Whenever I met someone throughout Maine, New Hampshire, and either end of Massachusetts, I’d have to tell Mac. Besides inheriting his passion for story telling to anyone who’d stand still long enough to listen, I believed nothing ever really happened until it got reported back to Mac. And each and every time I did so, he’d puff out his chest like a partridge ready to drum and ask: “Did you tell ’em who you are?”
“Yes,” I’d say in all honesty. “I told ’em who I was.”
I wasn’t Joy McGranahan like it said on my birth records. I wasn’t Mrs. Thomas Clough, even after I took vows, signed a marriage certificate, and had that stamped on my first credit card back when Sears thought women couldn’t be held responsible for their purchases until they had a husband. Even later, when I became full-fledged Joy Clough—writer, mother, successful business proprietor, and wife to a Science Teacher of the Year—that still wasn’t who I was.
“Hi, I’m Joy, Mac’s daughter.” That’s how I came to introduce myself. It paved my way, opened doors, and usually sparked instantaneous recognition. On the rare occasion I’d run across someone who couldn’t readily remember hearing or seeing Mac, I’d have to coax out a recollection. “You know, ‘Mac’ McGranahan? Writes the outdoor column for the paper? Talks about fishing on the local cable channel? Talks about pretty much anything anywhere, but fishing stories and Maine jokes are his claim to fame. Red and black flannel shirt, suspenders…?”
“Oh, yeah, I know Mac!” most folks eventually responded. “He’s your Dad?” They’d shake my hand, assessing the mild-mannered woman who seemed to be holding her own in the shadow of such a character, retell their favorite outdoors with Mac story, and wish us all the best.
There was a time, of course, when I was just Joy, or Joy Joy as he called me when we were being silly, which was most of the time. Back before I called him by his nickname, before I ventured into society on my own, he was just Daddy. I had no relativity, no separation, no real knowledge of my own identity, and no words to label the love and security I saw in the faces of my father and mother as they reached down to hold me, lift me up. For the longest time I figured everybody’s daddy smelled faintly of boat exhaust, took their families to big lakes in Maine named after moose, and played practical jokes on raccoons. I had no clue that some moms weren’t OK having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Tang for supper so they could stay on the water till dark, or that, when company came over, some cared if their hamburgers weren’t made out of cow meat.
“Daddy, do you think God is up there?” I asked as we trolled around Moosehead Lake at dusk. Mac looked up with me at the last rays of sun turning the clouds cotton candy pink and, for the first time I can remember, could not pretend to be sure of an answer. “If He is, what do you suppose He looks like?” he asked back. From where I sat watching him steer the boat, silhouetted by lake and sky, I imagined an older, white-bearded guy kind of like him. Able to move mountains when he had to, and stop you in your tracks with his big, booming voice.
“Hey Joy Joy, come see how strong your Daddy is,” Mac would holler. Holding one arm at a right angle, he’d thrust his fist up in the air and I’d grip onto his bicep for all I was worth until he’d flex a grapefruit-sized ball of muscle, heaving my hands out of its way. Then he’d hoist me to the ceiling on one hand, bragging I was lighter than the boat anchor he had to horse back into the boat all the time, and spin me around the room till we were both giggling.
As I grew, so too did my perspective, slowly expanding my universe out and around the man at its center. Who I was evolved from Daddy’s littlest fishing buddy, to his Twist and Shout dance partner, to the young writer whose first stories he published on the Xerox machine in his office and hand-delivered to captive readers. When I graduated from “the little blonde girl who asks too many questions” to scoring my first newspaper byline, he proclaimed: “My daughter can do anything she puts her mind to.” I grew to believe it, too, especially if Mac gave me a big shove in the right direction.
Born near Boston on “the real” Memorial Day in 1928, the son of a tug boat captain and a Scottish immigrant, my Dad’s given name was Warren. But no one ever called him that except his parents and sister who, by nature and necessity, were quiet, temperate people. “I never figured out how he got the way he is,” my Nana, his mother, would tell me. “Up until the time he was three, I could just sit him out in the yard in an old tire inner tube and he’d stay put for hours, afraid to crawl out of it, not a peep out of him. How’d he grow up to think the sun has to rise and set over him? Maybe I should’ve let him have his own room instead of making him sleep on the divan all those years.”
No matter what spawned it, Mac had an ego the size of the biggest bull moose in the herd. Like the huge ol’ christer you see standing in the road and pray he goes around your car and not charging into it. He was always right. Period. And if you tried to sway him toward your way of thinking, he’d wear you down till you’d not only see his point of view, but tell him you were wrong not believing him in the first place. We usually didn’t mind, though, because he’d make everything into a joke, getting us to laugh, at ourselves, at him and the wonder of his all-knowingness. “Good thing I moved us back up here from Massachusetts when I did,” he said. “How else would you have met your future husband, gotten a job, bought a house, had kids? And good thing I keep such a nice boat down on Great Bay. Gave Tom all the more incentive to marry you and take you off my hands!” Yup, Mac, I’d say to myself, becoming your fishing pal was the trump card, way more alluring than my looks or personality! I’m sure what Tom really wanted, God help him, was to be able to tell people he was Mac’s son-in-law.
Technically, of course, he was right. Mac was half the reason I was born in the first place, the perfect complement to my mother, who knew when to stand her ground and when to bend, who matched him joke for joke and, sometimes, fish for fish. If not for his paternal influence, I might never have visited places like Rangeley, never have grown up dreaming of a guy who wanted to live with me in a cabin on a lake, never had Mr. Right waiting for me by the altar while Mac gave me his blessing.
“Smile at everyone as you pass by,” he said, waiting to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. “You’re beautiful, and every single one of these people is here just for you.” Well, probably some of them are here to see Tom, too, I remember thinking. But I didn’t want to argue, so I rested my hand on Mac’s arm, feeling his bicep tighten under his tux, and went side-by-side with him toward my future.
“Wow, I’m pretty lucky to have a daughter with a place in Rangeley who thinks enough of her father to surprise him with a cake,” Mac told me years later after one of his New England Outdoor Writers’ annual dinners was hosted here. “Everybody realized it was my birthday and they all sang to me!”
“Yup, I told ’em who I was at the Rangeley Inn and they baked it up special,” I said. “And I’m pretty sure they had a Memorial Day parade for you in town, too.” It was the best Mac celebration ever, perfect indeed. He got to eat cake, preside over his fellow writers, and brag about how his daughter “put her mind to it” and got herself a cabin right down the lake from where he’d caught the best brookies.
“How am I ever going to top that one?” I wondered. “I really helped him toot his horn big time.” Good thing, too. A year later, Mac died in the L.L. Bean wing at Maine Medical, just after I turned 40, and mere days after he’d thrown his canoe on top of his Jeep for the last time. When he retired early ten years before, we teased him that he’d fish himself to death. He made a valiant effort but, truth was, he wasn’t a force of nature. Heart disease, his preference for Snickers and Hostess snacks and, I believe, his unyielding approach to life, caught up with him.
Mac’s a lot quieter now, and a much better listener. But I still hear him right around sunset out on the dock talking back to the loons. Once in a great while, when I get to introduce myself the way he taught me, I can almost see him grin and puff out his chest. But best of all, over the years I’ve come to know that the distinction he craved, the recognition of me being Mac’s daughter, was his honor as much as mine. Who I am, who I’ve become as an older woman, is a calmer, gentler, female version of my father with the same warped sense of humor, same need to talk a blue streak, same determination for living life to the fullest where I can see God in the open sky. “My daughter’s just like her Old Man,” he’d brag at social gatherings. And, although I couldn’t agree at the time, didn’t see it till much later, I now accept the claim as mostly true. Minus the red and black flannel shirt with Snickers in every pocket and, most days, drowning out the loon calls, Mac was right.
Happy Father’s Day!