It was Father’s Day, 1976. I was 26 years old. And it was my first Father’s Day without a father. He passed away eight months earlier, and it still weighed heavily on my mind.
I was living in New York City and working as a taxicab driver.
As I drove my cab around Manhattan that day, I couldn’t get this one song out of my head. It was by Judy Collins, called “My Father,” about an Ohio coal miner who promises to one day move his family to France.
So, I was stopped at a light on Park Avenue when someone jumped into the back seat of my cab. I turned around and it was none other than — Judy Collins. Folks, you can’t make this stuff up. It’s just too crazy.
I told her I’d been thinking about her song, which brought a genuine smile to her face. The ride itself wasn’t all that eventful. Some chit-chat. And I’m guessing I drooled a lot. After all, it was Judy Collins.
But the story doesn’t end there. A few hours later, I parked my cab, pulled out a sandwich and turned on my portable FM radio. And what song should come on but “My Father” by Judy Collins. I turned to the back seat and could still feel her presence.
And while the song was playing, memories of my father rushed into my head.
The earliest one I can remember was as a young child who couldn’t fall asleep. I would walk to my parent’s bedroom where my father would reassure me, “It’s OK. Just go back to bed.” And that’s exactly what I did. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. The monsters were gone.
Unlike the rural or suburban image of fathers and sons bonding in the garage while working on the family car or fashioning a wood cabinet, it wasn’t anything like that in Brooklyn. Instead of the family garage, we had concrete playgrounds, screaming neighbors and Chinese restaurants.
But the bonding was no less real.
As an adolescent, I remember my dad taking me to World Series games at Yankee Stadium, even though, as a Dodgers’ fan, he hated the Yankees. The essential knowledge he passed along to me was that with two outs and a 3-2 count, all the runners are moving. Thanks, Dad.
When I became a teenager, it was actually playing sports that bonded us, specifically handball. Back then, there weren’t the fancy indoor four wall courts with wooden floors. It was just a single concrete wall, played on concrete ground, with U.S. Keds and lots of bloodied knees.
And my Dad took great pride whenever he and I played on the same doubles team. “This is my son, Eddie.”
As I grew into my 20s, the relationship deepened. I was starting to ask adult questions. Sometimes my father would dispense actual advice, but more often than not, he would simply say, “Everything is an experience.” It wasn’t until many years later that I understood the power of that statement.
One place he never hesitated to dispense advice to me was at the racetrack. He was just a $2 bettor — but no one got more entertainment value out of those $2 than Max Adelman. And when we got home, regardless of winning or losing, we always gave my mother the same answer. “We broke even.”
My father died at age 68. He contracted a bad infection and died four months later. It was hard to believe because he was such a health nut, reading food labels long before it became fashionable for baby boomers. “What the hell is sodium benzoate?”
In the years following his death, my father would “visit” me in my dreams. And it was always when I needed him most. His arrival was more like a presence than an actual figure, but it was always reassuring. I’d wake up the next day fully rested and ready to take on the world.
But eventually those visits became fewer and fewer. And perhaps that was his way of dispensing one last bit of advice. “You’re the adult now. Make me proud.”
Happy Father’s Day.
Eddie Adelman is a writer who lives in Belfast.
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