My Father’s Gifts

by Doug Magill

You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love.  You have to deserve your father’s.  Robert Frost

It is Easter, and it is also the 100th anniversary of my Father’s birth.  The juxtaposition of the two is a solemn reminder of what I owe to those that I call Father: God for the birth and death of his Son, and to Dad, for all that he has given me.

It is hard to imagine Dad as 100, both because it is not the memory I have of him, nor the image.  As I grow older, the image seems to loom larger.  My own mortality seems to be growing larger behind me, and I have deeper thoughts these days about what I have been given, and what I have in turn bequeathed to those who follow me.

My oldest son and his wife are recent parents.  It is an amazing thing to become a grandfather, and its place among the hallowed moments of life is a blessing, and a clarion call to look at what has been provided and shared.

My father wasn’t big on gifts, though he did surprise me upon occasion with something special, and thoughtful.  As I write this there is a cabinet in my office he unexpectedly gave me to house the radio and music equipment I was either building or repairing in my nerd days when I was young.  He loved that I could do things with electronics that he couldn’t fathom,.  It reminds me of him every day.

Yet, the most important gifts are those that have no place, but yet an enormous presence in our lives.

Dad grew up poor, in the outlands of Indiana.  One of those places the sneering classes along our coasts fly over regularly without a thought of who those sturdy, hard-working and essential people are.  His parents went broke in the Great Depression and he had to live with relatives.  An embarrassment that stung him till his last days.  If one could guess where his drive, ambition to succeed and pragmatism came from it is that place and that searing shame.

He worked his way through college and then law school.  It is astonishing to think that he believed that a poor man’s son from Indiana could go to, and thrive at Harvard Law School.  Yet, he believed, and though he had to borrow money to make it work he graduated with honors and a belief that he could make a difference.  In those days there were not a lot of young men from Indiana at such places.

My father found employment at a bank and felt that would provide him a secure future. World War II intervened, and he felt the call of duty to his country.  He knew so little about the Navy, having never been in anything larger than a rowboat,  that he went to a recruiter hoping to be a petty officer.  The recruiter was astonished and convinced him that with a law degree the Navy could use him as an officer.  So, without training and little more than the Bluejacket’s Manual he was sent to Hawaii to serve in Naval Intelligence.

He later served in combat as Director of Fighter Operations aboard an aircraft carrier, learning to become Officer of the Deck during sea operations.  Something that amused him greatly given his lack of any previous maritime experience.

His career took him to a bank, then the Treasury department and eventually to General Motors.  He was a liberal then, I suppose, as he wasn’t sure he wanted to work for a corporation and be told what kind of car to drive.  As he rose in the hierarchy of GM he learned about politics and government, and became more conservative as he was exposed to the often corrupt connections between unions, government and the hypocrisy of politicians who espoused sympathy and altruism while mainly benefiting themselves.

Somewhere early in his life  he learned to be objective and steely-eyed about people, and developed an ability to work with those around him, no matter who they might be.  He never made racial jokes and believed, as perhaps only a failed farmer’s son could, that most people wanted to work and thrive, and the rest didn’t matter much.

He was tasked with forming the first organization in any major corporation focused on dealing with the ever -increasing power and regulation of government.  He called it Industry-Government Relations and it is common today, though many companies now follow practices he first established.

As his responsibilities grew, so did his department.  He hired a young executive to manage urban affairs – the relationship between GM and city and local governments. This young man also happened to be black and was one of the first minority executives in the auto industry.

In those days the GM building was across the street from the Fisher Building, and through an underground tunnel most GM execs would walk to lunch at an exclusive club in that building.  They would also hold events there and used it for special meetings.

Unfortunately that club didn’t allow minority members.  My father was astonished, annoyed and then angry.  He went – without authorization – to the board of the club and demanded that they admit his young executive or he would withdraw all GM business from the club.  GM was the majority of its customers, and they knew that they would be out of business if they didn’t have GM members.  They relented, and my father’s protege became the first minority member of that club, and indeed of just about any club in Detroit in those days.

Dad didn’t often talk about his role in things, or why this moment was so important.  He believed with every fiber of his being that a black man trying to make his way in business deserved the same consideration as any other young man.

Attitude and actions, he would tell me, are what really defines you as a man, and as a leader.  He didn’t preach about equality, or about minorities or about any career issues related to race or any of the other identity-politics buzzwords popular today.  His view was simple and direct: if you wanted to work hard, learn and grow, you deserved an opportunity.

My family grew up with that.  It was so much more effective than preaching and histrionics and fake anger that my siblings and I inculcated it without thinking or worrying about it.

That gift of seeing people as they are, without labels and adjectives and the panoply of mystic prisms that we are being told these days to evaluate people by is a gift.  A priceless one, and the source of great pride and honor among friends.

It has always been with me – this ability to see people for who they are.  I learned it well. There are many examples, but I recall one young manager who worked for me being dumbfounded that, after working for me for years, I didn’t realize he was Jewish.

More recently, I was blessed to be on a radio show with several friends: two gifted young men and a young woman.  I was the DOWG – the Designated Old White Guy – who didn’t know much about current musical trends and taste.  My proclamations, questions and confusion made for much hilarity among my partners on air, yet it made for good radio.

I am especially proud that we would occasionally get calls from middle-aged black people talking about that “cool white dude” and how he was the only non-racist Republican they knew.

There are many things that I know and respect about Darvio, one of my on-air partners. He is big, impressive, hard-working, smart, knowledgeable, loyal, bombastic, thoughtful……there are more.  Oh yeah, he’s black.

Andre is charismatic, creative, clever, funny, deep and eloquent – despite the Dali-esque things he does on top of his head with his hair.  Yep, he’s black too.

Friends don’t have labels.  And that is the most important part.

When I think of these two incredible young men I think of them as friends.  Not as black friends.  I suspect they think of me without adjectives too, though they might attach some other interesting labels to me at times.

But I know this – if I needed their help or for them to have my back they would be there instantly, without question, and with the immediate loyalty of long-time friends.  That’s who they are, and it matters a lot more than an adjective that has little meaning other than an indication of appearance.  Not who they are.

We don’t often deserve the gifts that we receive.  Certainly the gift that Christ gave us with his death is beyond comprehension, and we are all humbled by the majesty of that sacrifice.

The gifts that my father gave me are humbling as well.  I am better for them, and I hope that some day, some way, that my children will be blessed by them as well.

Today I honor my father for who he was, and what he has left me.  When I think of my children and their children, I pray that what they feel they have received from me is equally important.  And, what I will be remembered for.

 

Doug Magill is a City Councilman for Solon, Ohio, a voice-over talent, freelance writer, a former IT executive and consultant on organizational change and communications.  You can reach him at doug@magillmedia.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happiness with Long Brown Ears

Happiness gets so tangled in life’s blind alleys and grand abstractions that you miss the long brown ears. With The Duchess, though, the long brown ears were the first thing you noticed.

“What a pretty dog!” declared Carol as soon as she laid eyes on the Beagle who would change our lives. “I could swear she just smiled at me. Isn’t she a dear? That brown coat is so soft. And look at those ears!”

“Soft for good reason, too,” said Jerry, Carol’s son. “Ambray and I bathed her more than once after we lured her out of the woods. We figured someone had let her escape a kill-shelter; but when she made it to the woods nearby, she quickly found herself very cold and very hungry. She was on her own—lost, scared, and searching for something to eat. Getting dirty in the woods just happened.”

“What are you calling her?” asked Carol, who lays claim to the most-tender heart this side of Heaven.

“She likes the name Holly, it seems,” said Ambray, Jerry’s wife. “She almost seems to smile when she hears the name, almost as if that were her given name from the start.”

“This pup,” I said, “looks almost regal—those long brown ears and those bright brown eyes. She could be the candidate for any magazine cover—Here Comes The Duchess of Hollingsworth!” At that moment, Holly looked at me and seemed to smile, a long grin carefully shaped as an upside-down triangle, with her eager tongue creating a sort of bright pink exclamation point.

The stately title of Hollingsworth was a given; that’s Carol’s maiden name.
“She likes you, Joe,” Ambray said. “I don’t see her go to many men since we found her. But she definitely likes you!”

To confirm Ambray’s comment, the little Beagle rubbed herself affectionately against my pants. “Hello, little Holly,” I said, even as I reached down to pat her head and touch her ears, which were as soft as a woman’s fanciest purse. Holly responded by nuzzling into my pant leg all the more affectionately.

“I think you’ve got a friend for life,” said Jerry, who was ready to fire-up the barbeque grill for dinner. Carol and Ambray agreed.

“She’s probably expecting something better than hamburger,” I said. “I told you she had all the marks of a duchess.”

“An always-hungry duchess, to be sure!” Jerry said.

As our dinner of hamburger and salad commenced, little Holly sat next to me, right below the table. In no time she was giving me a playful nudge, a reminder that she was my new friend and that she liked hamburger as much as any two-legged creature. Every time I looked at her, Holly would smile that triangle smile and flash that empty tongue. Before long, pieces of my hamburger were finding their way under the table.

The humans ate and talked and laughed; once in a while, Holly would remind me that she was still under the table and still hungry. Since Carol and I were weekend guests, the four of us at the table were in no hurry to let the day end.
As it turned out, neither was The Duchess.

After dinner we cleaned up the dishes and then Carol and I started to all get ready for bed. Jerry and Ambray had the guest room ready for us. That’s when the surprise of the evening occurred. As soon as I hopped on the bed, a brown streak moved across the room and jumped up next to me.

“Well, Holly,” said Carol, laughing, “I don’t think there’s any more hamburger.”
“That’s right, my girl,” I said to Holly.

All of a sudden Jerry and Ambray popped their head into the bedroom. In unison our hosts proclaimed: “She wants a lot more than a hamburger.”

As Carol and I found out when The Duchess added a touch of royalty to the evening by sleeping between—yet very close to—Carol and me the rest of the night. And that’s where she stayed the rest of her life.

The Duchess of Hollingsworth died November 10, 2015, having enjoyed many hamburgers lovingly prepared by Carol. CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. McKenna and his wife now live in neighboring Steeler Country with their remaining dog, Lord Max. whose pointed ears are greatly loved as well. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .

Last Competition

by Doug Magill

Edisto Beach lies south of Charleston, and has a reputation for being undeveloped and out-of-the-way.  The locals call the pace there, Edis-slow.  It was a perfect place for my two brothers, my sister and I to gather in late September to connect, spend time together and celebrate our now aging family.

Late in our week together my older brother Bob and I played golf on the Tom Jackson-designed Plantation Course on the island, and my younger brother Tom joined us – though he couldn’t play.  It was especially poignant, as Tom has been an avid – some might say obsessive – golfer since childhood.  He carried a 6 handicap for a while, and had a smooth and powerful swing.  He and I would compete intensely against each other every fall when we got together, just because we were brothers.

The Plantation Course is a lush and winding delight, with water hazards – it seemed – on every hole.  The Par 3 3rd is a gently sloping 142-yard hole, with traps guarding the approach.  Tom asked if he could play this one hole with us, borrowing my rental clubs.  I outdrove him with a nice, arcing 8-iron that happily found the trap in front of the green.  Tom’s swing was awkward, creaky and bouncy, but his ball made it out about 120 yards.

Tom was thin, pale, and had an old man’s gait, due to the rod in his leg from the cancer that had caused part of his femur to be taken.  His hip hurt, he had trouble breathing due to the cancer in his chest and he had scars from chest surgery.  He also recently had surgery on his jaw due to calcification from the radiation treatments for his neck cancer.  His swing was a shadow of what it once was, but he was still in the fairway.

My second shot didn’t clear the trap, and Tom’s looked like one of his normal chip shots onto the green.  His short game was always better than mine, as he had learned long ago that chipping and putting saved his game –  and he worked at it.  When we competed I usually won, as I found that negotiating strokes beat technical skill any day, and Tom would be overconfident and lose angrily.  There’s nothing else like competition between brothers.  But, in the last few years that changed, as he learned to negotiate to how I played and began winning more often.

Three years prior Tom was diagnosed simultaneously with neck and kidney cancer.  His kidney was removed immediately, and he began radiation and chemotherapy for his neck cancer.  It was horrific, and left him weakened, scarred, and without taste or salivary glands.  He endured, with grace and humility.  And, he never complained, or felt sorry for himself.  He later developed jaw problems that required multiple surgeries which left him unable to open his mouth very well.

I finally found the green and two-putted.  My little brother had two putts as well.  His grin was pure Tom, and for that moment there was joy, and we were brothers just playing golf.  And as he laughed he said, “You know, Doug, if this thing gets me you’ll be the youngest, but I’ll always be the favorite.”  And so it is.

Tom died a week later due to complications from the kidney cancer that had invaded his lungs.  Now, the final scorecard reads, Tom 4, Doug 5, in our last competition.  So, for the rest of my life there will be no rematch, but every game of golf I will play from now on I will see Tom’s grin at besting me once more.  Wherever he plays now, may his swing be supple and true, the fairways long, the rough high, the sand fine and the greens fast.  Requiescat in Pace, Tommy.

Tom- Edisto

Tom Magill left a wife and three children and joyful memories. Doug Magill is a communications consultant, writer, and voice-over talent.  He can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net

A Gold Star Family

Rachel Mullen shares a moving story of what it means to be a Gold Star Family:

 

Memorial Day Sacrifices

 

 

 

We Were Boys

Mike-Hawaii copy

(Carl Wilson’s son with Mike)

by Doug Magill

His name was Frank Langstrom III, but to me he was always, and will forever be Mike.  We became friends when we were both five, after my family moved from Bethesda, Maryland to Birmingham, Michigan.  He and I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone was safe, all the adults were our parents, and every house was a home.

We were boys, so we liked to make lots of noise, blow things up, shoot things in random directions, build stuff, explore, get dirty, and play.    It is amazing that we survived with all of our limbs and digits, because we liked to play with fireworks that were real explosives, and tried to make them even more powerful.  There were a number of mailboxes and trash cans in our neighborhood that ended up being unsuitable for their original purposes.

Later we took wood and pipes and made homemade cannons that were surprisingly accurate.  Many plastic models were constructed with built-in explosives so we could film them exploding.  From match heads and ballpoint pen rockets to some relatively large and powerful missiles we graduated to some pretty amazing vehicles.  More than a few small creatures had the rides of their short and unconventional lives due to our work.  And, there were a few automobiles that had unexplained dents in them from minor guidance inaccuracies.

We made model trains, small-engine aircraft, and built and listened to ham radios.  We constructed a sound-powered telephone system between our houses.  We learned to shoot BB guns to pellet rifles to guns.  More than once Mike’s father angrily complained about some projectile whizzing by him or his house.  We built the infamous Goodbye-Grackle machine that was a marvel of ad-hoc engineering and complex ostentatiousness.

As we got older we got telescopes to explore the heavens and cameras to film our lives.  We bought motorcycles together and expanded our travels.  But we also loved being home, playing bridge or poker or other games.  He loved to be vague about the rules until he won, or sometimes just cheated.  With a grin.

He and I shared so many interests, but we were different in so many ways, as well.  Mike liked to talk me into doing something while he would hang back, and laughing as I – usually – got into trouble.  I would scheme and he would build; I would talk and he would think; I would lead and he would watch.  I never met a smarter person, or a quicker wit.  His sense of humor never quit, and he could use the saltiest of language but never leave you feeling insulted.  Every time I think of something quirky I see his little smirk, and smile.

But, underneath his dark humor and clever asides, he cared and supported and helped – but never in any way that drew attention to himself.  When I broke my jaw he kept an eye on me at school so I wouldn’t get injured further.  When I broke my leg he was the one that carried my books, got his father to drive me to school, and kept me company wherever I went so I wouldn’t break my other leg.  As our careers took us further apart he was the most supportive when I had to deal with adversity.  And, at unexpected times he would send me or email me something that would make me laugh, and look at life differently.

He got involved with the charities of the Wilson brothers (of Beach Boys fame) and donated significant time and money working judiciously in the background.  Upon hearing of his passing the Carl Wilson Foundation honored him.

And, he made it part of his life to help his family far beyond what could be expected.  Even though sudden cancer claimed him, his final battle was valiant, and he never will finish that article on why kamikaze pilots bothered to wear helmets.

In all, in so many ways he was the best a friend could be.  And through it all, from childhood to the end, we were boys.   Requiescat in Pace, Mike

Doug Magill is a consultant, freelance writer and voice-over talent who can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net

Last Competition

by Doug Magill

Edisto Beach lies south of Charleston, and has a reputation for being undeveloped and out-of-the-way.  The locals call the pace there, Edis-slow.  It was a perfect place for my two brothers, my sister and I to gather in late September to connect, spend time together and celebrate our now aging family.

Late in our week together my older brother Bob and I played golf on the Tom Jackson-designed Plantation Course on the island, and my younger brother Tom joined us – though he couldn’t play.  It was especially poignant, as Tom has been an avid – some might say obsessive – golfer since childhood.  He carried a 6 handicap for a while, and had a smooth and powerful swing.  He and I would compete intensely against each other every fall when we got together, just because we were brothers.

The Plantation Course is a lush and winding delight, with water hazards – it seemed – on every hole.  The Par 3 3rd at is a gently sloping 142-yard hole, with traps guarding the approach.  Tom asked if he could play this one hole with us, borrowing my rental clubs.  I outdrove him with a nice, arcing 8-iron that happily found the trap in front of the green.  Tom’s swing was awkward, creaky and bouncy, but his ball made it out about 120 yards.

Tom was thin, pale, and had an old man’s gait, due to the rod in his leg from the cancer that had caused part of his femur to be taken.  His hip hurt, he had trouble breathing due to the cancer in his chest and he had scars from chest surgery.  He also recently had surgery on his jaw due to calcification from the radiation treatments for his neck cancer.  His swing was a shadow of what it once was, but he was still in the fairway.

My second shot didn’t clear the trap, and Tom’s looked like one of his normal chip shots onto the green.  His short game was always better than mine, as he had learned long ago that chipping and putting saved his game –  and he worked at it.  When we competed I usually won, as I found that negotiating strokes beat technical skill any day, and Tom would be overconfident and lose angrily.  There’s nothing else like competition between brothers.  But, in the last few years that changed, as he learned to negotiate to how I played and began winning more often.

Three years ago Tom was diagnosed simultaneously with neck and kidney cancer.  His kidney was removed immediately, and he began radiation and chemotherapy for his neck cancer.  It was horrific, and left him weakened, scarred, and without taste or salivary glands.  He endured, with grace and humility.  And, he never complained, or felt sorry for himself.  He later developed jaw problems that required multiple surgeries which left him unable to open his mouth very well.

I finally found the green and two-putted.  My little brother had two putts as well.  His grin was pure Tom, and for that moment there was joy, and we were brothers just playing golf.  And as he laughed he said, “You know, Doug, if this thing gets me you’ll be the youngest, but I’ll always be the favorite.”  And so it is.

Tom died a week later due to complications from the kidney cancer that had invaded his lungs.  Now, the final scorecard reads, Tom 4, Doug 5, in our last competition.  So, for the rest of my life there will be no rematch, but every game of golf I will play from now on I will see Tom’s grin at besting me once more.  Wherever he plays now, may his swing be supple and true, the fairways long, the rough high, the sand fine and the greens fast.  Requiescat in Pace, Tommy.

Tom- Edisto

Tom Magill left a wife and three children and joyful memories. Doug Magill is a consultant, writer, and voice-over talent.  He can be reached at doug@magillmedia.net