Blu-Ray for streaming episodes of Breaking Bad, an electronic keyboard, a beginner’s drum set (both instruments that he taught himself), double chocolate muffins and a never ending gallon of “Arnie Palm”.

He’ll make that same walk to Pomp and Circumstance tonight, and I’ll look for him in the sea of white and green. He bears a passable (and much taller) resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe right down to the scar on his forehead. His scar splits his left eyebrow in two-the result of a nasty fall when he was not quite 3 years old.

He’s very smart in a casual yet confident way. I’ve often said that I learn more from him when watching a documentary than I do from the narrator. Sometimes his freakish memory for facts and his love of debate can be annoying, like when he wants specific and defend-able reasons for why he should clean his room. He also expects others to be as smart as he. His sister laughed at me when I called him an intellectual snob, mentioning something about apples and trees. She should talk. She has my identical skill sets and her father’s exact irreverent personality and stubborn streak.

He’s as funny as he is smart and he really “gets” people. When he first started focusing on a possible political science major, he made it clear that he wanted to learn more than just policy. He wanted to know what makes people tick or what makes countries tick. So, he will enter his freshman year at his new college as an International Relations major. It requires a semester abroad so this separation will seem more permanent to me. It also requires a minor in a language. I should probably study with Rosetta Stone once he makes his choice. He’s thinking about Italian. È la tua stanza è pulita?

A job shadow at the FBI has steered him in the direction of a possible FBI/CIA career. The funny thing is that I’ve told him since he was little that he should be a “spy”. He used to love to sneak from room to room as quietly as possible, trying to see how long he could remain undiscovered. (Of course, that backfired on him when he overheard us discussing where to hide the Easter candy.) I think I gave birth to Jason Bourne.

He’s become a very different person in many ways as he struggles for his adult independence. He was voted Most Changed in the high school yearbook which can be attributed to the gain of six inches in height and the loss of 20 pounds of “baby fat”. His round face with braces has been replaced by a long jawline and deep thinking eyes. (He still has the longest lashes I’ve ever seen.) He went from hating music to being a connoisseur of classic rock and an avid Beatles fan. His most wonderful memory of a recent trip to England was crossing Abbey Road with three friends. He was George.

I’m sailing away. Set an open course for the virgin sea. Because I’ve got to be free. Free to face the life that’s ahead of me.

His college of choice is a classic New England private college that is right on the water about two hours from here. I knew he would end up there after the first tour as his demeanor was so different from the 7-8 other schools we visited. It was like he was “home”. He’s never wanted to be in the water but rather on the water. Maybe that’s because he is on the cusp of Aquarius and Pisces. I think back a few years ago as we took a passenger boat from a beach back to a cruise ship. Almost everyone was sitting down and he was at the front looking out over the water, with his face tilted toward the sun. I remember thinking at that moment that it would not be the last time that I saw that picture

On board I’m the captain, so climb aboard. We’ll search for tomorrow on every shore.

As he rounds this corner into early adulthood, he wants to be called by his real name and not his nickname. This manchild is looking to sail away in more ways than one. I just hope he cleans his room first.

Last year, I found a poem by Kahlil Gibran called “On Children”. It really touched me and I actually bought a print and keep a framed copy in my office. I’d like to offer it to all the parents out there, especially to my dear friend Peggy and those whose sons and daughters are part of the high school or college Class of 2012.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Happy Graduation Day, my baby boy. Fly far and high. And remember what your heroes wrote…

In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

In my life, I love you more.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I’m not one of those fans who thought there was anything super fishy about the AI2 final results of Clay vs Ruben other than simply not enough phone lines to allow all the votes to get through. It was the same number of lines as the year before when there were no issues. The following year, they had three phone lines per finalist and the total number of votes was still less than Season 2. It was just one of those things.

But I can’t help and think about the results of this season’s Celebrity Apprentice and wonder about so many things. I can't wonder this much in 140 characters or less...

*I wonder why this picture shows that the vast majority of the non finalists are staring down in silent protest or anger when Arsenio Hall’s name was announced.

*I wonder why five have been bold enough to immediately come forward and say they were shocked and Clay was robbed.

*I wonder why another stated on a radio broadcast a few weeks ago that Clay should win unless the fix was in. Why even bring something like that up?

*I wonder why they never showed the post task boardroom where, according to contestant Adam Carolla's podcast of 5/21, Trump polled the contestants about who should win and every person said Clay. Even those on Arsenio's team.

*I wonder if the multibillion dollar deal reported by the LA Times that Magic Johnson signed for a new network with the parent company of NBC (same network as Apprentice) may have nudged the producers of this show in a certain direction. Not in a Quiz Show way mind you but more in a “radio payola is illegal” wink wink sort of way. And I’m still waiting for a journalist with balls to ask about it.

*I wonder the same as a few other bloggers/recappers as to why Lisa Lampanelli can claim she’s a good friend of Clay’s but can’t distinguish between a nightclub filled with her fans and a nationally televised broadcast in terms of what is appropriate material and what simply lacks class. I wonder why super project manager Arsenio allowed it at a charity event. (Not to mention there were children in the audience.) I doubt her disrespectful vulgarity was worth $10,000 to Clay’s family sitting there watching the broadcast last night.

*I wonder why NBC saw fit to air Lisa’s tasteless gay joke at Clay’s expense given that they had plenty of other footage. Poor GLSEN. You got some great exposure on this show for your efforts in anti gay bullying with the “what not to do” provided by celebrities .

*I wonder just how Arsenio's Hollywood Rolodex contains real friends when you figure he raised no money in the guidebook challenge and subtracting donations from his teammates (including $50,000 from Lampanelli and cash from the Andretti family) he raised less than $100,000 for the final task. 20 years in the business, eh? Clay's grassroots campaign raised over $300,000 in 24 hours.

*I wonder if Trump thinks nobody owns a calculator when he claims Arsenio was “hired” because he raised the most money when in fact, if you subtract the amount he won for being “hired”, not only did Clay raise more but so did Paul and Dee.

*I wonder if Trump realized how much he screwed Patricia Velasquez and her very important charity (Wayuu Taya Foundation), not just that one time but probably for a long time because she tapped into all her donors only to see her money go elsewhere. Patricia should have cried, Trump seems to hand over $10,000 for crocodile tears. Such a dignified, classy woman.

*I wonder if Trump realizes how bad his spin is when he says Arsenio won by 2 tasks to 1, conveniently leaving out the final task that Clay clearly won. Then it would be 2-1 for both of them and just like a final exam, the final task should have more weight. Not to mention Lisa won 2 tasks before the final and that didn’t seem to matter.

*I wonder what Eric, Ivanka and Don, Jr. would have said if asked for their true opinion outside of parental or corporate influence. I know marketing well enough to recognize true spin. What their dad is doing isn’t even good spin.

*I wonder if Clay’s truly impressive appearances on MSNBC, CNN and Face the Nation were too impressive.

*I wonder if Clay knew he had no chance. Part of me wishes he did know and just worked very hard because he knows no other way but to give his all.

*I wonder if Arsenio knows deep down that he coasted to a win he didn’t earn. I wonder if he looks at the picture at the top of this blog and knows that many others who played with him know it too. He seems so desperate for a comeback that he literally sold his soul to the devil in some rather gag worthy television moments.

*I wonder if it is too petty to say that I think Clay is easily funnier than Arsenio.

Look, I know this is just a reality show but there’s more at stake here than just a mirror ball trophy or an oppressive record deal. Patricia can’t finish a school for her project and $250,000 would help several hundred of Clay’s children. $250,000 is a rounding error for what Magic Johnson Foundation has earned in 20 years. But when it came to the finals, I think the charities were not even considered by those making the decision.

I love marketing. I’ve spent the last 15+ years of my career in marketing or business strategy roles. Every year I volunteer to mentor second year MBA students in their final marketing practicum projects. I guess you could say they are my apprentices. Ideally, I should love this show but I don’t like it when I feel duped or see bad marketing rewarded for the sake of good television (or something else entirely) in such a transparent way.

And I don’t like it when a person who claims to be a great businessman makes a decision based on bad business performance and then tries to excuse it in a way that insults my intelligence. If you only need third grade math to prove the spin wrong, that means the issue you’re spinning is too weak to stand on its own merit. It’s interesting that the last episode was called Transparency on the NBC site. Because I can see right through you, Trump.

Finally, I wonder if the members of Vy Higgensen’s Gospel for Teens choir (great job, guys) realized they were in the presence of vocal greatness last night during the performance of Lean on Me. If you watch them look at Clay for the last minute of this video, I think they did.

But before you watch, please donate to the National Inclusion Project at and look for information on the site describing their upcoming annual gala scheduled for October 20th in Washington, DC. I've never left a gala without crying at least once.

Photography by Douglas Gorenstein/NBC

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