When I first got to Red Bank Catholic High School, I’d hear some manner of the following all the time:
“Your dad is the best”
“Your dad is so scary”
“Your dad is the MAN”
I’d nod along, because often these comments were from some of the more notorious characters at school. But eventually, I cracked:
“Yeah, he is! But wait til you meet him. Because Mr. Harrington isn't my dad - he's my UNCLE!”
Yes, I will finally admit here that Uncle Dennis gave me a bit of a head start at RBC. But only by throwing me alongside the summer detention kids as part of the St. James / RBC Maintenance Crew in the summers before freshman, sophomore, and junior years.
To this day, it was the best job I’ve ever had. We smashed walls with a sledgehammer, we scraped gum off carpets with Gum-Freez (and sprayed each other in the arms with it, too), we changed the codes on every single locker. And we got a paycheck for it! One day we were told that there were 3 pigeons on the 4th floor. That was our mission. Good luck!
I learned a lot about my uncle from his other charges in summer detention. Even though this man was their ostensible gate-keeper, they respected and adored him. When I told them that my internment was voluntary, they nodded. They understood.
In my dad’s side of the family, the men are commanding, stubborn, strong, and loyal. (No offense, mom’s side). Grandpa Corn, his brothers Willie, Mike, and Dan, my dad.
Uncle Dennis, Mr. Harrington, is no exception. He breaks the mold.
Perhaps this comes from growing up in 1950s and 60s Keansburg - a place that is in my mind a combination of THE WONDER YEARS, A CHRISTMAS STORY, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, and, of course, DENNIS THE MENACE.
Getting a HARRINGTON in your morning homeroom wasn’t a curse - it was a blessing. You were invited into that inner sanctum of the cafeteria, that little pod with him and Mr. Mont, and you had your chance to make your stuttering case for the uniform violation or whatnot. But what it really was was a chance to get advice from the paragon of what Red Bank Catholic represents: learning, forgiveness, respect for others, self-dignity, community.
Ask just about any RBC student and they’ll agree.
For the last sixteen years, I’ve received countless out-of-the-blue messages from fellow students about Uncle Dennis.
This is what they say:
“Your uncle is the best.”
“Your uncle saved my life”
“Your uncle is the MAN.”