Interview with Frank McRae from One Holy Night by Joan Hochstetler
J. M. Hochstetler: Frank, it’s good to sit down with you for a heart to heart. It’s been a while since we’ve talked. Tell our readers a little about yourself.
Frank McRae: Well, you ought to know since you created me. (Laughs.) I’m glad to have this opportunity to speak directly to readers and possibly clarify some things that might be misunderstood.
Hochstetler: I suspect you mean your having disowned your son, Mike, because he married a Vietnamese woman. But we’ll get back to that. You’re a WWII veteran.
Frank: I was a Marine, and I fought in the South Pacific. My brother, Bobby, was captured at Corregidor and ended up in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, so I came to hate all Asians. Anyway, before me and my buddies shipped out, we married our girls. I’d loved Maggie since we were kids, and we only had a weekend together before I had to leave. Our daughter, Julie, was born while I was overseas, and after I got back, we had Mike.
Hochstetler: The first issue you had to deal with in the story was Maggie’s cancer.
Frank: Yes, and that was a hard one. I admit I wasn’t always the best husband, and that left me with a lot of guilt when Maggie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. During most of our marriage, I let my career be my first priority way too often. I told myself I needed to work hard to provide for my wife and kids.
Hochstetler: That’s an attitude a lot of men have—and some women too.
Frank: You’re right. Then when Maggie got sick, I realized I’d been kidding myself. I thought we’d grow old together, that one day I’d retire and we’d do all the things she’d always wanted to do but couldn’t because I was too busy building my career. There was plenty of time for all that. I believed my kids would make decisions I agreed with, grow up and get married, and live happily ever after. But it doesn’t always work out the way you think it will.
Hochstetler: So you tried to make up for not having put your priorities in the right place by turning into the perfect husband.
Frank: Maggie knew how much I loved her, but I didn’t tell her nearly often enough. So I thought if I became the Christian she wanted me to be, God would answer my prayers, and He wouldn’t take her away from me. I simply couldn’t conceive of a life without her.
Hochstetler: She was a believer, but you weren’t.
Frank: Oh, I had a general belief in God. But I didn’t know then what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Honestly it didn’t mean anything to me because I had a good life—a wife I loved who loved me, a beautiful daughter and a son, a great career I was doing well at, a nice house and car. You know—all the stuff that can be taken away from you in a moment of time.
Hochstetler: So Maggie’s illness shook you. And Mike going off to Vietnam did too.
Frank: If you do all the right things, your life is supposed to turn out well, isn’t it? I fought in WWII to free my brother from a Japanese prisoner of war camp and to make sure my son would never have to endure the hell I did, see the things I saw. But I couldn’t save my brother. And though I married the only woman in the world I loved, I couldn’t save her from cancer. I couldn’t keep my son from going off to war or marrying a Bhuddist, a woman who looked to me just like the Japanese I’d fought against. Everything I worked for, believed in was swept away in the blink of an eye.
Hochstetler: That’s hard for a man to deal with.
Frank: Darn tootin’ it is. You’re supposed to be in control, and if anything gets broken, fix it. But I couldn’t fix any of it.
Hochstetler: So you disowned Mike.
Frank: And then never could take it back and set things straight. (Chokes up.) Believe me, I wanted to. But it was too late.
Hochstetler: And you insisted Maggie continue treatments when she needed to find a place of peace.
Frank: She wouldn’t have suffered so much if I’d listened to her. My heart just couldn’t let her go.
Hochstetler: Julie and her husband, Dan, worried that you were just pretending to accept Jesus in order to please Maggie. Were you?
Frank: (Hesitates.) My faith was shallow at that point, but it was there, down deep inside. As Maggie and I studied the Bible together, the seeds were being planted. I know Dan and Julie prayed for me a lot and kept on trusting God to hold onto me when it looked like I’d totally rejected Him. And He did. I never turned completely away.
I was mad that my prayers weren’t answered the way I wanted them to be and hurting so bad I couldn’t reach out to anyone, including God. It took a near tragedy for me to learn that God’s hand was in all of it and that He could use even our deepest pain to accomplish His purpose in our lives. Though he didn’t answer our prayers the way we wanted Him to, He carried us all safely through in spite of my hard-headedness.
Hochstetler: In the end, it took a baby.
Frank: (Nods.) Just like that other baby He gave to us all those years ago. There’s something about holding a little one in your arms that changes your heart, reminds you of what’s really important, and opens you up to forgive and to receive forgiveness . . .
Hochstetler: And joy.
Frank: Yes. The kind of joy that will last a lifetime. (Smiles through tears.)
Hochstetler: Thanks for joining us today, Frank. You’ve given us a lot to think about.
Frank: Maybe that was part of the reason behind it all. Thank you for having me, and God bless.