My Dad was kind, humble and patient. There are probably a hundred other adjectives that I could come up with to describe him – but I think these are most important. This is the 24th Father’s Day since we lost him. His death was sudden and unexpected, I was 18, a Freshman in college. He had a heart attack on a Friday and waited to all of us to get there and died peacefully surrounded by his wife and children on a windy, raw Sunday morning in March. For many years I avoided Father’s Day, it made me too sad. 15 yrs ago when our first son was born I began to enjoy the day again as I watched my sweet husband being a Dad.
James Norman McGee (Jim) was born to J Norman and Madeline McVay McGee on April 3, 1930 in Warsaw, NY. He was their only surviving child. He was the only grandchild on his mom’s side and only 1 of 2 on his dad’s side. Growing up, both of his grandmother’s lived with him. I think it is safe to say that he was doted on! The family moved to nearby Batavia, NY where my grandfather worked and that is where my Dad grew up. He graduated from Batavia High School in 1947 and went to Geneseo Teachers College to study Library Sciences. He left Geneseo and joined the Air Force and was sent to Chanute AFB in Illinois. He was Honorably discharged in 1949/50.
In 1950 my Dad was in a serious car accident in Hornell, NY. He was a passenger in a car that collided head on with another. In total 7 people were injured, he was one of the more seriously injured with several broken bones. He came back to Batavia for a long recovery. It sound like he did some soul searching after that and explored several different avenues. There are several letters from his father to various colleges asking about requirements and advice The most surprising to me was that he was looking into to going to college in Chicago to become a Chiropractor. I had never heard that. Eventually he settled on Alfred College which was only a couple of hours from home and he studied photography. He moved to Kentucky and worked as a studio photographer. He didn’t stay in Kentucky for very long, his father died very suddenly in March of 1952 and he came back to Batavia to care for his mother.
He met my Mom Kathleen Marshall (Kay) and after a few months of dating they were married on September 11, 1954. They moved into an apartment down the street from my mom’s parents. They quickly became parents (about nine months after they were married). My oldest brother John, was born in June of 1955, Mike followed shortly after in 1956, and my sister Eileen in 1959. My Dad worked at Varden Studios in Buffalo as a photographer. They bought a house right across the street from their apartment and fixed it up. It became our family home for the next several decades. It was a great neighborhood – in a time when the kids were sent out the door in the morning and didn’t come back until dinner time. My siblings have some wild stories about happened in between breakfast and dinnertime! My father was built to be a Dad. I came to them later in life, they were in their 40’s and my oldest brother was in college. When he wasn’t working he was involved with his church and community. He once ran for city council, he didn’t win and probably never thought he would. My siblings have always said that he did it just to show them what the process was all about. My brother’s were both stand out athletes and he took great pride in supporting them in football, baseball, basketball, and track. The McGee girls however did not inherit the athletic gene!
Growing up I knew my family dynamic was different from the other kids I went to school with. I missed my first week of Kindergarten to be the flower girl in my brother’s wedding, and I was an Aunt at 7. One of my brother’s and I have never even lived in the same town. The great part of growing up that way is that my parent’s had more time and money to spend with me, they also had a deeper appreciation of how fast kids grow up. We took a lot of trips, out to dinner and went to plays, they took me everywhere they went. When I was young we used to camp a lot. I remember staying in my bunk in the mornings just listening to my parents talk to each other over their morning coffee. It never mattered what they were saying, I just remember that feeling of all being right with the world. My dad was a very quiet disciplinarian. My best friend and I got caught skipping church in high school once. We came home and he was waiting for us, he gave us just enough rope to hang ourselves with and then he very calmly told us how disappointed he was in us. To this day we still talk about what an impact that had on us. We felt lower than low, it was worse that any yelling he could have done.
Two of my dad’s favorite things to talk about were politics and sports. Sunday’s in our house were strictly for football. My dad would sit in front of the tv and yell at it all afternoon – that is the only time he ever raised his voice. He and I shared a love of hockey and we went to many games and watched many, many more on tv. He was a staunch Democrat and I’m sure thought himself a failure as a parent in raising 3 Republicans and an Independent!! Every evening we would watch the evening news together and talk about world events. He was always so patient and took the time to explain them. He would tell me what he thought but always present the other side. I didn’t realize it at the time but he was teaching me to see both sides and make my own decisions.
My Dad raised me to learn to know and respect people based on who they were, not based on color, religion, or political affiliations. He was compassionate and always open to new people and ideas. There were only a couple of traits that he absolutely didn’t like, he did not like if a person couldn’t show humility or be humble and he did not like excuses of any kind. That drove me crazy as a teen but now is one of my biggest pet peeves as an adult.
My dad was pretty forward thinking and he was a sucker for gadgets! We had one of the first computers in the neighborhood. It was a Commodore 64 and was cumbersome to use, he loved that thing and would talk about how someday people would use computers for everything. He built us a black and white darkroom in our basement. He taught me how to develop film and make prints. We spent a lot of time doing that together. I still remember him telling that someday we wouldn’t use film for photography. I thought he was nuts!
For a long time I was focused on all the things we missed out on with each other, but eventually I made the decision to be grateful for the 18 beautiful years we did have together. He was my most influential teacher and I am an infinitely better human for having him in my life.
When I was in High School he gave me newspaper clipping of the following poem. I still keep a copy and try to live it.
by Robert J. Hastings
Unfortunately, once we get it, then it disappears. The station somehow hides itself at the end of an endless track.