Wahoo McDaniel staggers as he attempts to negotiate the step up from the dining room into his kitchen. An inner-ear infection, caused by an antibiotic he took for a chest infection, has thrown off his balance. Endowed with the legs and hindquarters of a grizzly bear, the 6' 1", 270-pound McDaniel steadies himself. He's 63, he needs a new kidney, and he's frustrated. "It's not like I'm flopping around in this house getting ready to die," he says. "The medication makes me dizzy, and that keeps me off the golf course. It also keeps me out of my bass boat, because I can't swim. What if I fell out and drowned? Imagine that headline."
The man knows a thing or two about making news. In a prime that lasted more than 40 years, McDaniel was a figure larger than life and scarier than death. He was a pro linebacker and a world-renowned wrestler with a resume that included more than 10,000 matches and, by his estimation, 2,000 to 3,000 stitches.
These days he's the single parent of a 12-year-old son, Zac. Wahoo and Zac must cope with the communication challenge of a gap of not one generation but two. Who is Limp Bizkit, and how does he get away with using that language on his CDs? "I finally had to kick a couple of Zac's friends out of the house," says Wahoo, whose given name is Edward. "Zac says one of 'em likes to look at girls on the Internet. I said, 'Let him look at 'em on his own Internet.' This is my house, and there are certain things I won't put up with."
Father and son reside in a two-story brick home in a gentrified neighborhood in northwest Charlotte. The interior, arranged more for the tastes of Daniel Boone than Ralph Lauren, is cluttered with stuffed fish, outdoor gear and golf clubs. McDaniel, who retired from pro wrestling in 1995, drives a '95 Dodge Ram pickup with a feather arrangement dangling from the rearview mirror, a symbol of his Native American heritage, and a sticker on the bumper that reads SURE, YOU CAN TRUST THE U.S. GOVERNMENT. JUST ASK AN INDIAN.
McDaniel has been married five times (to four women), and Zac is the product of his last union. "Fact is, when you wrestle for a living, you're never home, and that's hard on relationships, and, well, I never pretended to be an angel," says McDaniel, who was divorced from Zac's mother, Karen McDaniel, when the boy was two. "She remarried, had two more children, and I got legal custody of Zac four or five years ago. It was all right with me, with her and with Zac, so why not? He still sees his mother [who lives in Tallahassee, Fla.], but I think Zac would rather go deer hunting with me."
McDaniel doesn't do as much hunting as he used to because he's waiting for a kidney transplant that should restore his health. Zac's mother volunteered a kidney, says McDaniel, but she was the wrong blood type. "They had a kidney for me a few times," he says. "The first time it was too small. Then they had another one available, but I had an infection from the shunt they use for my dialysis. I couldn't have the transplant because of the infection. But they tell me I'm at the top of the list now. Hopefully I'll get one soon."
Says Zac, "I know that Dad will get the kidney he needs."
Zac's devotion to his father seems absolute. "He cares a lot, he puts his foot down when I go too far," says the boy. "He lets me listen to my music when we're driving. I know that he doesn't like it, but he doesn't say anything. And his cooking is great. Steak. Taco soup."
The devotion is mutual, and for the father there is a clear sense of duty. That kidney is more for Zac than it is for him. Says McDaniel, "I want to be with Zac until he's at least 20."
If Wahoo McDaniel's ultimate ambition, as he says, is to lie beneath a gravestone inscribed PROUD FATHER AND ROLE MODEL, his many fans will insist on other engravings. BIGFOOT WITH CLEATS is what some will demand. Or PAUL BUNYAN IN A WAR BONNET, or perhaps THE JIM THORPE OF THE OIL PATCH.