The Fall Of An Italian American Icon: A Story Without Heroes

The death of former heavyweight champion “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier was enough bad news in the world of current events last week, another symbol of youth that fades away from all of us. It just doesn’t seem that long ago that I was a kid watching Frazier battle through his epic trilogy with Muhammad Ali, the epitome of a big heart and soul that went through life with his head down, at full speed.

He died of liver cancer last week, at the fairly young age of 67. He was tough, but eventually the fight ends for all of us.

He was a sporting figure worthy of your admiration, his resilience and tenacity being his greatest qualities. As an undefeated fighter, he took his championship into the ring against George Foreman, and was promptly knocked to the canvas six times en route to his first defeat in the brief bout.

But, Frazier kept getting up after each knockdown. He didn’t give up, and was only stopped by referee Arthur Mercante calling a halt to the bout.

Unfortunately, the Frazier story was overshadowed by the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University. Legendary Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno was fired from his position as head coach, as he seemed to not do enough to help bring to justice one of his assistants, a dirtball named Jerry Sandusky, who may have abused dozens of young boys.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Paterno’s story is disconcerting because he built a program over 40 years of doing good and helping boys become men not just through football, but also solid principles of every day life.

That doesn’t matter now. Paterno could have used his significant power and influence to alert local police to a sexual deviant on his campus. He chose instead to relay it to the Athletic Director, who dismissively swept it under the rug. With no follow up on his part, Paterno looks like a willing accomplice.

That may not be fair, but it’s how it is in the court of public opinion. That’s life.

This is a story without heroes. It is an American tragedy, committed on her grounds of higher learning. No one tried to help the kids. From the University President, to the AD, assistant coaches, executive directors, all the way to the janitors that may have seen some of these despicable crimes. No one helped the children.

All they cared about was their positions and their paychecks. No one saved the kids.

The question that always bugs me is, how do they get away with it so many times? Like the scandal that plagued the Catholic Church before this, how are these perpetrators able to assault these children with such frequency?

I ask: Isn’t there one vigilante parent out there? Out of all the parents of these kids, isn’t there one defender of our youth? Shouldn’t the long arm of the law be the last thing these criminals have to worry about? Isn’t there one parent who would draw a six iron from his golf bag with the purpose of pulling a “Lee Trevino” on this guy? So he couldn’t hurt any more kids?

Joe Paterno is no longer one of the greatest college football coaches to ever walk a sideline. He has become a symbol.

Joe Paterno is an Italian American icon whose fall from grace will symbolize our country’s failure to always concern itself with the well being of our children. It’s sad that a man who probably did the right things most of his life, couldn’t pull the trigger to do the right thing one more time. To put a sexual predator behind bars. To help protect our kids.

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What Do You Believe In?

My eleven year old son lost a tooth the other night in what has been a succession of lost teeth over the last few weeks. The only difference with this one is the tooth fairy forgot to  slip some money under his pillow in exchange for the tooth (damn short term memory).

This led to a discussion with Mom about, well, how Mom and Dad actually are the tooth fairy. Over the initial shock, he seemed to take it pretty well. Since his reaction was less than explosive, my wife took it a step further… to include Santa and the Easter Bunny.

At first, I couldn’t believe she was doing it. I think both my son and daughter are growing up too fast as it is, and I wasn’t sure if telling him that Santa and his reindeer are fiction was the greatest idea.

I thought, in the past,  maybe my writing partner Gabrielle would spill the beans to her brother about Santa and his holiday crew (she has an affinity for the Great Pumpkin). Impressively, she kept it tightly under wrap.

Turns out he suspected it, anyway. Although Suzie and I have always made a big fuss about leaving cookies and milk for Santa and seeing hoof prints from the reindeer in the snow, the little boy spied gifts from Santa he unwrapped on Christmas Day in the back of a mini van in a department store bag.

I know they’re growing up. I know the concept of “being realistic” is setting in.

I knew they weren’t going to believe forever.

Tooth fairy or not…there’s some things Dad thinks they have to believe:

I want them to believe in themselves. Without self confidence, the world can be a hard place. Even if they don’t feel confident, I’d like to see them fake it. Until they are. With a good dose of confidence, their opportunities will open right up.

I want them to believe that they will always have something to offer the world. Because they do. I’ve already posted of my daughter’s budding talents in art, writing, and photography. My son already has a martial arts black belt, and is honing his skill in baseball. They have the ability now to help and inspire others if they want to.

I want them to believe that no matter how many times they get knocked down, they can always get back up. Dad can tell them a little about rejection. I work with it every day. The sting of rejection goes away the more you deal with it.  If you’re not meeting some resistance, you’re not doing anything of consequence.

I want them to believe there are no shortcuts. The very best way to win, do a task, fulfill a dream, achieve a goal is desire: to want it just a little bit more than the next guy (or girl) and give maximum effort to do it.

It’s a very simple solution that their great grandparents could have taught them. Just outwork everybody else.

I want them to believe, no matter what, Mom and Dad will always have their back. Enough said here. My wife and I could not imagine loving anyone more. We’ve got your back.

I want them to believe that no matter how old they get, living the dream is always possible. Even if they get caught up in the cycle of education, getting a job, paying the bills, wrestling with the mortgage, and wondering if a retirement is even possible… they can always believe in something more, no matter what “it” is.

Even if you’re in your forties and you still wonder what you may be when you finally grow up…you’ve still got time.

That’s my case. What do you believe in?

You Are Like A Hurricane: No “Over Hype” Here

“Can’t happen here, can’t happen here. All that fear they’re telling you, it can’t happen here” – Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow

Once again, nature proves that, no matter what, she’s the boss. As I sat in my house Sunday morning looking out my window at the wind gusts and flooding rains that were Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Irene, I considered my family fortunate to still have electricity, and no tree damage like so many in more southern regions.

As a weather event, there is no finesse to a hurricane. She is pure power.

As an armchair witness to Irene making rain fall history, I’m having a surge of respect for people in the states of Florida and the Carolinas who deal with big time storms on a regular basis.

The only reason I left my house on Sunday was to plug in a lead cord for my next door neighbor to run his sump pump. He had lost power, and wanted to get the two inches of water out of his flooded basement.

Why do people venture outside during a hurricane? A tree can fall and crush you. Such events occurred on more than one occasion in Virginia over the weekend.

Why would you drive your car during a hurricane? If you’re not driving an emergency vehicle, chances are you would not know how to avoid a flooded road that could sweep you away to your end.

Why taunt the power of a lady named Irene? You put yourself in harm’s way without reason. The highways are shutting down, and the malls are closed. You have no reason to go out, really. Reacquaint yourself with the definition of the word

Mess with a hurricane and what she can bring – it’s an act that borders on sheer foolishness.

My dog is a great indicator of bad weather. Not the biggest fan of thunderstorms to begin with, you know if he doesn’t want to go on his “bathroom run” that something sinister is in the air. Dogs are good for this.

New York City was practically shut down by Irene. While residents of this state can be prone to hyperbole and the “worst case” scenario, they had it right by regarding Irene as the monster she had the potential to be.

As a resident of upstate New York, I have only seen the remnants of tropical storms in the past. This storm was an entirely different animal.

There are many that think that the coverage of Irene was overblown, and too excessive in the monies spent to protect.

For those that think this event was “over hyped,” feel free to witness the aftermath of Irene here in upstate New York: devastating flooding, with waters rising and rivers cresting. Roads and entire towns wiped from the map.

In my neck of the woods, they are many, many people suffering from loss of property.

In the right circumstance, fear and over preparation is a very positive thing.

Good riddance, Irene, and let all your sisters and cousins know that they are not welcome  in this part of the world anymore.

Reflections on Memorial Day And A Salute To A Soldier Long Gone

Here we go. The summer season has started,  greatly anticipated around these parts of upstate New York after withstanding the brutal cold and large snow totals from this past winter. We all like to celebrate the coming of summer just so we can say “sayonara” to the memories of winter.

Our family went a familiar Memorial Day route, spending it in the scenic Adirondacks. The weather became uncooperative with noisy thunder and downpours of rain, but we still managed to play, eat, drink, and do our chores. And just calling it eating may be a understatement. Steamed and clams casino were in such great abundance, I think we had an event I’d like to call “Clam-a-palooza” (hope to do it next year, too!)…

Everyone has their fun, but they call it “Memorial Day” for a reason. Most people that I know look forward to the first long weekend of the warmer months for good times and days off, but the meaning of this holiday runs much deeper. A Facebook friend of mine who has a way with words himself put it best:

“Happy Memorial Day”. That statement doesn’t make sense to me at all. Today is a day of reflection for selfless sacrifice both past and present. I am not celebrating. I am remembering.

I never met my grandfather‘s brother, PFC and former member of the 105th Infantry, Dominick DeGiorgio. Although he survived fighting in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, he was later killed in action in Germany in World War II, still a young man. As far as I know, he is my family’s only recipient of the Purple Heart.

Another brother, my great uncle Mariano, fought for the Italian Army during European campaigns. It seems incomprehensible now, but there was true potential in that war for brother v. brother, each fighting for their country.

Even though Dominick was killed decades before I was born, I felt like I knew him somewhat as my grandmother loved to tell stories about him. While my grandfather Sebastian was a man of few words, his brother had a huge personality despite his small stature. A good looking guy who was always laughing and in good humor, he was, as my Nonna would state, very popular with the ladies. So much so that he would draw big crowds of them at the ice cream shop where he worked before going off to war.

I always wondered what it would have been like to have him here. His bright and cheerful persona as counterpoint to my Pop, the “strong, silent” type. What fun we could have had with that.

Unfortunately, that’s the drawback of war. It takes away and erases what could have been.

He gave it all, fighting for the freedom of generations of Americans with, as my friend said, “selfless sacrifice”. I’m sure there were plenty of disappointed girls at the ice cream window at Manory’s store.  I’m happy I can sit on a porch on a humid May afternoon and reflect  and wonder about a man whose great life was over far too soon.

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An Opportunity To Become “Full Time” Patriotic

Back in late March, I discussed posting an article to this site at least once a week. Well, as you can judge from the April archives, that ambition went down in flames. I’m not one to use excuses liberally, but a couple of important events happened in our family, as well as a very intense schedule for my son, coming down to the last phases of a first degree black belt test in tae kwon do (you will read a little bit about both in the coming weeks). Well, he’s finally got the black belt, and Mom and Dad can breathe a little easier. And, to boot, we have more time.

With this, I still hope to post articles more frequently, if not every week, beginning with today’s little rant about patriotism. I appreciate the readers who are here and continue to read despite the erratic publication schedule. Enjoy today’s post, and start looking for more to come!

Besides the obvious benefits of Osama Bin Laden being taken out by a Navy Seal (the obvious: one unholy terrorist taker of American lives eliminated), there are some not so subtle side effects of the events of the first of May.

Many beautiful images proliferated throughout the web after the fact. Stars and stripes, shimmering red, white, and blue colors in abundance. We were introduced again to photos of the World Trade Center before the 9/11 attacks, standing tall in the majestic New York skyline.

I saw many photos of the symbol of American freedom, the bald eagle, in flight, perched and steadfast, or draped in the shades of our flag. These images reflect American pride and patriotism.

While it’s a wonderful thing to see these images, whether as icons on the social media accounts of your friends or in a newspaper publication, the truth is we never see it enough. It seems only a tragedy like 9/11, or the event of the death of a terrorist leader brings out the best of American patriotism.

It’s what I would call “part time” patriotism. And as Americans, you and I can be better than that. This site will never have a strongly political bent, but this isn’t about politics. It’s about recognizing the right from wrong and the things we can improve upon.

I fly my flag outside of my home three seasons a year. Only three, because the upstate New York winter’s cold and winds will tatter and shred the most well made flag. But I would still consider that part time patriotism, as I know I can do more to honor this country and those who serve it.

There was an uproar from some after Bin Laden’s death that “everyone celebrated it” in the streets of DC and New York. While it’s an exaggeration that “everyone” did this, it’s important to remember this one individual was responsible for destroying thousands of lives. In this particular case, you shouldn’t feel bad about feeling good.

As usual, I will invoke the old school view on this one: Bin Laden got what he had coming to him, and the method of his removal could not have happened to a better guy. Peace and diplomacy are the preferred route for most anything, but not this time.

This blog is useful for a variety of reasons, not the least of which it helps me remember things. I am part time patriotic. This post should serve to remind me to strive to become more patriotic on a regular basis. To remember to thank those men and women at every opportunity for serving our country, especially in the Middle East. And keep them in my prayers.

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