Happy 90th Birthday to my Pioneer Dad

If I pursued a career unheard of for women, moved abroad and rewrote my script after my dream collapsed in an accident, it is because of you, my pioneer dad, who believed in me every step of the way.

I inherited the McKinzie iron will, a drive to pursue lofty ideals in spite of obstacles.

In the controversial years of Title IX’s infancy, when girls and ball games were non compatible entities, your adamant belief in women’s right to participate in sports would empower all your daughters. Especially me.

Fifty years ago, dads teaching daughters jump shots were anomalies. Fathers discouraged daughters from playing ball games society deemed unladylike.

Yet, you fought for equal rights and shaped values in the athletes you mentored during your 33-year career at Sterling High School where you earned the affectionate title of Papa Mac while racking up Illinois’ 1st ever girls state basketball championship title, a 3rd place finish and an Elite Eight appearance. But what made you proudest was seeing how your athletic “daughters” grew up to contribute to society as principals, teachers and leading members of their communities.

No one felt your influence more greatly than me. When my slender frame took a beating on basketball courts at ever elite levels, you never said, “You’re too small to go pro.” Instead you helped develop my potential. When my American pro team folded, I stated, “I’m going to France to play.”

“What if you get hurt?” You tried your darnest to dissuade me. Then after the shock subsided, you offered your support and returned to the gym to rebound.

When I announced, “I’m engaged to a Frenchman,” you were the first to accept a foreigner into the family and remained my most faithful correspondent, sending manila envelopes to Europe. Rather than disowning me, you sacrificed time and money to make 18 trips across the Atlantic to be part of your gandchildren’s lives.

Though you never visited Scotland, the home of your fore-bearers, it is as if clan bloodlines transcended generations. Like your father and forefathers, you became a leader of men and women. You taught us a code of honor, respect for our fellowman, and fierce loyalty toward family.

Our resilient constitution, strength of character, love of nature, and reverence for honest work may have been virtues passed on from our ancestry, but we developed them by modeling your behavior in a life where you treated everyone equal.

As the head of our McKinzie clan, you set the finest example of what it means to be an honorable leader, a strong chief, and a benevolent father.

I grew up during an era when athletic girls felt shunned without role models. You encouraged me to be myself even when it meant being different and pursuing a career usually sought by men.

It was not easy being a modern day daughter, marrying a Frenchman and raising children abroad. Nor was it easy to be an up-to-date dad, whose dedicated coaching developed the talent that took his daughter away.

I was a selfish, smart-aleck kid; you were too overprotective. You grew up under the “work ethic” when it was a man’s world, only, yet you learned to accept a modern, do-it-herself daughter who lived by the “experience ethic.”

You leaned right; I left. Too much alike in temperament and too different in ideologies to always get along, yet our differences, spurred growth. I loved you enough to let you be a blundering father. You let me be a belligerent daughter. Through headstrong outbursts, we learned to compromise, to live modern dreams without losing old-fashioned values.

You were not a perfect dad, nor I, a perfect daughter. But our love was.

You taught me to shoot a jump shot, swim a lake, drive a car, balance a checkbook, but the greatest lesson I learned from you was “never give up!”

Thirty-five years ago, that fighting spirit helped me recover from a career ending, near fatal car accident 4,000 miles away from home. More recently that same resiliency helped me survive a life altering fall that resulted in a broken cheek bone, eye socket, jaw, nose and skull that led to a 5 hour brain surgery and over a year of rehabilitation. With no end in sight.

I may never play my guitar, type a blog post or swim again pain free.

Everyday as I struggled in physical therapy to squeeze my hand, raise my left arm, and walk without stumbling I think of you and repeat the mantra you ingrained through hours of practice spent correcting my jump shot, “Keep fighting!”

Every night when I called you reminded me,“I am proud of you sweetie.”

And you ended every conversation with these words,

“I think of you everyday and love you more each minute.”

Me too, dad, me too.

Happy Birthday to my 90 year old hero!

Posted in family, inspiration.


  1. Happy 90th birthday, Jim! ???
    I am guessing that a flock of children, grandchildren, and at least one great grandbaby might follow the yellow brick road to the cabin on the lake to help you celebrate your 90th! Have a wonderful time!

    Peg Hoffmiller
    Lenore’s friend who lives nearby

    • Thanks Peg! Yes there was a flock following the yellow brick road to our cabin to celebrate our beloved dad.

  2. A great tribute to a great man, the Patriarch of a great family. A happy birthday to your dad. Enjoy your time together!

  3. Hello to the McKinzie clan! Happy Birthday Jim ??.
    Pat…What a great tribute to your dad, so fortunate to have had him be a Pointer fan.

    • Thanks Shirley. We remain ever loyal Pointer fans and will never forget those 4 years spent cheering you on!

  4. Aw, this brings tears to my eyes, Pat. My own dad was ahead of his time, too. He encouraged us girls to play tennis the way your dad encouraged you to play basketball. What a legacy we have! Happy Birthday to your dear dad … with many more to come!

    • Thanks Debbie. How interesting to know that your dad, too, was an engine behind your drive to pursue your athletic prowess at a time when having athletic daughters was definitely not “cool.” We are fortunate to have been raised by our “pioneer” fathers.

  5. Oh, Pat, what a heartfelt testimony to your hero father. I need only to watch you overcome so many obstacles to know what kind of a father you have. My father , gone from this earth in 2010, still remains with me every day and especially during challenging times when I can hear him say “I believe him in you, honey” We’ve both been blessed. Happy 90th Birthday to your amazing father!

    • Isn’t amazing how those powerful words of our father helped us overcome so many obstacles and we certainly have had more than our share on the health front. Hope that voice of the past keeps fueling you forward in during those tough days.

  6. Dear Pat,
    I remenber your father from my visit to Sterling as a kind, tolerant person with a sense of humor. Ok, he showed me some photos of a visit to Ronald Reagan who sure was not my favorite politican, but I think he has the personality a teacher should have. Please say hello to him from
    Tom of Marburg

    • ha ha ha Tom. You always make me chuckle. Yes, I do remember what a Reagan fan you were. So glad you never held it against me and let it interfere with a great long standing friendship. I will share your kind words with my dad. Thanks so much for taking the time to write.

  7. Dear PAT,
    what a beautiful, heartwarming tribute to your Dad.
    Happy 90th birthday to your amazing father.
    In my closet there is still the blue shirt, that your father gave us, when he visited you in Marburg.

    • Thanks Renate. I can’t believe you still have that old blue t-shirt from my dad’s visit to Marburg. My sister is having a quilt made of all my favorite ol’ t-shirts and one of my favorites from Marburg will be in the center of it.

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