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On Dads, and Vacations…

Jun 17

In Memories at 2:38pm

Heading west, New York to San Francisco today, back to work. The persistent, angry wasp of my Iphone at 4am assured me that my vacation was, indeed, over.

No complaints, though. Had a great break. Went to Hawaii, had time with Annie, swam in the Pacific, and stared into middle distance quite often. It was peaceful, and quite wonderful. It was the type of vacation….my dad never had.

We did things like drive from our home near Chicago to a place called Bliss Musky Lodge, in Wisconsin, and check into a cabin by a lake. It was one of those places a travel brochure would try to throw a gloss on by calling it “pleasantly rustic.” I recall it had indoor plumbing.

I was maybe three or four, in the embrace of the exuberance of youth, and its concomitant lack of caution. I was on the dock, calling to my mom, who was stridently urging me to be careful. This exchange was conducted while I was looking at her on the shore, walking backwards—off the dock.

I hit the water and began to drown. My beloved sisters, both older, charged down the dock to help. Kathy, who had longer arms, got to me first and in her desperation to save me, she pulled me up rapidly, and banged my head into the bottom of the dock and dropped me back in the water. Not her fault of course. She was just trying to help. Given my pain in the ass status of being a baby brother, I’m sincerely grateful to both of them that they didn’t just throw me an anchor and sing loudly to muffle my cries for help.

My long suffering dad had just settled into a lawn chair with the sports section, a beer and a cigarette, which meant he was ascending rapidly into his version of heaven, and most likely about to close his auditory portal to anything resembling the pitch of my mother’s voice, when the splashing and the shouting ensued.

He had been in the Navy, and was a good swimmer. His specialty was the breaststroke, which he called the “Hudson River Crawl.” He explained he and his mates used it when they would swim in the Hudson off the Manhattan docks. The sweeping motion of the stroke would push the garbage out of the way. He hit the water, fully clothed, and churned his way over to the dock like a motorboat, and hauled his son’s sorry ass out of the lake.

His clothes, hat and shoes hung on the drying line for the rest of the day, a sheepish reminder to me to look in the direction I was walking, especially around water.

We upgraded vacation-wise, over the years. Mom and dad were determined us kids would see the country, so our family mounted an all out assault on the American west. Dad built a box, painted blue, a 1950’s, thoroughly non-aerodynamic version of the present day Thule cargo carriers, and bolted it atop our Plymouth Belvedere, or Oldsmobile F-85 station wagon. We bought a couple tents, and headed for places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park.

Dad had only two weeks off, and year after year he spent them behind the wheel. He was an amazing, driving machine. My mother would make lettuce sandwiches, slathered in mayonnaise, on white bread, which would get soggy and delicious in the heat and humidity of the car. Dad would munch on these, smoke Camels, and just drive from campsite to campsite. I suspect he drove with such  purpose because there was a measure of peace there for him. There was no air conditioning in the car, and the roar of hot wind as we made our way through the roasting, endless fields of Kansas in August may have presented him with a white noise respite from, well, everything. That, and the promise of a six pack of Schaeffer beer, which would be the first thing opened at the campsite after the tents.

Rosemary and Kathy would be in the backseat, managing our dog’s drool, and I would sit in front next to mom, who used my left leg as a squeeze toy every time Dad would pass a truck at what she considered was an ill advised speed. Which was often. He never really listened to anyone, no matter how well meaning or shrill, when he was behind the wheel. He was the captain of that big boat of a car, and it was definitely talk to the hand time. Which of course made my mom even more bat shit crazy than she ordinarily was.

And then, uncomplainingly, he would go back to work. He would pick up his banged up briefcase, don his suit and a fedora, get on a train, and go back at it. (A hat was just part of the uniform. He felt it unprofessional to not wear one. During the summer, he would sport a straw boater for his commute.) His work animated his life, and gave him purpose. It also consumed him, at the same time it gave him a reason to live. Even in the days of his sickness, bald, his body riddled with various cancers and the almost equally vicious effects of the chemotherapy of that era, he got on a train. As he liked to say, he just wanted to “keep an oar in the water.”

He was a happy warrior of his day. He came out of the service, got a job and a family, and figured if he worked hard, everything else would get solved. I’m glad I have that old briefcase of his, hanging on my wall. It was part of his armor, a shield he wielded just as gallantly as the heroes of yore in the battles of legend.

The more the working world evolved, and grew steeped in paperwork and the complex pursuit of profits, the more it disappointed him. His advice to me was to “hang out your own shingle.”

I did that. Just like his briefcase, it’s pretty battered, but it’s still on the door. Thanks, dad.

More tk…



Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on June 17, 2014 at 4:01 pm


This explains a lot to me. My Dad, also a Navy Veteran, pipe smoker.

Two older sisters. Same here. Never get anything right in this world, blamed for every problem (even if the rare times you did not plan it out to be pinned on your sisters).

I was banned to the rear facing seat in the Plymouth or Dodge Station wagon so I could not bother my sisters, and hopefully the exhaust fumes kept me quiet. The vinyl seats held the heat in really well back then too! Roll down the back window part way to vent the car, you know.

Stayed in places where DeSotos went to die. I have even passed this down to my son who still claims we stayed in sheds in Maine once (I remind him there was a shower, a toilet and dial up wireless there, so get over it).

I could not stop laughing about the 60’s vacations. We seemed to share the same playbook.

My dad always wore hats. He had to test a car out first on whether his hat would fit in it. At a strapping 6 feet it was always a challenge. He also gave me similar advice about work. And we also, whether we like it or not, become more like our parents. Great post. Thanks for the memories.

Jonathan Thompson says:

on June 17, 2014 at 4:14 pm

What a wonderful story of your early years. It wasn’t soooo different for me in the UK. Mum was the big driver, Dad would often chill out in the back seat & I’d ride up front.
We’d be taken to many interesting, educational & historic places. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s that I learned the reason we almost always visited Caterbury Cathedral. Apparently the Black Prince, who’s buried there, is a relative of ours. Mum always liked to let us know the distant relatives who were of note & skip over those who were hung for treason :-)
I was the co-pilot for many hundreds of miles of driving. It’s no wonder I’ve spent over 20 years as a professional driver before deciding to leave it behind and go back to my photography.
The road and the moon continue to be my travelling companions.
Thanks for sharing your stories Joe.

Bill Laramie says:

on June 17, 2014 at 4:40 pm

The memories you have evoked from your article are timely (Father’s Day) and nostalgic of a simpler time in life. Thanks for a great read, as always.

Tom Bricker says:

on June 17, 2014 at 5:28 pm

We didn’t go on road trips too far from home as a kid because we didn’t have much money. After my parents divorced, my dad and stepmom made routine trips to see grandma and grandpa in Clearwater, Florida.

I’m looking forward to taking my son on road trips (when he’s older – he’s just shy of being two months old.) Last year, he tagged along in my wife’s belly as we took his great-grandfather to the World World II Memorial on the National Mall as well as visits to Mount Vernon and then on to Gettysburg. I drove most of the way getting turned around with the national monuments being closed due to the shutdown. Fortunately, the morning after Congress approved paying for the operation of government, my wife’s grandfather was the first World War II vet to visit the monument. He was estatic and felt like a star as numerous media outlets wanted to interview him.

Call Me Al says:

on June 17, 2014 at 5:28 pm

nice piece, joe.

you are a chip off the old block, i suspect. i mean, who flies over san francisco on their way back from hawaii, only to turn around again? me, i woulda jumped off that plane and had my crew fly out from ct. but then again, i’m not the crazed, talented, world traveling nonstop machine that you are. (who is? no one!)

i particularly LOVE the shot of you on the dock, what a gorgeous snapshot that is.

David Wilson says:

on June 17, 2014 at 6:15 pm

It is remarkable how similar and different our experiences were. No matter what our experiences were, we honor the memory of our fathers by doing the things we know they would expect from us. Not in becoming a professional driver, a photographer or a shoemaker but in working to be successful in our profession and taking care of those in our family.

Bob says:

on June 17, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Joe – this was more than a trip down memory lane. You described the summer experience of a generation of families who grew up in the 60s. Dad drove, we road and we have a box of snap shots to prove it. A life time of memories taken in two week bursts on Kodak film. Thanks, Bob

Jay Loden says:

on June 17, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Great read Joe, and a great tribute to your dad. From your description of him it’s pretty clear where you get some of your work ethic (and, I suspect, some of your humble willingness to teach and share with others). Happy belated Father’s Day to you!

Lyle says:

on June 17, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Joe, you are “Every man” to those of us of a certain age… as is your father. Family is forever, my friend…

Great piece …

Buz Bragdon says:

on June 17, 2014 at 9:05 pm

My folks had a 1965 Olds f85 and I later got my drivers license with that car. Your photos and story brought me right back to that idyllic time.

James Stephens says:

on June 17, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Good read of good memories!

Charlie B. says:

on June 17, 2014 at 11:39 pm

You nailed it! You described my Dad and my summers exactly (except my Dad didn’t smoke.). Growing up in the Midwest, the trips to the resort “up north”, followed by the big trips “out West” in the big Oldmobile pulling the pop-up camper. Great memories of,vreat,fathers. Nice post!

Doug from Dubai says:

on June 18, 2014 at 1:12 am


Great article. You uncorked a flood of memories. For me as a kid, it was packing up our Rambler station wagon every summer and leaving Pennsylvania for the camp grounds of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. While much has changed since being armed with only our simple Brownie camera, the importance of family remains the same. Thanks Joe

Luciana Porfirio says:

on June 18, 2014 at 1:58 am

I guess everyone, at some level, shares the emotions Joe described. Happy fathers day to all of you guys! A big huge and kiss to my papa, who also had a suitcase/shield that took to the office till the day he retired.

Snappycreation-wedding and portrait photography in Bristol says:

on June 18, 2014 at 4:32 am

It’s nice to come back in time and all that thanks to the photography…

Bharat Pania says:

on June 18, 2014 at 5:00 am

Nice tribute to you father. Happy father Day.

Bharat Pania says:

on June 18, 2014 at 5:17 am

Nice … Happy father day to you

Mark says:

on June 18, 2014 at 8:16 am

Wonderful story and photos, thanks for sharing.

Steven says:

on June 18, 2014 at 9:15 am

A very loving piece of your memory which I’m sure you shared with your daughters…

Mark says:

on June 18, 2014 at 9:50 am

Joe you’re an amazing writer (and photographer of course), please keep doing it! I too had a father who passed from cancer, but because he was an the ex-Marines he would never go camping. He claimed he did 2 strait years of camping in the South Pacific and that he had had enough. Thanks to my wife who camped as a kid our kids and myself got the opportunity to experience that time honored tradition! Thanks again for all you do!

jk says:

on June 18, 2014 at 11:14 am

What an amazing read Mr. McNally junior. Someday I will sit in the same boat and think about those old summer-vacation with dad and mom, brother and sister. And I hope it will bring up such great memories to my mind like yours did when I read it.

Im so grateful for what I have, and im so grateful they’re all still here. all.

Thank you for this, so much!


JerseyStyle Photography says:

on June 18, 2014 at 11:24 am

I’d like to type a coherent comment here, but it seems like I have dust in my eyes and can’t really see the keyboard…

~ Mark

Dan Levesque says:

on June 18, 2014 at 11:37 am

I often wonder if those childhood days would have been better with a D4s or the Instamatic that I owned. What do you think, Joe?

Steve says:

on June 18, 2014 at 11:47 am

What a great tribute to your dad, Joe.

Lee says:

on June 18, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Joe, I always love to hear your stories and read your writing. Thanks for sharing.

And the bump on the head now explains a lot. LOL


Andrea Kehoe Forrest says:

on June 18, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Nice tribute Joe….. all the good things we take with us in our life from our folks and our kids get to do the same! FYI my retirement job is taking pictures for our resort ‘s Facebook page.i am in awe of your work!

Michael M says:

on June 18, 2014 at 4:14 pm

What a Storyteller you are! I’m impressed!
Althoug I live in Europe, so the names and the cars are different, I recognice most of it.
We had no box on the roof. Instead my father took out the back seat and so I and my brothers was sitting on the bedding. The car was a very small Renault Dauphine.
Thank you for a wonderful story.

Joe McNally says:

on June 18, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Back in the day, the Instamatic was perfect. Fit the scenes well….:-))

ernest mccreight says:

on June 18, 2014 at 8:06 pm

No question about it;if you were not a great photographer you would certainly be a great novelist.great read.

Dave says:

on June 18, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Having lost my dad at age 8 to a traffic accident, I’m going to use some of your recollections to fill in some of the “what if” blanks in my life….

Jim Ruppel says:

on June 19, 2014 at 7:47 am

Great story Joe. Sounds a lot like my childhood, fell of the dock while at a cottage at Clark’s lake in Michigan. My dad decided it was a good time for me to learn to swim. I did. Lot’s of camping all over the country. Good times!

David Taranza says:

on June 19, 2014 at 8:06 am

Amazing read, really. I always admire the amount of openness you engrave into your stories.
All best,

Larry Seamer says:

on June 19, 2014 at 10:27 am

Great post. I am probably about 5 years older than you, but these images could have been taken from our family photo albums of the day. I remember the heavy canvas tent and coleman stove, the summer road-trips across the southwest in family station-wagon – where air-conditioning was an open window and lunch was a PB&J sandwich along the side of the highway.

Mike Randolph says:

on June 19, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Great post, Joe. Thank you for sharing.

As an aside, the photos remind me of a brilliant ad campaign by Canadian Club. Their sales were declining because people said, I don’t drink that, that’s what my dad drinks. So the campaign pointed out that your dad was actually a pretty cool guy in his day…in fact, he was probably just like you. One of my favorite headlines was, “You’re dad owned a van for a reason.” Another was, “Your dad never tweezed anything.”

Anyway, there are some great shots on the net. Just google “Damn right you’re dad drank it.”

I don’t like CC, but the ads–the photos, especially–are a great tribute to dads of a certain era. Thanks again.

Tony says:

on June 19, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Awesome tribute, Joe!

Never knew you grew up near Chicago. What town?

Will Austin says:

on June 19, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Wonderful recollection and photos, thanks for sharing this with us Joe.

Dave Benson says:

on June 20, 2014 at 2:13 pm

we share some wonderful memories… I wasn’t in the water per sei… I was on the water in a small dinghy being pulled out into the Atlantic by a falling tide when Dad rescued me…… and ours was a 65 Pontiac Parisienne wagon with 8 kids and a dog

MikeScott says:

on June 20, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Just catching up.. wonderful piece. Hope you had a Happy Father’s Day, Joe.

Iden Ford says:

on June 20, 2014 at 3:38 pm

My goodness you could write a book here. I’m touched by your words. My Dad was a war vet and Irish American, directed one of the first Peace Corp films with JFK, Ajax white knight commercials, and he had that pipe in his mouth all the time and the beer, scotch, and wineglass too.
So….brother, I can not only relate to your bio here , I feel I lived it. My sense is you got great advice from him.
Thanks for letting us in there.

Jeremy says:

on June 23, 2014 at 8:18 am

Thanks for this, Joe. You have a writing style which reminds me of the best Stephen King stuff—when he speaks of his own youth and upbringing. Keep it coming!

Norbert says:

on June 29, 2014 at 8:18 am

Thank you, Joe for those memories of yours. Let´s us get to know-how you better. Plus, I really dig the quality of the old film.
Také care

Robert Falconer says:

on July 8, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Joe, I’ve little doubt that had you opted to go the writing route at Syracuse — instead of choosing the photography path — you would have done equally well. You have a wonderful narrative style that is at once both literate and relaxed. I think many would find things in this post that strike a familiar chord from our own childhoods.

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