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How an old friend, a peer, has become one of my heroes.

*Language warning!*

BY THE TIME we get well into middle age, and we limp past that cringe

-worthy milestone of age 50 and all of our younger friends have had

their fun, most of us have had our share of real-world challenges

thrown our way in one form or another. If you who reads this have

come this far, I know you feel me. To be honest, we start to get a little


I mean this in the physical sense, yes - we slow down, everything hurts

a little when we crawl out of bed, getting into any kind of physical

shape gets harder, and we want to go to sleep sooner - as in, a half

hour after dinner at night. But let’s face it - I also mean mentally, or

even existentially. We grow weary of the grind. Of the daily battle to

be the best selves we can. To live up to all the expectations, imposed by the world; imposed by our parents, living or dead; imposed by ourselves. 

At this stage of life, sometimes we find ourselves in a place where we ask, either in our heads, or aloud: What exactly am I doing here? What is it that I was put here to do? It seems to me that if I never knew, I can’t remember now. 

If you’ve ever experienced what I am talking about, at least in one sense it’s not even difficult or much of a “bummer” to be in that place. It can almost feel like the opposite, a bit of a relief: Oh, fuck it—why am I here again?  Anybody?

You know when you really can’t indulge in that relief, though? When you are a mom or a dad. When you have children of your own - even if they’re grown. They’re still out there, hopefully, and they’re looking at you. If they’re younger, still growing up, then forget it: you’re still securely on the hook. You can’t afford the luxury of saying, Who am I? What am I doing here? 

These questions feel legitimate - especially if you have lately absorbed one of those harder blows from life. You lost your mom. You lost your dad. Your child was sent to rehab; or they failed out of school; or they got pregnant; or they made someone else pregnant. You lost your job, and no one will hire you because you’re fuckin’ 55. But neither can you afford to retire. 

I’m not trying to be bleak; I’m trying to be honest. Middle age isn’t the easiest, is it? It’s coming up now not just because I’m sitting there myself, but I also happen to be writing on a day when one of my eldest friends is turning 54 years old. A little ahead of me, but I mean, who’s counting? 

I’ve had the man on my mind recently anyway . He’s dealing with many more of those big life challenges right now than I am. On top of that, he recently buried his mother. I knew that woman almost all of my life. It’s hard to think about the blow her death must be for him, even without all he was already facing. 


But the man keeps going. He never stops, and he couldn’t even if he wanted to. People are counting on him. People have always counted on him. I wrote about this once before, about fourteen years ago, in an essay I called “Eddie’s First Birthday Cake.” [POSTED BELOW.] I called him “Eddie Moscone” then, and I’ll call him that again now. 

(It’s from a movie - never mind! 

—Eddie. How ya doin’, brother? It’s Jack Walsh!)

At the time I wrote that, Eddie had already been through far more as a man still not quite forty years old than I could possibly imagine. He had been sitting shotgun on an agonizing, two-year journey with his young and lovely first wife between an initial diagnosis of breast cancer and a terrible, untimely death at only thirty-six years old in 2009. This crucible left behind three young children and a thoroughly decimated Eddie. As I wrote at the time, he endured this with such genuine heart and grace and strength that he gathered me, and my twin brother, into his burly embrace at this woman’s wake, one of us in each arm, and guided us through our own slushed emotions. This took place on Eddie’s 39th birthday, by the way. 

Not even a year later it took a photograph on social media to really flatten me with thoughts of everything that this longtime, particularly human friend and brother of mine had been enduring and was in the process of rising above even as he was feeling his weakest. He posted an image of what I might call a competent if somewhat crudely-decorated birthday cake for his second son, turning nine at the time, and he quasi-bragged about it as “my first.” You see, it was Eddie who was now baking the cakes. It was Eddie who was raising three youngsters alone, who were constantly, necessarily, looking up to him. 

This one image truly knocked me to the floor, figuratively speaking, and I could not get up until I had set pen to paper. That was the best way I knew to process my pride, admiration, and love for a man I thought of as my brother. (I already had three, and never asked for more - but Eddie, he can be forceful). So, I sat down and set to scrawling. 


As it turns out, that was only the first phase for Eddie Moscone. So here I am again. In the fourteen years since he may have been through more profound highs and lows than anyone I know. Certainly among my own peers. My touching on them here briefly will not do any of those peaks and valleys any true justice. But I want to, and I need to, write about Eddie again. 

After a couple more years passed, Eddie, who doesn’t do well alone in this world - a consequence of his big, Italian heart, his genetic makeup - somehow managed to find another remarkable soul to share his complicated life with. His second wife is a doctor, a lovely woman, strong, hard-working, pretty, kind. When they met, she had a young daughter and her own set of experiences from the past - like all of us - but they worked together as a unit. They got married, eventually, and their wedding day, with its unique, on-altar “family circle” prayer, remains one of those highs I mentioned - or it felt that way to me. I was there, with my brother, and the old gang of friends, guys that figured into the birthday cake essay. What a celebration! Eddie, his bride, and their four kids deserved that joyous day. 

More time passed. Eddie and his wife wanted to further cement their lives to one another, so they added a fifth child to their blended family - a son, born in 2016, happy, loving, and preternaturally good from his first breath. A short period into this boy’s life, he was diagnosed with a rare genetic illness called MPS I - Hurler’s Syndrome. It is very uncommon, and has something to do with the mysterious build-up of large sugar molecules. Only God knows. Evidently, there are numerous forms of this condition, and diagnosing and treating it is complex beyond my narrative powers. But generally speaking, the prognosis for those young people randomly affiliated with this condition is truncated - in most cases. 

My twin brother, our closest friends, and Eddie have always enjoyed, or at least maintained, a spiritual aspect to our brotherhood. Over many years we have not feared the big questions. But we do have a funny way of lamenting how much thornier these inquiries get as time drags along. How the complexity of these matters seems to heighten with serious challenges that fall on our paths. We do a lot of texting and bitching about them, to be frank. A lot less untying of the knots themselves - but who has the answers? Not this motley crew, I assure you. 

Yet the questions suggested by Eddie’s situation - these were not even funny. Worse, they did not seem fair, or just. And they definitely lacked anything close to having satisfying answers. 

So, we all more or less watched from the sidelines as Eddie did what he does, which is to forge onward, handling all of the complexities of his life without outward fear, and without much of a plan. He just kind of goes in swinging, and he doesn’t quit. The same can be said for his wife, who somehow navigates through all of the challenges while maintaining a demanding medical career as well. How they do all of this, I have no clue. There is surely a lot of tag-teaming, and there is probably a steady stream of tense moments. 

This might be the time to mention Eddie’s own vocation. In the birthday cake essay I wrote about his talent for music, present in him from an early age (I was there to witness then, too), which he parlayed into becoming a music educator to young kids. He began this career in the early nineties and he has consistently continued with it for more than thirty years. He also spent years and years coaching young people in athletics - swimming, basketball, Little League baseball, and especially girls’ softball. 

All of this is to say, and I say it with wonder, that not only has Eddie been raising his own children - first three, then four, then five - but he has also been helping in profound ways to shape, mold, and influence hundreds of other people’s children, over three decades. He has always been confident, kind, honest, and patient dealing with young people. Frankly, I find this astonishing. He’s still hard at it, to this day - although his most recent set of challenges has him seriously contemplating early retirement. That is, if retirement is a financial possibility. 

Which leads us to the events of the last six months or so. Over the eight years before that, their youngest son’s entire life, Eddie and his family have been monitoring and dealing with numerous challenges related to his health. It’s far more than I could ever catalog or speak to. In the last two years they became aware that he was having painful challenges related to his bone structure as he continued to grow, and they knew he would eventually have to undergo a series of complicated operations on his leg and hip to address them. 

At the end of 2023 the boy had an operation that was a success, but the entire bottom half of his body, from the waist down, was cocooned in a hard cast. This resulted in a long and challenging period of rehabilitation that had to be blended with two active careers and the pressing demands of the other four teenage and young adult children in the family. 

Dovetailing with these circumstances, Eddie and his one younger sister then learned in December of that year of their mother’s diagnosis with essentially inoperable cancer. This remarkable lady, whom my brother and I had known and been cared by almost as a second mother in countless situations dating all the way back to the 1970s, was facing other health issues as well by this time. She informed her son and daughter that she did not have the strength or the will to combat her illness, and that they should help her transition to palliative care. 

She lived just over one month before returning home under Hospice, where she died in the presence of Eddie’s father - himself a victim of Parkinson’s Disease, in advanced stages. This is the same illness that coincidentally claimed my own father’s life almost ten years ago, and while Eddie’s Dad lives on, in this case I do understand the burdens that will be associated with his care in the near future. And I know that debilitative neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s never switch gears into Reverse. This only means more challenges to come. 


All this is the set of conditions which led to a January 2024 reunion with Eddie and several old friends and some of our wives in New Jersey as we attended his mother’s funeral Mass. My wife and I were slightly tardy to the service. We walked in and there was Eddie’s wife, their four older children, and towards the back of the congregation, their eight-year-old son laid out in a wheelchair with a hard cast over half his body and a blanket covering his legs. Next to Eddie’s own family was his elderly father, the bereaved, also in a wheelchair, a man we grew up in total admiration of. 

Right as we arrived, Eddie stood and ascended the empty, elevated pulpit to eulogize his mother. 

And there sat I. Present in the moment, but also whisking back in time. I saw my friend of so many years in the way I have always seen him. He’s a bigger man than me in most respects - physically, personality-wise, in his passions, in his courage. He can be relied upon to stand up to a moment when the moment requires it. He got up in sixth grade to perform a tough drum part when no one else could (see “Eddie’s First Birthday Cake”). He took the plunge into marriage first while his brothers watched, and learned. He was the first into fatherhood of our group. He stood up and bravely eulogized the mother of his first three children in public, fully composed, in his late thirties - a thing that no man should have to do. Now, he stood tall again, grasped the podium, told stories, laughed, and said goodbye to his gregarious, welcoming mother. 

When I saw him later that same day at the post-funeral luncheon, I asked him straight-up - “Eddie, how on earth did you do that? Stand up so straight, look at everyone directly, deliver such sincere remarks?” 

How does he even stay awake these days - let alone come through in such a moment? I was thinking. With all he was handling, all that he always seemed to be handling? His son had just gotten home from major surgery. 

He shrugged, and chuckled. “I did all my crying yesterday,” he said, and he slapped me on the shoulder. It helped him to have me, my brother, a few old friends, and our wives there with him. I knew that. But still–I was, and I remain, amazed. 


My friends, there ain’t no magic to it. Eddie was just dealing with his life in the way he always had. But then again, I don't know... 

I do know he was raised expertly. His parents were/are both extraordinarily kind, responsible, and loving. His sister was and is a lovely gem of a person, who tolerated me and all the other goons over years of madcap ridiculousness. Both of his wives have proven to be strong and admirable. 

As for Eddie himself, he is no angel, I assure you. He’s one of the most human of all the beings I know. He can open his mouth and say way too much, bite off far more than he can chew, extend himself beyond his reach, and perform daring feats that sometimes amount to spectacular mistakes. 


But Eddie - for all of the hits he has taken in his life - is without question one of the strongest and bravest men I have ever met. He has spent an entire adult lifetime coaching, teaching and caring for children. His, and others’. And he is among the greatest fathers I have ever seen, my age or not. If there’s a more important duty to fulfill in a man’s life, I don’t know what that is. 

That is why - although I, like most of us, coexist with my own daily litany of fears - I am not at all afraid to say, on the record, that Eddie has become one of my heroes. So battle on, my brother. I still see you.


January 2010

MY PURPOSE HERE is to pay tribute to a friend of mine. This friend, whom I have known since we were both about seven years old, deserves as much. For he has suffered, and he is still shouldering the burden of this suffering. That is not something that our society typically finds worthy of its salute. But I am a member of this society, and furthermore, I once upheld an oath to defend it in uniform. Thus, if I say this man has earned my salute, I do not employ the term lightly.

My friend happens to be an Italian-American, with a common first name and an ethnic last one. But since I do not want to use either, I’ll give him a loaner. We’ll call him Eddie. Eddie Moscone.


To Eddie, a word. I offer you an apology, because I assume this writing will make you uncomfortable. You told me once that certain types of accolades accomplished as much. But my apology, while sincere, will have minimal effect. Because the truth is, as a writer, I find this necessary. When I am grabbed by something that I feel, for whatever reason, I need to understand; thereupon do I employ my pencil in the service of that education. For this lesson, you happen to be the instructor. Let’s not forget, also, that you are an educator by profession. So I am optimistic that you can forgive me for milking your hard-earned wisdom for my own further comprehension of life – especially if I promise to apply what I learn somehow in the context of our sustained friendship.



From the beginning, as far back as I can remember, Eddie has shown a certain kind of fearlessness. An anecdote from our early years in suburban New Jersey will demonstrate what I mean.


Among the numerous things he does well, Eddie is a talented musician. He’s been a fine trumpet player since we were in fourth grade. I know because I played trumpet, too, for a time. Every year we had to audition to see what chair assignment we would receive for the trumpet section. I only bested Eddie once – and that, I learned later, was because he had missed his audition entirely. Beating Eddie was never truly within the limits of my talent.

Yet as good as he was at the trumpet, I remember in fifth or sixth grade he began to show interest in other instruments as well. This stayed with him, for today Eddie is a high school Marching Band Director. He started to take lessons in percussion with the elementary school music teacher in addition to playing the trumpet. Eddie did this on his own; I remember thinking he was nuts. But then the day arrived when the entire band was in full rehearsal, and the director, Mr. Decker, kept stopping the performance in one particular number because of the ineptitude of one unlucky fellow in the drum section. There was a critical percussive segment that was being repeatedly flubbed.

Frustrated, the teacher told that unfortunate drummer to step aside and let one of his peers literally take a whack at it. When that guy tried it once or twice and also failed, Mr. Decker told him to get out of the way, and had the next drummer try. In this manner, with the situation more or less out of hand, the entire drum section was dispensed with. No one could play the part.

Then Mr. Decker seemed to have a small epiphany. “Where’s Eddie?” he shouted. Eddie needed no more encouragement. He got up, laid down his trumpet, strode over and played the part correctly. He spent the rest of that number on the drum, and then returned to the trumpet section, which had pretty much fallen down as well in his absence.

That, readers, is Eddie. I do not know if he made a lot of friends in the drum section that day. But he knew he could do what needed to be done, and showed no hesitation.

Indeed, Eddie seems to have approached so many things in his life, throughout the years, with a quality that falls somewhere between a preposterous swagger and authentic bravery. I can think of innumerable examples, from the mundane to the momentous, but they all speak to this same quality.

When we were still elementary school kids, Eddie was a kind of celebrity, because at some point he (or his mother and father most likely, but he received the indispensable schoolyard cred), had established a tradition of throwing an end-of-year party for his entire class. Consequently, part of the ritual towards the end of the school year was to track down Eddie on the playground in order to ask who his teacher was for the following year. This was huge, because he was hosting these events way before most of us were ready to attend “boy-girl” parties. That’s Eddie.

Eddie is a natural athlete, and possesses individual courage as well as team leadership skills. He was a terrific swimmer in high school; a sport which requires both stamina and guts, for the water is a difficult arena to conquer. His love of baseball spans his entire lifetime. In college he tried out for volleyball, something that was never an organized sport when we were in high school, and quickly became a standout. As an adult he has coached children in sports for years – particularly young girls, which I find astounding. But then, Eddie has never exactly had a fear of girls. That’s Eddie.

As much as either of my parents, Eddie was instrumental in teaching me, and my twin brother for that matter, how to drive. He’s a half-year older than we are, so he had his driver’s license six months ahead of us. I distinctly remember him picking us up in his beat-up Buick on spring and summer afternoons, taking us to schoolyards and parking lots, and letting us drive his car around. That year he had a cassette of Tribute, with Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhodes, in the tape deck for what seemed like eight months straight. I cannot think of Ozzy, or hear the song “Crazy Train,” without remembering Eddie’s Driving School for Obnoxious Twins, which seems appropriate. But he seemed to enjoy helping us learn to drive as much as we enjoyed the chance to get behind the wheel. That’s Eddie.

When we got to college, and everyone started to go their separate paths, there was always a generous measure of lip service around visiting one another at our respective schools. Some of these reunions took place; most were mere talk. Not with Eddie. My brother and I attended the same university in Cincinnati, Ohio, while Eddie attended a small college in northwest Pennsylvania. In our freshman year, there he was in the spring, visiting us at our campus, dressed out in his varsity volleyball jacket, already fully immersed in team sports.

At some point, though I don’t remember the year, we did return the favor. Later on, during the summers, we’d reconvene with high school pals; more promises were made; few were kept. But I am able to mentally fast-forward to early 1992 when, going into our final semester at college, my brother and I returned to an apartment we shared off campus. We arrived about a week prior to the start of classes. Eddie’s schedule was different; he had more time before he had to begin school again. Did he spend it putzing around our hometown?

All I remember is slouching around that dingy one-bedroom hole with my brother on a dreary winter afternoon and hearing a sudden pounding on the door. We opened it together, to be confronted with a vision of our old pal standing there with a cruddy baseball hat on, both hands out Italian-hug style, and a smoking pipe clenched in his ridiculous, Cheshire-cat grin. That’s Eddie.


Alas, readers, but at some point one must put aside childish things, as St. Paul has written. I would be the first to admit, and do so here, that in the case of myself, my brother, and Eddie, we have not quite learned to do that. Nonetheless, time marches on, and men have a way of acquiring responsibilities. Marriage, for example, if they are fortunate. And who among us, do you suppose, was the first to take on so daunting and momentous a change of life?

Eddie married his college sweetheart, a lovely and gregarious woman, in 1994, tackling this institution well in advance of the rest of his mates. My brother was his best man. Eddie, I can write without any juvenile intention whatsoever, has always loved women. In his wife, he found the nucleus of this mighty love, and with what great and typical eagerness did he launch himself into domesticity! In my memories of his wedding, I can still see him casually striding from table to table with his hand at his young wife’s waist, asking if people were enjoying themselves. When the question was returned, he answered, “I am having an absolute blast.”

Thus did Eddie (and his beloved) enter into the deeper, more exciting, yet sometimes treacherous waters of adult life, in the same manner in which he enters into just about everything – head first. They leaped into the marital fray, engaging in its necessary push and pull, flexing and building up the muscles involved in the complex acrobatics of love and compromise and the sacrifice of oneself and, sometimes, one’s own interests. So much the better, for the strength of their unity was soon put to the test.

In 1996 their first son arrived, but was born with a gaping hole in one of the chambers of his heart, requiring almost immediate open heart surgery. Unless one has endured it themselves, or worse, one can only imagine the helplessness and terror that must have seized the two new parents as they placed their fragile infant in the hands of surgeons.

Their prayers were answered that time; their son today is almost fourteen, and healthy. But their union had been carried into the forge and duly hammered in a white-hot flame. They came out of the experience further bonded. At that time, Eddie commented to me one night on the phone, “You think you know how to love somebody…” His voice trailed off, failing to complete the thought, but his meaning was clear. One’s love acquires its true gem-like beauty and hardness only when compressed under the weight of adversity.

Before most of his peers, again, Eddie learned what this kind of love requires of a man. But as all of us come to know eventually, overcoming one obstacle that seemed too large does not exempt us from further trials. For in 2007, Eddie’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thus began a prolonged, roller-coaster-type battle with this terrible illness, the daily casualties of which I cannot describe. I have no idea how difficult each phase, or even each daily skirmish, was for Eddie or for his wife. To my own discredit I was often fearful of even discussing it with him, because I did not know how to offer consolation, and felt, regrettably, too uncomfortable to try.

But Eddie, of course, could not – and would not have anyway – distance himself from this fight. He stayed true to his commitment, the one that’s right there in the marriage vows. He took up the mantle of caring for, by then, their three children, while his wife suffered; he also, incredibly, maintained two jobs and coached young people throughout much of the year, every year. He remained by his wife’s side throughout her unimaginable pain and despair, right up until she died, just before Easter in 2009, at the age of 36.

The next time I saw Eddie, which was the first time in many months, was at his wife’s wake. It was the very same day he himself turned 39, a final irony. I met my twin brother on the way in to the funeral home, and we both entered the viewing room in a stunned silence. When we saw Eddie, neither one of us knew what to do; we both grabbed at him in the same moment and were overcome.

Eddie – a bigger man than either of us – put one arm around each of our necks and said, “Come on, guys.” That’s Eddie.


Now it is nearly a year later. In a few short months, Eddie will turn 40 years old, and of course, later this year I will follow.

I have kept in regular contact with Eddie – far better, I admit to my own shame, than I did while his wife was dying. Interestingly enough, a huge part of this has been achieved through Facebook, a sign of these particular times that is regularly dismissed as frivolous. Yet it has played an indisputable role in Eddie’s grieving process. He chats frequently and openly on the site; he has even had numerous exchanges with my wife, who has come to know and love Eddie better as a consequence. It clearly helps him endure some of the pain of his beloved’s premature death. How can that not be considered a good thing?

Indeed, it was Facebook that led to these words. A short time ago, Eddie posted a photograph to his page on the site. It seemed unremarkable at first glance. It was a birthday cake – simple, chocolate-brown, serviceable, but nothing spectacular. Some wobbly cursive letters in red icing spelled out the simple message HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAN. The occasion was his second son’s 9th birthday. Isn’t that fun, I thought.

Then I read Eddie’s comment on the photograph. He said it was his “first” birthday cake. “Yes, I am proud of myself,” he wrote. The picture coupled with the comment, coming almost one year into Eddie’s life as a widower, hit me like a ton of bricks.

For twenty years, most of my adult life, I have been writing creatively. And I know from that experience that one of the hardest things to execute in literature is a consequential short story. They’re easy to read, fun to enjoy and discuss, but damned near impossible to write. The very best ones, by writers with genuine talent, are great not because of head-shaking twists and turns in the plot or million-dollar vocabulary words. The truly great stories are impressive because they contain small moments of gravity. They draw attention to simple things, easy to overlook, but with so much unspoken truth compressed into their tiny packages. But trying to concoct one of those moments, those extraordinary details, where it did not exist before is a skill that I truly believe takes a lifetime to master.

Eddie’s first birthday cake, captured in an ordinary photograph, is that kind of detail for me. If I had come across it in a short story, it would have reached off the page and grabbed me by the throat. If you want to know why I explain it this way, I can only say that writers tend to be insular, and a little obsessive in their attention to detail. Almost everything, for us, is initially understood in a literary context. But I’m not trying to turn this into a writing lesson. I know it’s larger than that.

I’m also not trying to lionize Eddie specifically because he threw himself into a role he did not have to fill before. I can practically hear him telling me not to do that. The circumstances of his life now are such that he is the one who must bake the birthday cakes, if anyone is going to do it. He had to make that cake. You don’t just let a child’s birthday fall to the wayside, uncelebrated, because he has lost one of his parents.

So I’m not writing to say my friend Eddie is some kind of hero or candidate for sainthood for baking a cake. What I am saying is that he has shown the way, once again, a man might behave if he were to find himself in the same situation. A man in his shoes could go out and hire a nanny. He could ease up on his workload and lay off trying to help others. Or he could withdraw, start drinking, feel sorry for himself, alienate people; he might completely crack up. If he did any of these things, or even all of them, I think most people might at least understand why.

But there is another thing a man could do, too, if his life took this unexpected turn. He could rise up, accept the challenge, and face the future fearlessly.

Have I not shown that, in many ways, Eddie Moscone has been living his whole life this way? Thus, might I also conclude that even something as seemingly “small” as planning, preparing, baking and then presenting his very first birthday cake, in order to celebrate the young son he brought into existence with the wife he has lost, is in itself an act of bravery?

As I have written, Eddie has had a courageous soul from the start. He is capable of withstanding this devastating loss, as he is proving with every new day. For now there is precious little left for him to fear.

Eddie Moscone, with those 2 brothers, one of whom is the author, in 2010. 
Cino 2nd wedding day.jpg
Eddie Moscone's second wedding day, with the lads, and the usual antics.  
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