(My dad died on February 5, 2015. I’ve been afraid to write this, but I need to.)
I miss you. God, do I miss you.
You were a super-sized presence in my life and it’s the strangest thing to realize that you’re not there anymore. I was thinking about something a couple nights ago — don’t even remember now what it was — and came up with a question that I couldn’t answer. I thought to myself, “Dad will know. I’ll ask him next time we talk.” And then it hit me: No. I won’t. No more questions. No more answers.
I thought I was ready for this, but I wasn’t. Even after 17 years of preparing, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
When you had that massive stroke 17 years ago, that’s when it first hit me that you’d die someday. I flew across the country and walked into that hospital room and never saw you look so weak, so small. You tried to smile at me, but the left side of your body wasn’t cooperating. You could hardly talk. You could hardly move. You always seemed unbreakable up until that moment. You got stronger over the years (thank God), but every time I saw you I knew it could be the last time.
I started writing your eulogy in my head on the flight home from that trip. And I’ve been writing it ever since, imagining the things I’d want to tell a church full of your old friends and neighbors and peers in Bristol … what it was like to be Charlie McGee’s son. I even imagined doing that at St. Mark’s church, which is where we just had your funeral last week. But damned if you didn’t ask your neighbor Jane to do the eulogy, not me. A tiny part of me was a bit angry about that, but let’s face it: I could barely stand up during the mass and would’ve never gotten through a speech without throwing up or passing out. Or both. And besides, Jane’s eulogy for you was marvelous so I give you credit: You made the right call. (By the way, I just sent Jane and Mary Ann a letter of thanks for all they’ve done for you and mom over the years — handwritten, of course, because that’s how you would’ve done it.)
Since I didn’t speak at the funeral, here are a few things that I’ll always remember about you.
I was about four or five years old, and it was a warm, sunny day. It was the first day, at least the first stored in my memory, that you drove me into Bristol, your old hometown. I remember sitting in the back of your Oldsmobile 98, an absolute boat of a car, the kind of car that gangsters and pimps — and my dad, the coolest cat around — would drive. It looked like this:
I remember you had your window down and we were driving slowly. As we got into the downtown area, people started shouting at us from the sidewalks. “Charlie!!!!” “Mr. McGee!!! How are you???” You shouted back and waved and I was just amazed how everyone knew you. You were already as cool as a dad could be, but this took it to another level. My dad was a rock star.
Speaking of rock stars, one of my favorite days as your son was in the summer of 1989, or maybe 1990, when I was home from Pepperdine and somehow managed to convince you and mom to watch U2’s movie, Rattle And Hum. On this one Saturday, we spent a good two hours watching it together. I loved the chance to share with you something that was so important to me. I loved how you and mom would ask me to pause the VHS tape and explain what Bono was singing about or what someone said. My favorite moment was when, about an hour into the movie, you started crying as Bono gave his passionate “F**k the revolution!” speech in the middle of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” That scene makes me cry, too.
You worked a lot, but you were always good about supporting me and joining me in the things I was interested in. You weren’t much of a sports fan, but when the Phillies, Eagles and 76ers had their great runs in the late 70s and early 80s, you were always willing to watch the games on TV with me. And in 1980, you somehow managed to score tickets for 2-3 76ers playoff games so that I could go. We were at The Spectrum together the night that Dr. J made that amazing, high-flying, behind-the-backboard reverse layup around Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — one of the greatest plays in NBA history, and I saw it in person thanks to you.
I loved our trip to Malibu together in March 1986, when we flew on People Express airlines (remember them??) and stayed in a dumpy little hotel/motel right on Pacific Coast Highway, then spent a couple days visiting the Pepperdine campus and convincing the financial aid department to award me lots of money. Pepperdine was going to be a personal and financial challenge for you and mom, but you supported my decision to go there anyway, and spent a lot of your money to help me pay for it, too. I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that — Pepperdine is where I met the love of my life, and I wouldn’t be half the man I am today if I’d gone somewhere else.
Speaking of being a man, in the end, I hope that’s where your legacy lives on. You taught me so, so much — mostly by example. You worked hard so that we could live a comfortable life — both at your job and at home. You did a lot of the cooking. You did the dishes. I do those same things, too, thanks to you. You made me start cutting lawns at age 12 so that I could help pay for the private prep school I wanted to attend. I made Sean start cutting lawns at age 12, too. You managed the family finances and taught me how to write checks, pay bills and balance the checkbook. I manage the family finances now, too. You used to save important articles and essays and poems for me, and you had me put them in a folder for safe keeping. I still have them, and I’m doing the same thing with Sean. (That family name poem? It’s his now.) And do you remember the time hot dogs were on sale for only 44 cents a package, and you drove me to the grocery store so we could load up a cart with 40 packages (not a typo) of hot dogs? Well, about a year ago, hot dogs were on sale for $1 a package. I ended up buying about 20 packages. Your influence on me is unmistakeable.
My favorite thing about you, dad, was your relationship with mom. Holy s**t, you guys would’ve celebrated your 62nd anniversary later this year. 62 YEARS. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? No one stays married 62 years anymore, but you guys did. Cari and I were in a marriage class not long ago (don’t worry, things are great) and one of the discussion questions asked us to name another couple whose marriage we admired. You and mom came to mind immediately, for both of us. I told the group how the parenting experts always say that kids need to know and see how much their dad loves their mom, and how every morning the last thing you did before you left for work was give mom a kiss on the lips and say, “I love you.” And how that was the first thing you did as soon as you walked in the door at the end of the workday. The house could’ve been falling down around us, and that still wouldn’t have stopped you from kissing mom and telling her that you loved her. It was a beautiful example of love and manhood, and I can’t thank you enough for showing us how strong your marriage was every day.
As you know, Cari lost her dad several years ago, and she’s been a rock for me lately. (The kids have been wonderful, too.) There’s another area where you influenced me, by the way: I found a wife that loves to read as much as mom, quotes great literature like mom, and who respects me like mom always respected you. As you got to know Cari over the years, I was so happy to see that you approved of my choice to marry her, that you loved her and loved having her in our family.
Dad, the first couple weeks after you died were just … I don’t know. A blur, really. I was just numb all over. Still am to some degree. Focus and concentration haven’t been my strong suits lately, and my work ethic — normally at Charlie McGee levels — hasn’t been the same.
But this week has been a little better. I’m allowing myself to smile and laugh again, to enjoy life the way I usually do. I’m making plans to see U2 concerts later this year. I’m getting back in the work groove. Each day seems a little bit more normal. But deep inside, I know it’ll never be the same without you.
I promise you two things:
1.) Even as life slowly gets back to normal, I will never forget you and I will never stop missing you.
2.) I will visit you whenever I can, proud in the knowledge that my dad is remembered with other veterans at a national cemetery. You deserve nothing less.
I love you, dad. I hope the rest of my life honors you and serves as proof to everyone of the wonderful dad you were. I can’t wait to see you again.