Local View: Are we all just clones of our fathers?

From the column: "While I hope I inherited his good qualities, I swore I’d avoid what I considered his mistakes."

Gary McCoy / Cagle Cartoons

The Progressive Insurance TV commercials are hilarious but also profound. You know the ones with the Sully Sullenberger lookalike as group therapist Dr. Rick, who tries to help keep homeowners from turning into their parents: “Guess what,” he informs them, “the waiter does not need to know your name.”

The commercial’s talented actors and familiar message got me wondering about Father’s Day: are we really all just clones of our parents?

Charlie McGrath had a yeoman’s task as my father. He jury-rigged a system of mild discipline and Christian principles to usher six boys and two girls through childhood, higher ed, and out the door to our separate lives, without any detours to juvi or rehab.

While I hope I inherited his good qualities, I swore I’d avoid what I considered his mistakes. So as funny as those characters are, I, of course, have never needed Dr. Rick’s help, unlike the homeowner in one commercial who is practically getting underneath the sink with the plumber, when Dr. Rick admonishes him: “OK, Tom, we talked about this. You hired him. You’re not his assistant.”

Yes, my father used to do that, too, if he hired a painter, or when he summoned me as his handyman to fix something, and he stood “watch,” ostensibly to make sure the work was getting done right — but probably more out of curiosity or entertainment, to the growing annoyance of whoever was doing the work.


Determined not to replicate Dad’s behavior, I always make sure to stay out of the way of hired help, except, of course, in cases when I want to watch a technician or tradesman’s every move, so I know how to fix it myself the next time.

Another undesirable tendency of my father was that he couldn’t stand waiting for anyone or anything. Since my late mother did not drive, and Dad had to chauffeur her to the doctor, the church, the grocery store, she needed to develop an inner alarm clock that told her when she must stop browsing in the meat section and head for the checkout. Otherwise, my old man would be out in the car muttering to himself, leaning on the horn, his blood pressure on the brink by the time Mom finally made it out the door.

Determined that I would never show such impatience, I decided to avoid any venue or event where there might be a wait. So we don’t go to concerts or baseball games or movies or on cruises — and never to a restaurant unless we can get there before 4:30. It all works out quite beautifully.

One other bad habit of Charlie McGrath was television. The year my parents got cable TV with a remote-control device was also the year my mother became a baseball and game-show widow.

Dad’s stuffed armchair was planted no less than seven feet directly in front of the tube, where he’d surf through his favorite channels around eight hours a day, making sure to watch every inning of his team’s 162-game MLB season, occasionally switching to a golf tournament when he needed a nap.

Fortunately, I am not at all like my dad in the television department, either.

Because our TV is 50 inches wide, I watch it much farther away than my dad did. At least 10 feet — or a full 15 when Marianne asks me to back up so she can vacuum.

Moreover, I’m more partial to football than to baseball. Granted, I may watch more than eight hours on a Saturday or a Sunday and, of course, on Thanksgiving and New Year’s. But NFL Ticket was not available in Dad’s era, which pretty much compels subscribers like me to watch every single game to make the monthly satellite bill worthwhile.


All of which means, Dr. Rick, that your commercials may be funny, but the joke’s not on me, as anyone reading this can easily see

What I want to say for Father’s Day is that Charlie McGrath loved his children and grandchildren more than himself — and his wife even more. He taught us through his own example that getting ahead in the world was a good goal, as long as it never compromised being kind and honest with your fellow man or being true to your own beliefs.

Those are my dad’s attributes, which I wish to emulate — while forgiving him those pesky peccadillos.

David McGrath is formerly of Hayward, is an emeritus professor of Native American literature at the College of DuPage in Illinois, and is a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. He can be reached at

David McGrath.JPG
David McGrath

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