“I will never leave you; no matter what happens I will always be with you.” Unbeknownst to me at the time, those would be the last words that my father would ever speak to me. Those were the words that would carry me into my fatherless future, the road map that I would rely upon to navigate the sometimes perilous, sometimes heartbreaking, often hilarious, always blessed journey of my life.
He was the one who taught me that in every seemingly bad moment there lies a great story. In the early ‘70’s Fort Lee went on this craze of turning many main thoroughfares into one-way streets. One night, while riding north on Center Avenue a fire engine, sirens a-blaring, was coming straight at us. My father, unfazed, just kept his hands on the wheel and foot on the gas. The fire engine slowed and swerved. The driver, thankfully, was a neighborhood boy, Jimmy Carney, who stopped and said, “Mr. Meyers! This is a one way street now!” to which my father replied in laughter, “Well then, you better turn around before you get killed,” knowing full well that he was the one traveling in the wrong direction.
Once, while driving my friend Judy home to Hasbrouck Heights, we ended up down the shore. In Fort Lee one road leads you to Routes 95, 80, 46, 4, 17… Needless to say, we ended up in Forked River that night.
How many times I wish he were here to turn to for a dose of wise counsel, or just to lean on to get through the sometimes interminable days. There was such an ease about him that I wish I possessed. It was impossible to be around him without his humor lifting you up.
One night when he was too weak to walk I carried him. I knew he was exhausted, out of breath, and in a great deal of pain, but he put all that aside to tell me, “Thanks for the ride, but next time I think I’ll take the bus.” It was more important for him to make me laugh than to succumb to the failings of his own body. He redeemed that moment with laughter because he refused to leave me to live with the memory of his weakness, and instead imparted to me his unquenchable strength. He died exactly one week later.
As year follows year, I find myself looking for him, and in moments when I really need him I follow his memory to the places he loved most—the cliffs of the Palisades, the banks of the Hudson River. But where he is always and ever present is here as I write. Whenever someone tells me that something I wrote made them smile, or laugh out loud, or forget for one moment the pressure of the moment that came before, there he is. And when my column reaches out and touches the souls of people whose stories often remain unrecognized, as it seems my Mother’s Day column about mom’s who have lost a child, or have a child with special needs did, it’s the touch of his humanity calling out for the world to pay attention.
Every Father’s day I visit his grave to raise a flask, and pour a snifter of Irish whiskey upon his grave to honor the man who gave me life, good humor, and the gift for knowing that no moment is ever ordinary. Most importantly, I toast him so I never forget all that he has given me and continues to give. I do it to remind myself that I have a father who is with me every day. After all, I came into this world his daughter; that did not stop with the beating of his heart; and it will not stop with the beating of mine.
So, join me in the tradition of toasting my dear old Irish dad; and here’s to yours—whether their spirit dwells beside you or inside you…
“May the roads rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again may there be a generous bartender waiting to serve all us heathens in heaven.” Thomas Francis Meyers, I hardly knew ye.