Browsing Tag: cjm


    Dublin, Driving, Hawaii and … Dread?

    January 26, 2016
    The sunset, as we saw it after driving up Haleakala Mountain in Maui.
    The sunset, as we saw it after driving up Haleakala Mountain in Maui.

    I flew to Dublin back in November for U2 concerts and had a great time. But in the days leading up to the trip, I began to dread the thought of flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Weird, because I’ve flown to Ireland a couple times in the past and flown to Hawaii a handful of times just in the past five years … and never did I worry or think about any dangers/risks of flying over the ocean.

    In December, while making plans for a trip to Hawaii, I decided not join my wife and four friends on a snorkeling trip that involved riding out on the ocean on a sailing canoe. On the surface, I made the decision because it was way too expensive. But I later figured out there was a subconscious decision that was really guiding my decision — I was afraid to get on the little sailing canoe and head out into the Pacific.

    When we made the trip earlier this month to Hawaii, the same fear of transoceanic flight hit me.

    And then, when we were in Hawaii, everyone drove up to the top of Haleakala Mountain for a combo sunset viewing/astronomy tour. It was wonderful, but I hated the drive. The road was thin and dangerous with what seemed like a couple dozen switchbacks. There were cows grazing along the side of the road and sometimes standing in the middle of it — dangerous to any vehicle coming around a blind turn. I vowed afterward to never drive up Haleakala again.

    A year ago, or five years ago, I would’ve never been afraid of the drive up the mountain. I would’ve never been afraid of getting on the sailing canoe. I’ve never been afraid to fly over the ocean.

    What’s going on??

    While the rest of the group was out on the sailing canoe, I had about three hours alone and time to think about that question. The answer I came up with is that it’s because my dad died last year and I’ve been subconsciously fearing and/or avoiding risky things that could involve death. Now that I’m without my dad, I don’t want to die and leave my son without his dad.

    Sure, walking outside or just getting the car and driving to the store could involve death, but those are common things that I do regularly. The stuff above isn’t.

    It was something of a relief to have come up with a reason for my sudden fear of certain activities. But now I’m asking myself new questions: What else will I suddenly dread or try to avoid? Is this a temporary thing that I’ll get over someday? If so … when?


    Let It Go

    July 3, 2015

    At the few shows on U2’s current tour where they’ve played “Bad” — a song in which “let it go” is one of the key lines and ideas — Bono tells the audience something along the lines of, “This is a song about surrender. Whatever you’re holding onto, whatever you need to let go of — let it go. Let it go.”

    The song is accompanied by very minimal, but I believe very intentional, lighting. For most of the song, the room is black and blue, mimicking the “blue and black” referenced in the song’s lyrics. But as the song climaxes, with Bono’s urgent sing-scream of “I’m wide awake! I’m wide awake!,” every light in the house is turned on. The arena turns all white; the darkness is gone, the black and blue is gone, and it’s replaced by what my friend Tim Neufeld described as “an explosion of pure white light, bathing the audience in something akin to a spiritual blessing.”

    It’s a beautiful, emotional moment in the shows that I’ve enjoyed passively, because I’ve not felt I had anything that I needed to let go.

    Silly me.

    I was at U2’s fifth (and final) concert in Chicago on Thursday night. It was a show that I had no plans to attend until about a week earlier, when I found great airfare and Ticketmaster released a set of great floor tickets. It was a very spur-of-the-moment thing. Looking back now, it’s clear I was supposed to be there.

    After shooting photos and videos for @U2 for the first half of the show, I felt compelled to put my camera away for good and let the band’s performance wash over me.

    When “Bad” started, my friend Scott motioned to me to join him in moving up closer to the stage. For some reason, I declined. I felt like I needed to experience this alone.

    As the song began, Bono started on his “let it go/surrender” talk. I’ve heard it before, but this time I was transported back to the summer of 1989, when I was home from college and spent an afternoon watching Rattle And Hum with my parents. I guided them through the movie, explaining what the songs meant, making sure they heard the lyrics correctly. During “Bad,” we paused and I explained that the song was written for a friend of Bono’s that nearly died of a heroin overdose, and how the song’s lyrics were about that “isolation, desolation” and also served as a call to “let it go” (it = the addiction) and “not fade away.” In the movie, the band — Bono, in particular — delivers an incredibly riveting, emotional performance of the song. I looked at my dad that afternoon, and he was wiping a tear from his eye. It was the first time I was able to share my love for U2 with my dad, and it was everything to me.

    All of that came flooding back to me on Thursday night as the band played “Bad.” I saw my dad sitting in his chair in front of the TV, watching “Bad” with me. A flood of tears began to fall. My head was down. My eyes were closed. The band was playing and I took that moment to do something I wasn’t able to do before he died in February: say goodbye.

    I suppose I’d been fighting this since then. But now the song and its message was hitting me hard. I was an active participant this time. I had to surrender. I had to let him go.

    My head was still down and my eyes closed, and I think I felt a hand patting me gently on the shoulder. I opened my eyes for a moment and saw Scott’s feet. He was now standing right in front of me, in between me and everyone else. I don’t know if he did that intentionally, but it felt like he was there to protect me, to be a shield of some sort while I wrestled with this moment.

    I kept my head down and closed my eyes again and let the tears flow as the song continued. I talked to my dad some more.

    Near the end of the song, I stopped wrestling. I finally lifted my head and opened my eyes.

    And it was at that exact moment that the arena turned from black and blue to pure white.


    Charles J. McGee, 1930-2015

    February 27, 2015

    My dad holding my son in 1998. One of my favorite pictures ever.
    My dad holding my son in 1998. One of my favorite pictures ever.

    (My dad died on February 5, 2015. I’ve been afraid to write this, but I need to.)

    Dear dad,

    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:

    "1971 Ninety-Eight" by Ksderby - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
    1971 Ninety-Eight” by KsderbyOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

    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.

    Your son,