You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. James 2:24
This eulogy was written and given by my brother, Michael Green, Jr at my dad’s funeral.
Michael Kevin Green
(September 7, 1938 – July 16, 2021)
“Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome to the Lion’s Den.” If you were around DCs Archbishop Carroll High School in the 70s and 80s, you would be familiar with that iconic opening line at the school’s football games. Being the football P.A. announcer was one of many roles my father served in during his 33 years at the school, which has the Lion as its mascot.
Now, I won’t pretend that there is anything too profound in a comment from a high school sporting event, but I think it is useful to parse that sentence a bit. It includes a friendly salutation – “Good afternoon,” and a greeting which respects the dignity of the audience members – “ladies and gentlemen.” The latter part, however, with references to the Lion’s Den and the Fighting Lions, hints toward the competition that was about to ensue – this was, after all, a football game, which features the battle of wills and the defending of boundaries.
In a way, that combination frames a challenge that every man seeking virtue must confront. How do I strike the right balance between being kind, respectful, and thoughtful of others, with the need for fortitude and a willingness to fight, when necessary, to defend boundaries, especially ones that protect what is true, good and beautiful?
In facing this challenge, my father had a certain indescribable strength – a particular combination of backbone, moral fiber, intensity, and conviction. For the remainder of my remarks today, and for lack of a better term, I will simply refer to this attribute as “The Greener Muscle.”
In its overdeveloped strength, the Greener Muscle, when deployed in the context of daily family life, could sometimes bring humorous results. In one frequently told family story from the early days of my parent’s marriage, dad was able to fix a leak in a pipe under the kitchen sink. With problem solved, he proudly showed my mother his handiwork…before then deciding the pipe required just one more turn of the wrench… to make sure it was fully fixed. With that extra turn, Dad stripped the pipe, sending an explosion of water all over the kitchen, and necessitating a call to the plumber.
On another occasion, when I was 15, I requested dad’s assistance just prior to my first varsity football game. The team tradition was for all players to wear black cleats in games. Originally unaware of this, I had purchased white cleats, but was instructed by our coach to make sure they were black by the time of the first game. As a procrastinating teenager, I waited until the day before the game to alert my dad to this problem. Not to worry, as the next day, my cleats were blacker and shinier than those of any player on the field…so much so that I noticed some of the black coloring rubbing off on the uniforms of other players as we unpiled after a tackle. It seems that Dad had painted the shoes, not with black shoe polish, but with Deluxe Black Tree Wound Sealer and Grafting Compound.
The Greener Muscle could also reveal a sort of manly force of will that breaks down complexity and replaces it with simplicity. This could sometimes be awe inspiring for young men being coached or mentored. Here, I’ll repeat a story told at my Father’s retirement party by one of his former baseball players. It seems the team had been struggling with its hitting and, at batting practice one day, many of the players were speculating about the type of bat it would be best to use…a lighter bat? a heavier bat? a thick handle or thin handle?…At that point, Coach Green called for the end of such discussion, grabbed the nearest bat, stepped up to the plate himself and motioned for the pitcher to throw…and sent a whistling line drive up the middle…he then grabbed a different bat and delivered another scorching line drive on the next pitch…this sequence continued on through 7 or 8 different bats, with the same result each time. He concluded this demonstration with the comment “Gentlemen, it’s not the bat that matters, it’s the man holding it.” The team’s batting struggles ended immediately.
Sports stories such as these are great conversation pieces, but it is important to note that the Greener Muscle did extend far beyond sports to more important matters, such as chivalry and moral boundaries. In my life, I’ve never had to spend even ten seconds worrying about my father’s loyalty and fidelity to my mother. As an illustration, there was an occasion when my parents, having secured a babysitter for us children, attended a party in our neighborhood. Well, it was the 70s, and at the party, a proposal was made to play a particular game. Without going into detail, let’s just say that the game was risqué and inappropriate for married couples. Upon learning of what had been proposed, my father immediately called across the room to my mother “We’re not playing that game, Bunk!,” and the two of them soon departed. I was not there, but I am sure you could have heard a pin drop in the room. My dad did not give a hoot about being popular or whether anyone was comfortable or not. There was a moral boundary that wasn’t going to be crossed on his watch, even if he was the only person in the room who was going to take that stand. The authentic masculinity displayed here has always stuck with me.
Happily, the knowledge that marriage and family were always going to come first with our dad gave the rest of the family a strong sense of security, and a platform for the joy of family life. It was in this context that the Greener Muscle could be tender, playful, and loving. For Dad, celebrating, even after a big sports victory, did not mean hitting the bars with the boys. It meant rounding up the family and heading to Ledo’s Pizza…it meant picnics and boat trips in Annapolis after he had umpired a Navy baseball game…it meant a week at the beach in June, when school had just let out, when rates were a little cheaper, and when water temperatures provided for, as he liked to say, a “cooling dip”…it meant anniversary trips to Williamsburg, site of their honeymoon in 1962, with my mom…it meant Thanksgiving dinners with the Carr family…it meant family reunions at the Cammack Farm…it meant gracious and joyful get togethers with the O’Donoghues, Ferrises, Skinners, and Blums on the occasions of our weddings…as the years went on, it meant trips to Notre Dame, Wrigley Field, and Fenway Park…and family happy hours at Bethany Beach, often joined by the Ferrises…throughout all of these happy memories, it was always a sign of my dad’s love and affection if he had a nickname for you…there would be way too many to mention here, so I’ll just stick with the ones in the immediate household…Bunkie, Tea, Jen Bird, Sus, and Frot…
Ultimately, the Greener Muscle, which by its nature was never going to come up short, attained the highest form of charity…that of sacrificial love. Catholic school tuition was paid, even while was providing for a family of six in affluent Montgomery County, MD on a very modest teacher’s salary. To press the point further, I’ll ask you to indulge me in one more sports reference. My father coached the Carroll baseball team to the Catholic League Title in 1973. He was 35 years old – still a very young man. He could have continued coaching at that level for another two decades or more. If he had, there may have been more league championships, and possibly additional notoriety for my father as “local legend” of sorts in the coaching ranks. But, he didn’t go that route. Instead, he stepped down from the Varsity high school level. The reason? To be more available for his children. His coaching acumen was instead used to train and guide Elizabeth in track and cross country, to coach Jenny, and later Susan, in basketball, and me in CYO Baseball. We had a father who was very present and engaged in our lives, playing a critical role in our formation. So, while he did not get his name in the local sports pages as often as he could have, his choices brought abundant blessings:
4 children in faithful Catholic marriages, 13 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren (with another on the way!)
I will pause here and acknowledge that my father was human, and was not perfect. He could be stubborn, at times anxious and pessimistic, and, well, hard on liberals…As Catholics, we are not supposed to presume salvation or immediately canonize the deceased, so I will ask everyone here to continue praying for the repose of my father’s soul.
With that said, I’ll just offer my own limited, temporal perspective. It’s been said that the surest way to get yourself to heaven is to take some else by the hand and lead them there. In his life, this is what my father did for my mother, my sisters and I, and likely for countless other extended family members, friends, colleagues, and students. He has indeed struck a wonderful balance between kindness and courage. He has shown us the love of God the Father. It turns out that, amidst the all the strength and force of will, the underlying foundation of the Greener Muscle was a simple goodness, borne from solid formation in the Catholic faith.
So, with a fond farewell, and on behalf of everyone here, I’ll say Thank You Dad for everything. We love you, and will only hope that our Greener Muscles can be half as strong as yours.