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Lifestyle

June 15, 2014

Fathers Day: McAfee’s gifts to children mean time, unconditional love

CULLMAN — Fathers come in all sizes, colors, shapes and temperaments.

These are the men who coach, who take rafting trips with their kids, or maybe they just build a campfire and listen as children talk.

Danny McAfee is such a father. He is also vice-president of Cullman Cabinet, a CRMC Foundation board member, and serves on the Downtown Design and Review Board.

At a time in his life when his three daughters were growing up, spreading their wings and learning to “fly solo” in the world, McAfee must have anticipated that all too soon there would be an empty nest in his future. He and his wife, Deborah, had always focused on their daughters, but he wanted to do something for each of them, individually, that they would remember all of their lives.  

His idea was to spend time with each of the three girls, doing what was important to them, as long as they could do it together.

The girls each had a different idea of what spending quality time with their dad meant.

For the McAfee’s oldest daughter, Amy, it was a trip to the bright lights and big city scene of New York. “I think it was the summer of 1992,” said Amy. “Dad had asked all of us where we would like to go if we could choose. I was taking dance classes in Birmingham at the time and I had always wanted to see the Rockettes, so I chose New York City.”

Amy, even in the ninth grade, was fascinated by the world of design, both clothing and interiorscapes. Often, the young girl could be found after school at home designing Barbie clothes or drawing elaborate rooms. She never hesitated when her father presented her with the option to go anywhere she wanted.

“I guess the big city was my dream,” she said.

Once there, Amy and her dad walked for miles and miles each day, discovering the city together. They dined at Tony Roma’s, and the Carnegie Deli, went on a double-decker bus tour, and to the top of the Empire State Building. FAO Swartz was also on Amy’s “must see” list. “We also shopped a little,” she said.

But the most special thing about that trip, in hindsight, is the fact that her father took time out of his busy schedule to make her dream come true. “At that time in their lives, my parents worked six days a week, from before the sun came up until it went down,” she recalled. “The fact that he took the time, that he loved me that much, has always made that trip special.”

Amy would become an interior designer of note later in her life.  

For his second daughter, Joy, this precious moment in time was spent in Boston in 2002. Joy was in middle school when she and Danny took their trip together. Even now, as a grown woman and a busy lawyer with children of her own, she holds this memory close to her heart. “I remember picking the city because we had been studying about the American Revolution in school,” Joy recalled. “We saw the sight of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s home and Old Ironsides. I remember walking the Freedom Trail, following the red line throughout the city.”

“Although I loved all the sights, the most memorable part was walking with my dad — just the two of us,” she said. “It made me feel so important and loved, something that I know now is so important for a young girl to feel. I was so proud to be with my dad, proud that he wanted to spend time with just me.”  

Danny shared with his daughters his love of travel and adventure. “We were able to see so many places through his eyes — to appreciate the glory of sunsets and the beauty of mountains. My dad gave us his time. He was always patient with the three of us. He is the standard of what it means to be a husband and a father. We are three blessed girls!” exclaimed Joy.

It isn’t just the adventures that the girls remember, it’s the way Danny McAfee parented them every day.

“My dad gave us the greatest gifts, his love of God, our mom and the three of us,” said Joy. “He led prayer time at our house. We sat in a circle together and took the phone off the hook. Each one of us had time to share what was going on in our lives. Then, we prayed. This time set an example for all three of us. It instilled the power of prayer and the love of family.”

He showed them the way a marriage is supposed to be, the way a family should come together, depend on one another, and that his love is unconditional.

“My dad was always proud of us, no matter what. He went to countless long dance and baton recitals when we were young, and still does. He was at a baton recital last Saturday night for his granddaughter!” laughed Joy.  

Danny and Deborah McAfee are grandparents to ten lively, spirited grandchildren — five boys and five girls. His lessons to his daughters are being relived with his grandchildren. “I used to see my grandmother just being very quiet and watching my children,” he mused. “Now I know that she was relishing every moment with them.”

He instilled a deep faith, love and commitment in all of his children.

When the time came for the youngest of Danny McAfee’s daughters, Kelly Herndon, to choose where she and her dad would go, she could have chosen anywhere in the United States, but she requested that he take her camping at a pond on property that belonged to Danny’s grandfather, Curtis Hancock. Kelly, who was in the ninth grade at the time, remembers this as a special time in her life. “I chose to go on an overnight camping trip to Trimble,” said Kelly. “The property is actually where my dad's grandparents lived. It was an awesome time, filled with campfires, fishing, and hiking in the woods. We slept in a two-man tent and woke to the noises of the great outdoors.”

It was as special to Danny as it was to Kelly. He caught his first fish in that pond. He also learned to swim there, and it brought back nostalgic memories of his grandfather.

“For breakfast, dad toasted hot dog buns,” Kelly recalled. “The best part of it all, now that I now realize it, was his desire to spend one-on-one time with us.”

Danny has fond memories of this trip, too. “We really roughed it,” he laughed. “We slept in a crude tent, and even took a bucket for a toilet. I cut a wooden lid for it in the shop.”

“Our father is just remarkable and such a great example for us,” said Kelly. “His love is always so evident.”

One of the most memorable trips was to the Amazon. This time, two of the daughters, Joy and Kelly, went with their father. It was the trip of a lifetime. (Amy had already started working and had a family by that time).

After some discussion, they did some research discovered something that sounded mysterious and excting…

“I really had no idea that you could do such a thing as take a guided tour of the Amazon,” laughed Danny. “But it was a blast!”

He credits Brandy, at Cullman Travel, with helping to make all of the connections on the trip.

Deciding was perhaps the easiest part of the plan. They had to have passports made, and took a whole series of immunizations for things like malaria and yellow fever.

They packed what they thought they might need, but really, other than seeing the African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, they had no idea of what to expect. “We took safari-type clothing, and I found some helmets with lights because we knew from the brochure that we wanted to go crocodile hunting at night,” said Danny.

Deborah, who has a healthy fear of snakes, did not even entertain the idea of going with her husband and daughters.

“Actually, we never saw a single snake on the whole trip,” said Danny. “Even though we took a helicopter tour of the jungle which flew in low over the lagoons.” They did, however, see all kinds of exotic wildlife, including many species of birds.

The three adventurers flew into Manaus, Brazil, where they stayed overnight. The following morning they boarded a tour boat bound for the Rio Negro, so named for the color of its water. This area was filled with elaborate treehouses. “Bill Gates owned one of them, if that gives you an idea of how large they were,” Danny laughed.

Soon, they left the tour boat and boarded a small flat-bottomed boat, which would be their conveyance for the rest of the journey.

The trip to the Amazon was filled with laughs and excitement,” says Kelly. “We had bananas served in every way possible, swam in the Amazon, fished for piranha, and hung out with monkeys.”

Not many fathers and daughters can share a memory like this one, “One afternoon Dad opened the door to his room, and a large black monkey ran in and grabbed a box of our cereal bars. The monkey then hung from the ceiling dangling this box...all the while dad was yelling, “Drop the box! Drop the box!” But the monkey took off with it. A moment we won't forget ... trying to reason with a monkey to give us back our food!” laughed Kelly.

“It seemed the monkey was bragging as he ate every bite!” Joy added. “We laughed and laughed! I recently shared the trip with my daughter’s first-grade class.  It brought back amazing memories of my dad.”

“There were monkeys everywhere,” Danny added. “We had gotten used to seeing them, but this one knew just what to look for, he had obviously done this before.”

“We slept in a treehouse above the Amazon, fished for piranha, hunted caymen, and crocodile by night,” said Joy.

Fishing for piranha was just one memorable highlight of this adventure. “It was just the opposite from the sort of fishing we were used to,” Danny said. “Instead of being really quiet so as not to scare the fish, with piranha you slap the surface of the water with the end of your rod to attract them. They attack anything in distress.”

Perhaps the most exciting part of the trip was the nighttime crocodile hunt. “It’s similar to gigging for frogs,” described Danny. “You see the red eyes in the water.”

One of their two guides jumped in the water with a crocodile, grabbing its head and tail and diving underneath the surface of the water. “He stayed under for a long time, but when he came up he was grinning and holding the young crocodile up over his head.”

The guide brought the crock up into the flat bottomed boat, where he and the other guide flipped him over and began to massage his stomach. “I guess it sort of paralyzed him, he didn’t move as long as they kept it up.”

They also visited a remote native village where people worked with wood to make canoes and small, crude boats. Being in the business of working with wood every day, this was very interesting to Danny.

This trip was another special time with a dad who loved to spend time with his daughters. “I know I speak for all three of us when I say that he really is the best father a daughter could have,” said Kelly.

“This trip was important to them, but it was even more important to me,” said Danny.

“I am proud to be his daughter and know that I have so much to live up to,” said Joy.  

These days Danny McAfee is looking forward to making more memories and having other adventures with his grandchildren, one-on-one, just like with his daughters. For him, there is no such thing as “I don’t have time.”

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