Today would have been my stepfather Jack's 83rd birthday. He died in 1997 of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy or PSP. This is a disease that affects 1 in 100,000 people over the age of 60. It is characterized by loss of balance, changes in mood, inability to control eye movements, depression and a host of other bad things. My mother and he divorced in 1985, so I didn't see him much after that.
Though he was far from perfect, he was the only dad I ever knew. He liked his drink and it was the cause of both of his failed marriages. The outcome of his marriage to Mom was that we inherited a great step-family that we still see and love. We actually lived on the same street as his first wife, Portland Avenue. More ironic is the fact that her name was Mary, as was my mom. At one point there were two Mary McKasy's on Portland Avenue, as if the post office didn't have enough trouble getting things right.
While Jack had his faults he gave me many things in this life.
He gave me the love of professional football. He got me interested in the Vikings and, subsequently, in playing the game myself in middle school and high school. We used to bet on what the record would be on the season. Then, during the games he'd always bet me nickel and dime bets for scores and first downs. Many of them were never paid, but it was fun betting anyway.
While they didn't make it to many of my games in middle school, I remember he and my mom came to the City Championship and the Twin City Championship games when my team got there. Bear in mind that I didn't do much in either game except play on the kickoff team. The fact that he and mom came though, meant the world to me. It showed me he cared.
He gave me the love of camping and the outdoors. We took family camping or cabin vacations every year as a family, thanks to him and mom. He loved to sit by the fire and listen to WAYL AM radio (The beautiful Whale) or some other jazzy, elevator-ish station. He loved swimming and once tried valiantly, but unsuccessfully to teach me how.
He lived in the moment, and much of that rubbed off on me. One of his favorite quips was "Not to worry." Another was "Piece of cake." Those two statements were how he went through life. Carefree and lackadaisical. (With touches of irresponsibility thrown in for good measure.)
He taught me the healing power of laughter. I remember driving to the University with him one morning in his 1960-something Mercedes Benz that he had inherited from his father. It was a cold winter morning and he opened his window to clear the side view mirror. He noticed a plastic piece flapping in the wind, so he grabbed it and pulled it off. It turned out to be the seal that held the mirror to the car, and the whole piece of glass fell to the ground and crashed. He said, "Well, that takes care of that fogged up mirror, I guess." We looked at each other and we both cracked up. It was a moment I'll never forget.
I realize it's never easy to be a step-parent. You're coming into a situation that demands you be a parent, yet you're a bit of a stranger too. I don't know if Jack ever successfully crossed that bridge with much of my family, though, as I said, he was tough to love at times.
I credit him with helping me to be a better father to my own kids. I'm trying to take his good qualities and leave his bad. If we're not all trying to do that based on our experience with our parents, then we're doing it wrong.
Happy Birthday Jack!