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I delivered this eulogy at my dad’s memorial on March 4 in Doylestown, Penn:

The last phone call from my father came on the day before he died.

He had left a voice message stressing that I needed to call back because he had “a question.”

I called. He asked if my wife had any interest in tickets to the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I responded, tersely, “why am I being asked this? Ask her.”

And with that, I advanced the conversation, knowing that was not why he really reached out. There were usually two reasons for his calls. So I set myself up and asked “What else is new?”

First, he wanted to know what his two grandkids were doing. The little boy was playing Angry Birds on the iPhone. The girl was playing with her princess toys – which he gave her a few weeks earlier.

Second, he wanted to make a political point.

“The Republicans in Wisconsin are bastards.”

After a few minutes of banter, we left it that he would call again the next day – and that I should watch what was happening in Ohio, Indiana and a few other states, because the Republicans were out to destroy the middle class and that unions were being scapegoated. Teachers, elevator operators and bricklayers were not the people who got us in this mess, and the middle class was being pitted against each other.

Of course we never had that follow-up call. His heart finally gave out for good.

But the fight he believed in lives on through the Doylestown Democrats, an organization he fell in love with. I heard about the organization all the time. He beamed about his role, and the group’s purpose. And like with everything he ever involved himself with, he cared. Deeply. Heck, I never saw him speechless, but after Election Day last November, when the vote didn’t go the way of the Democrats, I didn’t hear from him for two days. My wife, at one point, asked “is your dad ok? Someone should check on him.”

It took him about 48 hours to bounce back from the crushing local losses to start talking about the importance of 2012. And while he won’t physically be here to help, he’s watching. May President Obama win Pennsylvania, and the election, again. And may Rick Santorum go away. Oh, how he didn’t like that guy. Really, who could?

He also lives on through his family, even if our cell phones ring a little less. Ok, a lot less. I’ll keep him close, and honor him in my own way. Last year, three generations of us went to Citizens Bank Park to see a Phillies game. My dad, brother, my son Donovan, and me all went to South Philly. I stoically watched the game, while my dad doted on Donovan’s every move – even when my little boy, in the spirit of Brotherly Love, yelled to everyone’s delight “If you root for the Braves, I’ll cut your brains out.” Oh how he laughed at that. Confession – so did I.

I had planned to go again this June – the whole gang again. Donovan and I are still going. And everywhere we turn, dad will be there, because we were there, and memories, unlike the human body, don’t die. Donovan still talks about last year’s trip – and how Uncle Jeffrey and Grandpa helped him eat chicken fingers and saw the Phanatic imitate Lady GaGa.

I think of dad’s passing and think of the good times, especially those he spent with my kids – because it took me having children to understand how important I was to my parents. I think that’s the way it usually works. So, I’ll just give thanks to having two. And I’m grateful he met them both. They’re better off for it.

Thanks.

Oh, and dad, I agree, “the Republicans in Wisconsin are bastards.”

Thomas Reich’s obit, courtesy of Doylestown Patch.

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I chose to listen.

Not to the iPhone playing the latest downloaded album, not to another inaccurate weather report and, most definitely, not to Lady GaGa, though my little boy had requested it on the way to the car. Even I have standards. We’ve all had a bad romance. I’m not interested in hers.

Instead, I listened to my little ones debate. By the grace of God, and the car seats that kept them strapped in, they didn’t come to blows.

It started innocently enough, when Donovan, my son, looked at a gas station to his right and said “Daddy can I have a gas station toy? I want it to be yellow.”

Amelia – that would be my daughter – growled, looked at him and said “pink.”

“Yellow.”

“No, pink.”

“No, yellow.”

It sounded not unlike the state Legislature in Albany, only more effective because I was prepared to buy yellow and pink gas station toys – anything to keep the peace. Here, everyone was about to get their way.

They told each other to “stop it,” and retorted with great effectiveness, “no, you stop it,” before Donovan lost interest in the heated exchange and noticed a blue school bus.

“Amelia, stop,” Donovan shouted before adding, “Daddy blue school buses are cool, right?”

Amelia, not to be silenced, said “Daddy, blue school bus!” That irritated Donovan, who was clearly tired of sharing that morning’s stage with his punk sister.

The trip to school was completed minutes later. On our way down the hallway, I asked Amelia if she wanted a pink gas station toy. She didn’t respond, walking with her pink hat pulled over her eyes. She finally stopped, looked up and said “I’m a princess.”

Donovan had moved on as well, making a bee line for his cubby, where he shoved in his hat before heading over to the computer to play some game. Their days as gas station operators had come and gone.

Glad I didn’t miss it.

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DSC06725I can’t draw. Actually, I can’t draw a straight line. I can’t paint. I can’t draw a circle, they usually turn out looking like eggs.

So when friends and family pick out pumpkins for Halloween, I usually look for a nice, round, mid-sized one that I don’t have to do much to. No point embarrassing myself.

On Saturday the tradition continues, as I’ll take my two little ones to Brightwaters Farms to choose a few pumpkins, gourds, and, if it’s up to me, whatever else they want. I’d buy them everything. Perhaps if no one is looking – namely my wife – I’ll sneak extra decorative corn into a bag. The only problem is my little boy would turn me in. My daughter’s my partner in crime. She’d be game. She is my little rebel.

We’ll also take a hayride or two. I’m betting Amelia would be willing to drive. By the way, she’s 20-months old.

And when we get home, the process of turning the pumpkins into works of art can begin. Just keep the magic markers away from me. Let the real masters do their work.

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soccerballI don’t remember the hit, nor do I recall which one of my teammates hovered over me first. But I do recall the pain, as my knee hyper-extended for the third time in a year.

It was but one of a series of injuries to my right knee, my 140-pound frame balking at the abuse I put it through in high school. In the stands, my grandmother looked on as her favorite left-winger dropped to the ice, flopping around like a beaten ragdoll.

“Why can’t he play chess,” she asked my mother in Hungarian, while the rest of the crowd at the high school hockey game wondered if No. 24 was having a seizure.

The physical beatings would continue. There were plenty of back spasms. Then there was the night the knee popped on a muddy Fairfield University baseball field – a late night pickup game gone bad. That time, the doctors operated.

Years later, in college, I dove for a ball and slammed into a rock, suffering what I think was the only concussion of my life. I don’t remember. Anyway, I caught the ball, so it was worth it. Fellow wannabes know exactly what I’m talking about.

These days I do little more than swing my golf club, taking solace in the fact that I’m the best lefty in the foursome. Hey, it’s all I have, especially as I’m putting around the green like a child on a miniature golf course.

The glue factory may soon be calling.

So it sounds like the perfect time to step aside and let my little boy take center stage. On Sunday, he plays in his first athletic event, a soccer match consisting of four-year-old kids. He hardly knows how to kick a ball and, today, when I brought home his jersey, he asked, “Daddy do you score touchdowns in soccer?”

Baseball, football, soccer, what’s the difference?

The kicker (pun completely intended) is I’ll be the team’s head coach. That means for many of the children, I’ll be the first coach they’ll ever have.

That’s an honor. And it beats playing chess.

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IMG_0447It certainly won’t ruin the most wonderful time of the year, but news that the Kime Avenue house in North Babylon won’t be lit with its traditional 40-foot train, reindeers, snowmen and assorted holiday goodies put a damper on this perfect July day.

We moved to the Town of Babylon in late 2002 and started a family tradition of visiting the famed Kime Avenue house in 2004. Our little boy was born a year later and we’ve been to the Spadafora’s home to see the lights – and to donate to the Schneider Children’s Hospital – every year since.

When we drive down Deer Park Avenue during winter, Donovan points to the house, even in daylight, and says “that’s the light house.”

We’re not alone. The home means a lot to many area residents, which is why the Spadafora’s phone has not stopped ringing since Newsday reported this morning that the high cost of keeping the lights on would keep the home dark for the 2009 holiday season. The owner said that he is holding out hope for 2010.

Homes like this matter, and most towns have them, because they turn into unofficial gathering places for people of all economic classes, races, religions and ages. No one is too young, too old, too rich, or too poor to appreciate a home decorated in holiday cheer.

We’ll find a different place to take Donovan and Amelia this winter. I’m told there’s a light show in Bayport and homes in Deer Park, as well as nearby Dix Hills and Huntington also go all out in December.

For one year, at least, we’ll make do without the Kime Avenue house. One year, that’s it.

We’re going in 2010.

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3634566828_4e35ab2763Four years ago, a three-month old Donovan gave me a stuffed Batman for Father’s Day. It was the first gift I received as a dad, not counting the $500 my Mom gave me behind my Dad’s back (I’m making that up, really, I swear.) I still marvel at the picture of him in my arm, about one-third the size of the Caped Crusader.

This time around, we spent a few hours together ahead of the big day to see Up, the new Pixar movie. I’m not going to play the spoiler, so here’s all I’m going to say: I was warned that the movie deals with adult themes, most specifically death and the passage of time. So I was ready to play it cool when Donovan started throwing his grenades. “What happened to the lady?” “When is she coming back?” “Daddy, she is missing.”

After five minutes, however, he turned to me and said “Daddy, what’s wrong?” I had teared up. What do you want from me? I’m not cut out to be the tough guy.

The movie got me thinking about the last four years and how quickly they’ve rolled by. He’s already been to his first baseball game, rides his tricycle, debates with his parents – effectively I might add – and, though it’s mostly through memorization, he reads books that include sentences such as “mouse jumps in the puddle” and “mouse jumps in a big puddle.”

And through it all, Amelia came to be. Now 17 months old, she may be the size of a 10 month old, but has the fight of a tiger in her. She never backs down, climbs all over and, in recent days has started to speak a lot more. She likes to eat “beans” and “apples.” She also wants to play with h3633754653_a10277769aer “ducks” and the other day she said “hello daddy.” She took six steps on Thursday and imitates Donovan by putting a mini football helmet on her head. She’s partial to the Green Bay Packers. We’ll do something about that.

How did Amelia get there? I’m embarrassed to say that I really don’t know. With Donovan, I remembered everything. His first step – in the basement. The way he asked for more by pointing his index finger on his right hand into the palm of the left. Someone taught him that was the sign for more. I’m not sure that’s right, but what does it matter? I played Baby Einstein for him and we sang “Wheels on the Bus” 20 times in a row once – I swear.

But now, with Amelia, it’s all going too fast. I held her this morning and walked her down the hallway to her daycare in West Islip and let her touch all the doors, some painted blue, others red or yellow. I fed her a bit of a corn muffin before I left her class. I need to do more of that, because time is getting away from me.

Tonight, before giving her a bath, I tickled her until she turned pink with laughter. When we were done, Donovan asked to be tickled too.

On Sunday, I celebrate my fifth Father’s Day. The stuffed Batman is resting to my left on the bed in the computer room as I write this. Amelia is sleeping sideways in her crib, a pacifier half hanging out of her mouth. Donovan’s peaceful, his Mr. Met and Thomas the Tank stuffed toys at his feet.

Please let this moment last.

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My daughter’s glare

tiger16inch_225I saw it for the first time today: Pure, unfiltered anger.

We were in the den, with toys littered on the carpet. Mini football helmets, cast-iron trains, cars, stuffed animals and an Elmo pocketbook, which included lipstick and a comb. Amelia could have any of it, because Donovan had preoccupied himself with “baby tiger,” his stuffed animal, and a plastic box that the mini helmets call home.

The problem was Amelia wanted only one item … the plastic box.

She grabbed it, he pulled it away, she crawled around his back and tried to take it. Donovan, being older, yanked it away and said “leave me alone.”

Amelia slammed down the Green Bay Packers gumball-sized helmet on the ground, and with curled lips, stopped blinking. She stared at him, green eyes piercing. My sweet – and high-maintenance – princess was irritated.

He gave her the box.

Good move, buddy. It’s not worth the trouble.

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