My ‘Other’ Dad

I hadn’t planned to write again so soon after my last post, at least not until after Morocco to share that trip, but life doesn’t always go as planned. I received some news yesterday about a family friend — really, a family member — and I’d like to say a few words about this man who was my “other dad.”

When I was not quite 4 years old, my mother and I moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to join my dad, who had been stationed there some time prior to learn about his new duty station and get our housing situation ready.

Shortly after we arrived, my father introduced us to Charles “Mac” McMahan, another Navy man who had befriended my dad before we arrived. Mac was married to Ann, and they had two kids, Sheree and Shane. The moms connected just as quickly as the dads had. Shane was just a year older than me, so of course we were buds. Sheree, a teenager, didn’t have much to do with us little kids socially. She did, however, dote on me like a good big sister.

I was at the age when memories finally start to stick, so I don’t remember that much of my life before our families were joined through Mac’s and my dad’s friendship. My mom was never so brave as she was when she was with Ann. I have a distinct memory of the four of us — Ann, my mom, Shane, and me — shimmying down a cliff to get to one of the beaches just for the sea glass rumored to be there. My mother was never the outdoorsy type, but with Ann, she could and would do anything.

Sandy and Ann in Haiti, circa 1971.

As for the two dads, they were the best of buds. One of their favorite things to do was fish, which they did a lot. I remember being dragged out of bed in the wee hours of morning to go check out some giant, smelly fish the two had reeled in. Funny how something that annoyed me so much as a 4-year-old has become a treasured memory.

After Cuba, the McMahans ended up in Virginia Beach. My father got stationed in Patuxent River, Maryland. Visits to Virginia Beach to visit my grandmother and other relatives always included a visit to the McMahans. And when it came time for my father to retire about four years later, it was to Virginia Beach. I used to think that he made that choice because that’s where my mother was from and where we had relatives, but it wouldn’t surprise me if having the McMahans close by factored into that decision.

Once we settled in Virginia Beach — our house all of 10 minutes away from the McMahans’ — it wasn’t long before things fell right back into the old groove of Cuba. If they weren’t at our house, we were at theirs. They were truly my second family. They were my “other mom” and “other dad,” and Sheree and Shane were my big sister and brother. I learned from the McMahans that it isn’t blood that makes a family. It’s love.

They eventually retired to Tennessee. Sheree hung around Virginia Beach for a while, but soon followed. I remember sitting in her little Civic as she told me she was leaving. My heart sank. The moms managed to stay in touch for a bit with the occasional call, maybe a letter or two. Ann and Shane even came for a visit, and then Sheree and her husband. But as often happens, and for a variety of reasons, folks lose touch. The love is there, but you lose those common, everyday things to talk about. The weeks between calls stretch into months, then years. And then it feels awkward to call out of the blue after so much time has gone by so you don’t bother. Thanks to social media, I’ve gotten to reconnect with my big sister and brother, but our parents weren’t so lucky.

Ann died in February 2017 from lung cancer, a little over two years before my mother died from the same. Like my mother, she smoked. Also like my mother, she had managed to quit. When my mom died, Sheree and I both remarked on the similarities of their deaths and took comfort in the notion that they had reunited on the other side and picked up right where they left off.

Yesterday I woke up to the news that Mac died unexpectedly February 16. He had been having trouble swallowing recently — a problem my father also coincidentally struggled with until undergoing corrective surgery late last year. Sadly, Mac succumbed from complications related to the condition. Sheree and Shane were with him, though, and he knew how much he was loved.

Mac, my “other dad”

Shane had planned to reunite our dads later this summer by driving Mac to Virginia Beach for a visit and a fishing trip off the coast to give the two now octogenarians a chance to catch up and tell fish tales. The universe clearly had other plans. Breaking the news to my dad was hard. He had gotten Mac’s new phone number but, unsure of what to say after all these years, he kept putting it off. He told me yesterday that he had made up his mind to call next week when their mutual friend, Bill, stopped by so that all three could catch up together. There’s a lesson there for us all.

Most of my time with my other family was spent with Shane and our mothers, as they took us pretty much everywhere they went. (If I close my eyes, I can still see the backs of Ann’s and my mom’s heads from my spot in the backseat of Ann’s station wagon.) The guys would be out in the yard enjoying a beer or three and sharing some laughs. But whenever I was around Mac, there was always a smile on his face. I grew up with the certainty that he loved me and would do anything for me, my dad, or my mom. My father still calls Mac the best friend he ever had. Because of him, my mother found her spiritual twin, and I got Sheree and Shane, who continue to treat me like a much-loved little sis … and still call me by my childhood nickname. Thanks, Mac, for everything you did and were for my family and for yours. You’ll be missed.

6 thoughts on “My ‘Other’ Dad

  1. Sonya,
    The stories of “the friends from Virginia Beach” have been so numerous throughout the years that Shane and I have been married, I feel as if I have known you for a long time even though we’ve never met. I have always loved hearing the Guatanamo Bay and Virginia Beach stories that go along with the pictures. Being a part of this family is such a gift, as your story explains so well. I look forward to the day that I get to officially meet “Pooh”, and hear more stories of the wonderful bond between the McMahan’s and the Harmon’s.


  2. Beautifully written and the heartfelt sincerity comes through every word. My condolences to you all as family.


  3. Charles had this contagious personality that you couldn’t help but to want to sit on the edge of every story he told. There was always a joke or two in the conversation, and sometimes you could become the brunt of the joke. Never anything harsh, and mostly his jokes were about either himself or Shane. We had a time when a boy next door was beating a tree with an iron pipe, and it had to be rattling his teeth every time he whacked it. We laughed about it and then the first time Shane made a mistake, Charles said “boy, we are sending you next door to live with that boy missing his organ upstairs” we all laughed over and over after every mistake, somebody was moving next door. Then a complete mental bleep by Charles that I called him out on, just to cut some railing in an easier way, had him saying, “I’m packing my bags and moving next door.” Lol! We all were laughing all day while working on their house. I don’t know what happened to the boy next door, but I hope somebody taught him not to hit a full grown tree with a steel pipe.
    I loved going up to the lake and spending the week there on the bank, where I knew that Charles would always invite me up to have a sausage with him, or a piece of steak. He would go to the store and buy food just so we would have the chance to sit and talk at night when the sun was down, and the lightening bugs were out. It was so peaceful back then, and I’ll never forget those memories made just me and Charles for up to a week at a time. He always welcomed me and I never felt like an intruder. The truth is I enjoyed having someone to talk to as much as he did. A very kind and generous man, may he Rest In Peace in the Lord.


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