Monday, April 26, 2010

Eulogy for Manny Seidel

About 4 years ago Joan made an 80th birthday party for Manny, in Florida. It was a nice party, with a lot of people who knew Manny, but who probably didn’t know much about him, since he was not one to talk much about himself. So, I took the opportunity to make a little speech, telling a few stories and saying some complimentary things about him. Afterwards, he came over to me and said, “That was really nice…..I hope you saved something for the eulogy”.

Dad – Here’s the stuff I saved for the eulogy…..

Manny was born in the Bronx in 1926, the youngest of 7 children. His father was a carpenter by trade, but Dad never knew him because he died when Manny was only a year old. His two older brothers, Philip and Arthur, were much older than him, and were married and out of the house during his childhood. Three of his sisters, Rose, Betty and Anna, were closer to him in age, and I think it is accurate to say he was raised by his mother (who did not speak English, just Yiddish) and his three sisters. Having known Aunt Rose, Aunt Betty and Aunt Anna, I know there was no shortage of talking going on in the house. I guess Manny HAD to be a good listener, and he was, but he also learned how to carry on a great conversation. He has always been someone you could talk to about anything and everything.

Manny is the last of his brothers and sisters to pass. I did a little math – the descendants of the 7 Seidel children total approximately 90 (I could be a little off because I don’t speak to cousin Naomi as often as I’d like) More than one of my cousins has noted that Manny was the “Last of the Mohicans”. I think his passing brings forth memories of all our parents, and all the times, good and bad, that we shared. Now our generation is at the top of the ladder. We accept this, knowing we were shown the proper way by outstanding people.

Although Manny was not a bad student, he dropped out of high school to go to work. As a teenager, in addition to working, he helped care for his mother, who had a chronic bleeding condition. One of the things he attended to on a regular basis was paying his mother’s debt to the blood bank, by going down to the Bowery and paying bums $5 for blood donations. When he would tell me about this, in vivid detail, it sounded like something out of a Charles Dickens novel. The last time he told me about it, I thought about a few things……one, from the details of the story, it was surely true; two, I always thought of it being a “story”, but when I realized it was not just a story but a part of his teenaged life (that he was still talking about 70 years later) it struck me how difficult his childhood and teenaged years really were.

Having grown up without a father……..being a good father was VERY important to him. He had no role model, so he always did what he thought a good father should do……teach your children how to do things, and show them proper values. A lot of people know that Manny was a very active coach for Brian and I, in Little League and other organized sports. What people may not know, is that when he was a coach, he wasn’t there just to coach US, he wanted to be the coach and father figure to ALL the boys on the team. He especially gravitated to boys who either didn’t have a father at home, or whose father was not coming to the games. If anyone ever thought that Manny played favorites with Brian and I when he was a coach, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, and he would often say this, he went out of his way to coach ALL the boys,

I am convinced that he stayed at a certain crummy, low-paying job because it had one nice perk…..a light blue van that he was allowed to take home on weekends. This was of course used to take entire teams to our baseball games. Manny was in his glory when we took that van and picked up 5 or 6 boys on the way to Kissena Park or Park Drive East or wherever we played.

I wanted to say something appropriate about my Mom, and Dad’s married life with her. When you look back at something, how you process your thoughts and memories becomes the truth. Something my parents had in common (which I am glad I learned) was the ability to focus on the positive. So, while one could simply recall that my parents had problems they could not resolve, and that they were divorced after 20 years, neither of them would say it that way, and neither would I. I remember our house being happy and full of love. I know Manny remembered it that way, and after he and I talked about it a few times, I knew I wasn’t engaging in wistful recollection, it was true.

Dad placed a high value on what he called “brothers acting like brothers”. There were few things he preached about, but this was something Brian and I always knew was important to him….the idea that brothers should stick together and help each other. It would be inconceivable to either one of us not to abide by this.

I know how proud Manny was of all Brian’s accomplishments . We have a little private family joke that in Florida, I’m known as “the other son”. When I made this observation the first time, Dad got a little flustered and said, “You know I’m proud of you too, right?” Trust me Dad, I knew it.

We experienced some of the greatest times and memories together……I remember driving to Pocono Downs for Brian’s first win as a trainer, it was a rainy night and the horse (Master Vilas) won by a large margin. In the picture of the horses coming down the stretch, you can see Manny and I running through the stands like two lunatics.

Some of our horse adventures weren’t so much fun when they happened, especially the time Manny and I were driving to Delaware to watch the immortal horse “El-Pace-O-Widow” race at Dover Downs. While driving on 95 South in Jersey, the hood on one of Manny’s old bomb cars flew open in our faces, forcing us to drive while looking out the sides around it. We got to Dover Downs after 5 hours, the horse broke at the start, and we turned around and drove back. I wouldn’t trade a day like that for anything

Manny was never a person who was defined by his career, and in some ways I think he was disappointed in himself. During his life he was an assistant to the owner of a high-end furniture company, a warehouse manager, a shipping clerk in the garment center, and then in Florida he was a security guard (the two high points of this job were that the golfer Bernhard Langer lived in the development and knew Manny’s name, and that he once rescued a dog from a ditch). In Florida he also worked at an eye hospital, driving people home after surgery, and he worked for an auto mechanic, driving customers to work and helping out in the shop. He once told me it bothered him that he was not “successful”. I had an easy answer to that one, which was it depends how you define “success”, and I proceeded to describe a long list of his successes. We had this conversation more than once, and I do think he came to know it was true. If I helped him to see this, I am eternally thankful.

Manny was very proud of his role in Joan’s family. Jeff and Debbie were adults when he became part of their family, and I know (because he told me) that he knew he would never replace someone’s father, nor would he want to. He only wanted to be there in any way that he could. However, he had no hesitation being the grandpa to Brian, Rachel and Elisa, and a great-grandpa to their children. He loved being with them, talking about them, and doing things with them. And just like when I was a kid, I never minded sharing him.

Brian and I have tremendous gratitude to Joan, for making Manny happy for so many years, and for giving him the type of life he would never have otherwise had. He loved living (and working) in Florida, having friends, playing tennis, playing golf, going to movies and shows, rooting for the Marlins (I learned to accept this) going on cruises and trips, and being a part of someone else’s life and having her be a part of his.

Many of you know that in December, Manny, Brian and I took a trip to Las Vegas together. Besides the laughs, and the gambling, and the shows, and the meals, there are a few things about it that I did not realize would be so meaningful. The itinerary was for Brian to spend a few days with Dad in Florida, then they’d fly together to Vegas, where I would meet them. Manny and Brian had a great time together in Florida. While we were in Vegas, Brian’s daughter Robin drove in from LA, and we shared a nice dinner and breakfast the next day. After the trip, Manny stayed with us in New York for a few days, and it was nice and relaxing. The entire trip was conceived as one of those “I don’t want to some day say I shoulda” situations, and the feeling now, having done it, is beyond words. All I can say is, if you are ever in that situation, and you think you SHOULD do it….DO IT

When Manny stayed with us the last time, I noticed what a real bond he had with Felicia, and Emilie, and Rebecca. He thought the world of Felicia, and was in awe of everything Emilie and Rebecca were doing. Girls…..Pop-Pop will always be a part of who you are. It made me so happy to see that my girls really GOT what Manny is all about. I am proud that they know, and value, the things that really count.

OK…………..I want to be a “real” writer, and do something real writers do, a reading of my work to an audience. I haven’t done that ……. YET, ……..but yet is now……so thank you Dad, for not only giving me inspiration, and giving me great material, thank you for giving me a captive audience for my reading……

This is called "Going to Aqueduct with Dad"

Every May, I watch (and bet on) The Kentucky Derby. It's my favorite sporting event of the year. Better than the Super Bowl, better than the Final Four. I don’t watch the two hour pre-race build-up, I read a few stories in The Post, call up Dad to see who he likes, then bet my selections, and watch the race. I've hit a few nice longshots over the years, most notably Charismatic and Monarchos.

My love of horseracing started with....


Sometimes on a Saturday, my Dad would suggest that he and I "head over to The Big A". Since I was only 7 years old, he wasn't saying this to me, he was saying it to my Mom. I wonder if taking me along made this activity more palatable to her. The first few times he said it, I worried that she would say no, but she never did. After a few times, I knew that when he suggested it, we were going.

The Big A is "Aqueduct", a race track in Ozone Park, Queens. It's where the thoroughbreds race in New York when they are not at Belmont or Saratoga. A workingman's racetrack.

We never parked in the parking lot, always in the street about a mile away. "Why should we pay to park?", my Dad said. So we walked through Ozone Park, past little houses and Italian grocery stores. When we got inside, Dad bought a program and a Daily Racing Form. The program was small but impressive, it gave you the basic information about each race: the horse names and post positions, the trainers, the owners, the jockeys (including their weights and "colors"). Dad told me that when we picked a horse to bet on, to remember the jockeys colors, especially his cap, so we could see him in the backstretch. There were 9 races a day, with about 24 minutes between races. We used that time to "study our selections". The program was just for looking, while the Daily Racing Form was for studying. It had tons more info than the program, including the charts of each horses prior races. I learned how to read it pretty well. You had to look at the distances, times, surfaces, class, weights, jockey changes, trainer changes, and many other factors. Both the program and the racing form had a little "map" showing you where the starting and finish line were for the particular distance. I always liked a 7 furlong race at Aqueduct, because the horses started "in the chute", and the chart showed that.

We always went and looked at the horses and jockeys in the walking ring, before they went on the track. There was a ritual to this. The horses would be walked around, while the jockeys would stand talking to the trainers. The jockeys would wear different colors for each race, with different colors for different parts of their attire, the program would tell you...."red cap, yellow sleeves, red sashes, polka dot hoops". I would always check that they had it right. Dad told me about some of the jockeys. Our favorite was Braulio Baeza. He was from Panama, and although I did not know it then, he was one of the greatest jockeys of all time. I only knew what Dad told me, "Look at Braulio Baeza, he sits on a horse straight and tall and proud. No other jockey sits like him." It was true.

I always looked at Braulio Baeza first, to make sure he was sitting straight and tall. The other jockey I liked was Manuel Ycaza. There were three reasons I liked him. People called him "Manny", his last name started with a "Y", and he rode aggressively. Several times I read in the racing form that he was suspended for "rough riding". I always hoped to see a race where he did that. According to my Dad, some jockeys were "good on the turf", some were better with sprinters than closers, and some jockeys rode well for certain trainers. Who knew if any of this were true? Who cared? When the horses were ready to go on the track, the jockeys would walk over to their horses, and a booming voice would call out "Put your riders up, please." At that moment all the trainers would give their jockeys "a leg up" and hoist them up on the horse. Then they would walk once around the walking ring and head to the the sound of the bugle.

We would follow, Dad would "make his wager", and then we would watch the race from our special vantage point. We had a stairway bannister leading to the upper grandstand. It was right on the finish line, and we would stand on the bannister and look over with a perfect view. I stood near the top, with Dad to my left, a little further down the bannister. We would wait for the magical voice of the track announcer, Fred Caposella, to say "It is now post time". And then we would watch the race and hopefully root our horse in.

In horse racing, you can't win every time. In fact, it's difficult if not impossible to win in the long run. We took our defeats in stride, and felt pride in our winners.

The experiences of going to Aqueduct with Dad have stayed with me....... Whenever I visited Dad in Florida, we always went to the track....there's a shocker. When I pick horses now, I focus on the jockeys, though I have never liked any as much as I liked Braulio Baeza and Manny Ycaza.When I take Rebecca to Met games, we park on the street in Corona, and walk a mile to the stadium, past little houses and bodegas. I'm not paying $18 to park, and for some strange reason, this feels like the right thing to do.

When it's the first Saturday in May, I watch the Kentucky Derby. And I always will…..and root my horses in with Dad.




nylaw2law said...

Howie -

Dear Howie -

Thank you so much for contacting me. You have the right guy. A few years ago Dad told me he was called "Goody" but I don't think he told me why.
He had fond memories of growing up in the Bronx and playing ball. He told my brother and I about it often. When we were kids and played ball ourselves he was a very popular coach....all the kids loved playing for him.

Please contact me directly by email at

Best regards,

Barry Seidel