June 20, 2005

McNeil pens Father's Day tribute

I sincerely apologize for not getting this posted on Father's Day. I was busy doing my own Father's Day thing, and it exhausted me so badly that I was out of commission for the rest of the day. But Porter McNeil's tribute to his Dad and all Dad's is worth keeping in mind no matter the day, so I reprint it here.

From the June 19th edition of The Daily Dispatch/Argus

Good dads leave a legacy in each family's heart. My dad, with his big and generous heart, left a huge legacy in ours.

This is not a unique story for Father’s Day weekend. Like so many of you who are in my shoes, I will have a tough day on this Father's Day. This is the first Father's Day without my father, who passed away from heart failure 11 months ago. I will go to the river, where he first learned to fish and sail and where, as a teenager, he met my mom. I will see his handsome smile, hear his hearty laugh, feel his strength and become inspired again by the life he led.

Dr. Don McNeil, United Township High School Class of 1947, practiced dentistry on 41st Street in Moline for 49 years. In high school, he was called a "Hilltop Heavyweight" because of his strength as a tackle on the football field and as a track star (shot put and discus). He was always going, on the "high side of type A," as he said once, and living the life of a "super action figure" in the words of his nephew, Tom Bracke. Never one to sit on the sidelines, he tried unsuccessfully to save the lives of drowning fishermen in frigid April Mississippi River waters. Then he saved a family friend who was moments from drowning in Lake Michigan, and the summer after he tried again to save a young man from drowning during a wild storm in Lake Michigan. He was a man of action and heart.

What a role model he was. Growing up on 16th Avenue near downtown East Moline, my dad developed a love for the water and the values of family and hard work that defined his 75 years. As a teenager, he always had a job but had time for sailing and bought his first boat -- a $4 rowboat -- and then went onto to help found the Moline Sailing Club on the riverfront.

His father, James, was a laborer and small cafe owner in the old Eagles Building downtown East Moline. His mom, Elsie, stayed home to take care of my dad and his sister, the late Janet (McNeil) Bracke. My dad was the first member of his family to graduate from college and, then, from dental school at the University of Illinois. With the help of my mom, who dropped out of the U of I to work to help my dad through college and dental school, my dad graduated and became a captain in the U.S. Air Force out east. And throughout his life, he never strayed from the values of a common man, always ready to accept creative payment plans for those least able to afford dental care in this community.

He taught us much. He taught us about loving food, about how to devour five ears of sweet corn in about two minutes. He taught us about supporting lost causes -- he was a Cubs fan. He taught us about work -- from cleaning fish as a teenager to practicing dentistry nearly 50 years. He taught us about loyalty -- he was in our corner as our strongest advocate. He taught us about education -- he put all five of us through college and graduate school.

He taught us about love and commitment -- he never gave up on my mom (who has Alzheimers) and took care of her until he was hospitalized last May. My dad taught us about service -- the 500 people who showed up at his visitation spoke about his compassionate service to their families. And he taught us that one man, or woman, can make a difference. Raised in humble beginnings, he traveled far in life.

Last spring, when he came out of the hospital, he moved in with us for five weeks before heading to Michigan for Father's Day. After grilling out each night, dad settled in his basement suite to watch "Lord of the Rings" or "Jaws" with my kids. He watched them play soccer and baseball in our back yard and at Riverside Park. He ate his beloved Rice Krispies with fresh strawberries and sugar on top with my kids in the morning. He received hugs and kisses and "I love yous" from my kids as he got under the covers in his bed at night. My sons, James and Jack, cheered him as he walked back and forth in the basement trying to regain strength in his legs.

The love and support he gave us throughout our lives was returned during his final weeks, as family surrounded him at my brother's cottage on Lake Michigan. He passed away on a quiet Monday afternoon, facing the sun and the lake as his grandchildren splashed in Lake Michigan. My 4-year old daughter Ellie now looks up at the moon and says, "Don, I love you." And she asks me why God can't send her grandfather back to see her for just a couple minutes.

And in the end, he is with us today. He is with us when the wind blows across the Mississippi River that nurtured his love of water as a small boy. He is with us when any of his children or 14 grandchildren accomplish something special in their lives. He is with us when my kids compete in the kind of swimming meets that dominated our own childhood in the Quad-Cities. He is with us on those quiet warm spring days when he loved to sit outside to absorb the sunshine, listening to a baseball game on his radio (usually the Cubs).

Good dads are like that. They stay with you, they stay in your heart.

So on this Father's Day, I send out an enormous "thank you" to my dad. He gave us unconditional love and support, and we give it back to him today.

Happy Father's Day.


At 6/20/2005 9:09 AM, Blogger diehard said...

Its always good to hear a story about a decent father and Don McNeil was certainley that . But a health care proffesional that got into it to help people and did'nt forget where he came from.
You dont hear much about people like that anymore!


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