My Boxes … Like Father … Like Son


As a young woman, the age of 20, I had a long list of boxes to check off for guys that I would date. So, I spent a lot of time alone.

I won’t bore you with the impossible list of boxes.

I met Doug on the platform of the Barrington Train Station on October 15th of 1980 and after a few rides seated next to each other on the 7:11 AM train I suspected that I could check off a lot of those boxes … if I looked at them with him in mind.

One box that was extremely important to me was the “will he be a good father?” box. By the kindness and understanding that he showed to me, after I had just moved to sophisticated Barrington from rural Upstate New York, I could tell that he had the “good fathering” gene. He listened and learned about me, intently. He patiently taught me how to go through a turnstyle, you know, the wicked fast ones that only Chicago has. He coaxed me back to college and helped me study. I wondered what his own father would be like.

And then I met him. Dave McConnell. It’s a good rule of thumb that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And, as I can tell you 30 years later, it hadn’t. Dr. McConnell, who at first intimidated me and made me feel at home at the same time, was worldly yet normal, strong yet gentle. I was able to sit at a big window at his animal hospital and watch him perform surgery and talk to all of the people in the room at the same time. You could tell they loved him. I was able to sit at his dinner table and watch him treat everyone as if his home were theirs.

Doug would be a good father. Because he had one of those. My boxes were completely checked.

When our first child was born, I almost didn’t make it. Doug was stronger than I ever dreamed. He was alone and he made decisions for me for which I am thankful. I was not available for a long time and when I finally came to the quiet, little party he had named our first son David Alexander McConnell II, after his father. I was touched and honored and couldn’t think of a better ending. The next day his father came into my room and held my head in his hands and kissed my forehead. His eyes had tears in them.

Doug and I went on to adopt three more children, all with amazing stories. Their grandfather, Dave, was a wonderful role model to them, just as he had been for his own son. He and Doug’s Mother, Bonnie, lived one town away from us and we all spent a lot of time together. Birthdays, holidays, and special projects … I saw the effects that the boxes on my check list had on my new family every day.

Dave announced to us in 1994 that he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease.) His eyes got those tears again and he put his then failing arms around Bonnie and told us not to worry, it wasn’t heriditary. We had just brought Gordy, our third child, home from Iowa. We thought we were on top of the world. We were all about to be tested beyond our wildest dreams.

Flash forward, and by the time Dave McConnell died our oldest son, David, whom we call Mack, was 20. Our son Bill was 15, Gordy, the one from Iowa, was 13 and Ashley was 10. Dave lived 13 years with ALS, well beyond the time he was given. His doctors at Northwestern are to thank for that.

Dave lives on every day in Doug, in so many more ways than being an amazing father. And that’s why Doug has dedicated swimming the English Channel to his father on behalf of The ALS Foundation, hence the title A Long Swim. His dad would be so proud.

His dad never knew about my boxes. He never knew that he was one of them.

The picture above is of Douglas working with our son, Bill, as he built a mahogany kayak from scratch the summer of 2010. They worked in our garage for many, many hours. I wish I would have counted them. They laughed and talked and solved the world’s problems. They solved their own problems. It was great therapy for both of them. Bill is one of Doug’s guides on his open water swims and the kayak was built for that purpose. There is a link to all of the photographs cronicled from building the kayak above under “the bestest blogs.”

I’ve never been disappointed in the boxes that I put on my list to check.

And I bet you money that, one day, one of our children will name their sons Douglas.

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