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Father's Day extra special for Beckham, dad and grandpa

Sox 2nd baseman appreciative of lessons learned from men in his life

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

5:13 PM CDT, June 16, 2012

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Inside the Atlanta home of his grandfather, White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham connects every at-bat.

The effects of Parkinson's disease have robbed Hank McCamish, 83, of his voice. Bedridden, McCamish breathes thanks to a tracheotomy and stays nourished through a feeding tube. His grandson's framed No. 15 Sox jersey hangs on the wall above his bed. The highlight of each day comes when his wife of 42 years, Margaret, helps him into the wheelchair he likes to sit in to watch Sox games on TV.

"There are a lot of things Hank can't do, but that always brightens him up,'' Margaret said. "He lives for Gordon's baseball games now. He gets such a big smile on his face.''

Beckham hasn't seen that smile since before he left for spring training last February. During regular offseason visits, nothing put Beckham's struggles last season in perspective more than being in the presence of a once-vibrant man sapped of his vitality by America's second-most common neurodegenerative condition behind Alzheimer's.

"It was hard because you have to dominate the conversation,'' Beckham said. "He's such a smart, brilliant man. He just can't voice his thoughts like he used to. It kills me. Saying goodbye is always tough because he's such a fighter but you never know when it'll be the last time.''

That sad reality packs even more meaning into Father's Day for Beckham and Gordon Jr. When the 25-year-old Beckham reflected on why he remains so close with his dad, such a Chicago regular he recently was recognized at Midway Airport by a maitre d, his thoughts turned to the example both had to follow.

"I have a great relationship with my dad because he had a great relationship with my Grandpa Hank,'' said Beckham, who never lacked for strong male role models.

And you wonder why Beckham's maturity early in his Sox career has been even more impressive than his defense.

"I have been hard on myself but I feel like I'm growing up into the guy I'm going to be,'' Beckham said. "My family always has been very strong, go-get 'em type that taught me that drive.''

Nobody drove more lessons into him than McCamish.

Beckham's biological grandfather, Gordon Beckham Sr., was divorced from Margaret when Gordon Jr. was 2 but maintained a healthy relationship with his son and grandson. McCamish, who made his fortune in the insurance business, married Margaret four years after the divorce and raised Gordon Jr. in a good ol' Southern environment devoted to discipline, education and sports — and not always in that order.

"I can remember being in sixth grade and playing a football game out of town and Hank was the only parent in the stands from our team,'' said Gordon Jr., the CEO of McCamish Systems, a financial services company.

McCamish began repeating history with his grandson shortly after Beckham — or G3 as he is known around the McCamish Group offices — was old enough to swing a bat. Margaret recalled an instant bond forming. They watched sports on TV together. They went to football games at Georgia Tech, Hank's alma mater, where Beckham fondly recalled mocking his grandpa's use of "Jiminy Crickets.'' They were inseparable.

"His granddaddy bought Gordon III his first baseball and football and he carried them everywhere he went like a little girl carrying her dolls,'' Margaret said.

To pay tribute to the impact McCamish made in his life, Beckham launched an "Out of the Park,'' campaign to raise money for Parkinson's research. In two years, Beckham's efforts have raised $120,000 for the National Parkinson Foundation.

"Gordon always has realized he had a lot of influences and we have talked about being cognizant of the contributions people make to your life,'' Gordon Jr. said.

Philanthropy runs in the family as much as good hair. Next fall, Georgia Tech will open the 8,600-seat McCamish Pavilion — "The Hank'' — with $15 million McCamish donated. Sensing McCamish would not want publicity, Gordon Jr. conspired with his mom and a family attorney to create the ultimate legacy.

"He eventually liked the idea but would have said no,'' Gordon Jr. said. "If there is one thing I learned from him, sometimes it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission.''

Soon after the Sox season ends, a former Georgia All-American can't wait to walk proudly onto the campus of his college rival and honor a man whose support supplied the bedrock for everything two generations of Beckham men accomplished.

"I have no problem doing that for someone who's always been there for me,'' Beckham said. "When I go to the opening of that building, I'll be a Yellow Jacket for a day.''

Imagine how big McCamish's smile will be watching that.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh