Feb 17, 2023, 05:55AM

The Leader of the Band

A remembrance of my father-in-law, felled by cancer this week.

4e5cc5f3 30a4 4153 948a 9cf210eb0840.jpeg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Although I know it happens every day, I’ve never watched cancer rob a loved one before this week. It’s a brutal and devastating process. For the past six months our family has seen my father-in-law go from a gregarious, over six-foot bon vivant to another victim of this relentless killer.

Robert McCarthy, Jr. (my son is named the IV in the family tradition) was a Long Island New York native, chemical engineer and graduate of Notre Dame, a source of family pride. Many football games were watched, yelled loudly at, or scheduled around. My son was brought home from the hospital during halftime so that one of the first things he could do on the planet, while wearing Notre Dame infant gear, was watch the Irish beat Michigan.

I accidentally scheduled my own wedding during a USC game, and that game was watched in limousines and a wedding reception bar that day, probably more enthusiastically than the actual nuptials, and especially since the Irish won. We’ve all received Notre Dame gear over the years, and whenever I see someone wearing a ND swag I automatically say,“Go Irish,” because even though it’s not my own alma mater, my brother-in-law and nephew went there and I’ve seen the golden dome and Touchdown Jesus at a game against Boston College and some bowl game or another. It’s the family rallying cry at this point.

As a fellow Gemini, I’m not sure why he didn't mention his MBA from Harvard more often. I would’ve casually worked that accomplishment into every conversation with an Olive Garden server. Although exhibiting the classic leadership personality that made him a VP of one of the world’s largest chemical companies, he was humble for a Gemini.

The greatest thing my father-in-law did was love his family. He attended every baseball game, graduation, play, band concert, birthday and backyard barbecue for his eight grandchildren and always had the perfect words of wisdom for any situation. The ways in which he’ll be missed by his family are immeasurable.

When someone has such a commanding presence, they can seem immortal, but cancer is the ax that cuts down even the most majestic and sturdiest of trees.

Maybe because he played saxophone in the Notre Dame marching band, but also because he was such a wonderful leader of the family, the lyrics of the Dan Fogelberg song “Leader of the Band” have always reminded me of him: 

“I thank you for the music 

And your stories of the road 

I thank you for the freedom

When it came my time to go 


I thank you for the kindness 

And the times when you got tough 

And, papa, I don't think I said

'I love you' near enough 


The leader of the band is tired 

And his eyes are growing old 

But his blood runs through my instrument 

And his song is in my soul 


My life has been a poor attempt 

To imitate the man 

I'm just a living legacy 

To the leader of the band.” 


Register or Login to leave a comment