OR, being great at being yourself, with a little nudge from your father
I always knew what he was capable of. Constantly surprising us kids, never shunning hard work, constantly “going for it,” and upping the game of life. Growing up with Joe Pagliei as my Dad, life with this “man from nothing” was really “something.”
He let me puff his cigar at 8 years old after I begged him to try (yes, it was horrifying… but that didn’t keep me from taking up smoking a number of years later… but he got me out of that soon enough by having his doctor scare the bejezzuz out of me. Big thanks for this Dad!).
Then there was the goat incident. Dad brought one home from the racetrack in the middle of the night (don’t ask). We called him “Elmer” and gave him old shoes to gnaw on in the backyard. Soon, Elmer was on the shed. Surprise, this one didn’t last long (the neighbors were the thankful ones this time).
Dad was always destined for one thing: whatever it was that he wanted to do.
Larger than life, my smartly dressed high-school hall-of-famer, NFL championship team member, much smarter-than-he-looks papa (known as “Big Joe” to the neighborhood kids) also made an excellent fried-egg-n-grits breakfast, taught me to jitterbug, and dressed in drag as “The Godmother” for Halloween (his Italian Mafioso mother version of Brando, with knee-high stockings, hairnet, and an automatic in her grandmotherly purse, was spot on). And a million other hilarious, awesome, embarrassing, and brave things.
He was always on to great things, with each and every little thing, creating his remarkable story the whole time.
It took 3 years, but really a lifetime. I can’t say it was a total surprise, Dad writing his autobiography, because he has been telling these sometimes outrageous stories for YEARS and people have been urging him for YEARS to write and share them. But when he actually put it out there, when he said “I’m writing my book” we were all sort of like “wow, is Dad really writing a book?”
Yes, he was and he did. And it is GREAT. And I am so proud of him.
As I said earlier, I always knew what he was capable of, because if he had the passion and discipline to become great at fatherhood, football and the casino business, he could become great at other things, like being an author.
But it isn’t just passion and discipline. His real secret? He has always just been great at being himself.
Dad can say, do, be anything he wants, always (despite a humble upbringing and starting with very little, and many other obstacles) because he is a believer in instinct, the voice inside, his “gut.” He doesn’t look outside of himself for answers. He makes his own. He is, truly, self-made and self-reliant.
My dad understands, and taught me, the secret of being unapologetically oneself. He took this secret and created a colorful life, multiple careers, a family, amazing friends (both celebrity and non-celebrity) and now a book.
Dad, the world needs that special thing that only you have- thank you for being YOU. You have roasted, hobnobbed, rallied, danced, competed with, loved, cared for and blessed all of us who know you in one way or another.
Oh yes, and about that “nudge” from his dad. Big Joe says, “ If I were making my own decisions at the time, I would have stayed behind as a Clairton Bad Boy and not taken advantage of the ticket out that football was offering. I had this girlfriend at the time, and even with 105 colleges vying for my services, I had no interest in college. It was my good fortune that my father, Alberto, who arrived in this country 30 years earlier with no job or language skills, had the good sense to tell me, ‘You no go to-a-college; you no-a my son.’
Pop, thank you, and I’m glad I listened. I would have missed out on all of these memories if it weren’t for you.”
A real-life Zelig, Joe’s story starts in during the Depression Era, in a humble a steel-mining town in Western Pennsylvania, where he lived under the same roof as the local neighborhood numbers runner, and from there he never stopped surrounding himself with colorful characters. Going on to a professional football career, he has taken his natural-born ability for being everyone’s buddy and woven it into a narrative that covers much of the “back nine” of the 20th century.
As one of the top casino hosts during the Golden Era of Atlantic City, Joe entertains with how he was personally recruited by Donald Trump as the first employee hired by the future president when he decide to get into the gaming business. While working at the casinos, Joe found himself moving with an A-list crowd from sports and entertainment, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Rich Little, Don Rickles, Bobby Rydell, Charo, Chuck Norris, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Billy Martin, Lawrence Taylor, Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Torre, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Pete Rose, Julius Irving, Willie Mays, and Tommy Lasorda, along with other NFL hall-of-famers, and an assorted cast of high-roller types.
Friends, you can find it here!
At the end of the book, Dad says, “Being truthful with yourself and those around you makes it possible to go through the day with a winning attitude. I think I’ve been successful at relating this, because no man can be more blessed with a positive family than I am.”
Thank you for instilling your positivity in me, and for your many gifts Dad, this book being such a special one. When they make the movie, I will be buying the first ticket! I love you!
We’re very outspoken regarding our love for our mothers and mothering at Waxing Poetic, but if you have any doubts about our equal appreciation of fathers, don’t.
To that end, here is a tumbly heartfelt poem-slash-letter-slash-list-slash-effusive-string-of-gratitude-and-noticing — this will never be enough, the words will never be enough, but *you* are always enough, so we’ll try.
Dear Dads —
WE LOVE YOU.
We love proud papas.
We love dear daddies.
We love fearless fathers.
We love pas, pops, and padres.
We love grandpas, granddads, and great greatfathers.
We love the wonderful men who raised us, who help raise our children, who help raise our best friends, who helped raise you dear reader, and who are, in whatever way make the most sense, the very finest men we know.
You are our first heroes, our favorite audience members, our most heard member of the cheering section, our kind protectors, our faithful supporters, our best men.
We love out nontraditional father names, we love our adoptive dads, our stepdads, our foster fathers, our second dads, our fathering influences, our favorite best men. All of them, fathers, precious and brave, steadfast and true.
Thank you for laughing with us (and sometimes, deserevedly but never unkindly, at us).
Thank you for showing up. Thank you for staying. Thank you for holding our hands.
Thank you for silly songs. Thank you for sharing your stories.
Thank you for teaching us how to swim, how to sail, how to skateboard, how to surf,
how to swing a bat, how to stand up on a skateboard (or carve downhill on a Trikke), how to draw, how to listen carefully, and well, how to make people feel important by making room for their eccentricities as you did with ours, how to encourage the parts of us that have come to make us who we are — even when or if you didn’t quite understand the deep meaning of our 9th grade art project, or just why we needed to go that maybe unbearable for you concert but you took us and we went and we’ve never stopped bragging about it…
Thank you warrior dads, thank you peacemaking fathers, thank you brave heroes, thank you whimsical wonderful sillies, thank you for letting us sneak in late with you knowing about it, thank you for showing us how to ( ), thank you for campfires, for detailed explanations when asked about nearly anything, thank you for celebrating our eccentricities even when they didn’t make sense to you, thank you for loving us, thank you for being present.
Fatherhood is as ongoing action as much as it is anything else, and so instead of waxing expected over playing baseball/football/fixing cars/golfing (though, full disclosure, we love all of those things and will shortly address them too), let’s give some room for the unexpected, or the undersung, or perhaps, space for yours (or you):
[insert your favorite father memory] : WE SALUTE [his name].
Dearest dads, far and wide, near and distant, living and heavenward,
For years now, we’ve been asked to do a men’s collection, and for years we’ve hesitated – not because we didn’t want to make one, but because we wanted to make it right, we wanted to make it true. We also knew that it was going to need a good name, and this was a bit daunting.
It came down to questions of character.
In the realm of Waxing Poetic, being called a poet is the highest form of praise. Why? Because we love poets. We love noticers. We love the idea that there is both a profession and hidden-in-plain-sight sensibility sharing roughly the same name to describe people who live in the very same world as us, speak our same language, and yet, by virtue of the way they employ that language, change both it and us when they share their observations.
Poets are explorers, not always in terms of travel or terrestrial adventures, but by way of showing and telling. Poets don’t need a lot of flowery excess to convey meaning because they’ve been paying attention to the right details all along.
When we asked each other what qualities we most admire in men, we kept finding that they were the same qualities we most admired in poets – namely, the practice of paying attention, noticing details, and sharing their experience of the world using the familiar (language, symbols, characters, meaning) in slightly unfamiliar (to us) ways.
All of our favorite men are poets. Why? Because they are. Because the best men, the best heroes, the best characters, the best husbands, boyfriends, grandfathers, fathers, friends, brothers, uncles, nephews, grandsons, etc are all composed of combinations and contradictions, but they all share something in common: they notice and they pay attention. By this logic, they are poets.
How does one become a poet? Use familiar tools in an unfamiliar way. Search beyond the surface. Sense the something more. Find the tells. Show and share them. It’s an old formula, often forgotten and even less articulated, but it always works. It works, we think, because it was already true to begin with. How do we make our men Poets? We don’t. Not literally. We don’t force pens or typewriters or laptops in front of them, font cued up, hand them a theme. No, not poet like that. Poet like Noticer, Poet like Hero.
Who is the most interesting character in the room? The one who is noticing. Poets are hiding in plain sight. The man with the sketchbook in the war movie? The poet in the trenches. The poet in the lab. The poet in the classroom. The poet in the boardroom. The poet out surfing. The poet teaching your children to play baseball. The poet who is just this very moment about to finish reading a crime novel, followed by a good Belgian in a bell-shaped glass and about five more minutes in that marinade (for the steaks, babe). That poet. The one who notices.
We elected to give our favorite men our favorite term, and in doing so, designed a collection meant to augment their individual sensibilities with noteworthy, nuanced details: pieces designed to accent innate style versus overtly scripting it, pieces that when employed by the wearer don’t transform him into something new but instead draw concentrated attention to his existing poetic self. To that end, we are humbled and delighted to introduce our POET to the world.