Happy Birthday, Champ

I used to race sailboats.

I learned to sail at Camp Edwards (yet another of those life-changing experiences you learn at Camp) and loved it from the first.  In addition to sailing every boat I could, I crewed for a friend of my folks, Dr. Carl Kester, during high school.  Dr. Kester had a hot sloop that was moored at Belmont Harbor in Chicago, so our time together on Lake Michigan was an irreplaceable blast.  Despite the age difference, we became very close friends, too.

After college, I moved to Chicago and ran into an old teammate, George Congreve, who had really plunged into sailing.  Better still, George had a small boat (for which he needed a buyer) and a large boat (for which he needed crew) – I jumped at both.  I spent my weekday evenings sailing my Merit 25, and my weekends getting pretty competitive as a foredeck man on George’sC&C 41.  I was on George’s Chicago to Mackinac Island race crew for two years.  I was having the time of my life.

Susan and I dated for a really long time.  We met in 1980 and were married in June 1986.  Through careful planning, she announced that she was pregnant almost immediately after we were married.  Her due date was July 19, 1987, which was the weekend of the Mac Race for that year.  Prudently, I told my new (and now pregnant) bride that I withdrew from the race crew, though you would be surprised how many people questioned my judgment.  We were preparing for a new baby.

Because of the timing, we referred to Susan’s growing bump as “Baby Mackinac” all during her pregnancy.  I thought we had agreed not to learn the sex of the baby, though I found out later that Susan had been enlightened without telling me – and she was emphatically told that we were having a girl.  We talked about names without much of a controversy or a conclusion; I had told her that I wanted to name a boy after my father, but since she was confident that it was a girl, we spent most of our time deciding what her name was going to be.  She had a glorious pregnancy, and I understood what adjectives like “glowing” really meant.  Her due date was soon upon us.

At the traditional time, we went to the hospital.  The contractions were getting pretty severe, but the baby wasn’t advancing.  Having spent years assisting my father deliver puppies, it was clear to me that we had a “big dog little dog” problem and that Susan’s thin frame was not going to pass a baby that size.  We headed to a caesarian delivery, which promptly produced a 10-pound baby boy.  I was clueless about the boy/girl misinformation, so didn’t really understand the laughing and teasing about the fact that the doctor’s forecast of gender had been so wrong.

The caesarian was when the wheels fell off.  Susan started bleeding in a terrifying and unstoppable way and, despite the heroic efforts of a number of doctors in the room, I authorized an emergency hysterectomy as a way to save her life.  I hoped that I could make her understand.

We had a pretty scary night, but the good news was that at some point Susan was going to be OK and we were going to be able to bring home a healthy – and enormous – baby boy.  I remember calling my folks to tell them the news about both Susan’s surgery and the new baby.  They were both on the phone, and I told them the name: “David Alexander McConnell II.”   There was a really long silence, which my father broke when he said, “Well, why the hell did you do that?”  I knew he was almost as pleased to be thought of as I was to be able to honor him, and we never talked about my judgment again.

So, despite this fancy formal name, Baby Mackinac has never shaken the nickname “Mack; like the truck.”  Yesterday, Mack turned 24.  He is all grown up, sailing downwind on his own power, and living, working and playing in San Francisco, and is characteristically sucking the experience dry.

He is like my father in so many ways; his energy, his childlike curiosity, his honesty, and his sense of humor and playfulness.  He, too, loves to travel, meet new people and try new foods.   He is a leader, he is sensitive and he is a great big brother.  Oh, and he is a terrific swimmer.   I simply couldn’t be more proud.

Happy birthday, Champ.

Pop.