Good dads stay in your heart.
On Father’s Day, like I have before, I will go to the water where he first learned to sail. I will see his handsome smile, hear his hearty laugh, feel his strength and become inspired again by the life he led.
Don McNeil, United Township High School Class of 1947, practiced dentistry on 41st Street in Moline for close to 50 years. In high school, the local newspaper called him a “Hilltop Heavyweight” when he advanced to the high school track meet in the discus and shot put. The high school football player, who liked to be in motion, once labelled himself as on the “high side of type A.”
We grew up watching him in action. We saw him, with the help of my older brother, rescue a family friend who was moments from drowning in wavy Lake Michigan, while onlookers watched the dramatic water rescue from the shoreline.
The summer after that rescue, a sailboat capsized in a sudden storm on Lake Michigan. My dad took me along on a small sailboat to try to find the man lost out in the water. Through the blinding rain, we sailed a long time as he yelled out into the water.
When we sailed back to shore, we were greeted by a hysterical young woman who realized that her husband had drowned. At 9 years old, I learned how fast a life can be lost in Lake Michigan that acts like a fresh-water ocean on stormy days.
Another time, in April 1966, he and my older brother tried unsuccessfully to save the lives of two drowning fisherman who had fallen out of their fishing boat in the cold waters of the Mississippi River. There are still TV clips of the local TV reporter interviewing my dad on that tragic day in Moline.
Like so many good dads out there, my dad taught us much during his 75 years. He taught us about loving food and how to devour a dozen ears of sweet corn in a few minutes. He taught us about loyalty -- he was the strongest advocate in our corner. He taught us about education -- he made sure his five children made it through college and encouraged his patients to do the same.
He taught us about laughter -- more than a few told me the Quad-Cities had just lost a lot of laughs when he passed away.
He taught us about service to others and treated the CEO and the janitor with the same level of respect. He showed us that one man, or woman, can make a difference. Raised in humble beginnings, he traveled far in life.
He taught us about love and commitment -- he never gave up on my mom whose final years were affected by Alzheimer’s. Like so many caregivers, my dad’s ship went down as he was trying to take care of my mom.
The unyielding love and support he gave us throughout our lives was returned to him during his final weeks, as family and friends surrounded him at my brother’s cottage on Lake Michigan. He passed away on a quiet Monday afternoon in July, facing the sun and the lake as his grandchildren splashed in the water.
And in the end, he’s with us. He’s with us when the wind blows across Lake Michigan that was his happiest spot in summer. He’s with us when any of his 14 grandchildren achieve a new milestone -- graduation, weddings, jobs -- in life.
In his last days, he told his kids, “Full sails ahead … take care of your families, take care of your kids.” Good dads, and moms, are like that. They stay with you; they stay in your heart.