My father carries my son in front of the Brooklyn Bridge. Very much of the Earth has moved to make this photo possible. Very much. And almost everything leading up to taking it was near disastrous.
He’d called us from the airport, about an hour after he’d landed. Texts and calls weren’t working from my phone to his, or from his to mine before that moment. Perhaps it was because he was coming from Canada, perhaps it was because of atmospheric interference, perhaps it could have been anything. It was that kind of day. Everything was going wrong.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We’d been looking forward to hosting my father for some time. Events had conspired over the past few years to keep him in Nova Scotia and us in New York. There was a cancer scare for him. There was an early December move for us, canceling a holiday trip to see him.
We’d kept my father in my son’s life thanks to technology. Skype let Liam grow up with weekly chats from his smiling Papa. He and Nana were not strangers to my son. They’re part of our life in every way except for physically. But that was all about to change, they would finally be reunited for Thanksgiving.
And then we just couldn’t get to the damn airport.
Under the river and through the boroughs
Navigating the streets of New York in the best of times can be a tricky proposition but this night would prove to be a test of everyone’s patience. We’d managed to avoid the snarl of slow moving cars trying to get through the Lincoln Tunnel but had patted ourselves on the back too soon. Trying to get across town to the Midtown Tunnel proved to be maddening, and it was only after a close-to-an-hour wait in traffic that we were informed it was closed, and we’d need to take the 59th Street Bridge instead. We’d turned a 20-minute drive into an hour and a half.
It was an amateur mistake on our part and the cost was leaving my father and Nana waiting in the airport for over an hour after they’d landed.
Everything was fine once we got there, right? All was forgiven, we were together now, and that’s what was important, yes? Well, yeah, for a moment, that’s what the general feeling was.
Then Liam threw up all over my father.
He’d never done anything like that before. But then, we hadn’t left him strapped in a child safety seat for 90 minutes while we sat in traffic. A mad scramble led to an improvised garbage bag and about a pack and half of baby wipes later, the majority of the mess was cleaned up. You know, except for the smell.
Welcome to New York, Dad.
But things settled as things do. We had a laugh about it, told each other this would be a great story for later down the road, and things were only bound to get better from there. So naturally, that’s when we realized we’d made a wrong turn and were heading deeper into Queens instead of back to Manhattan.
To make a long story short, it took us another 90 minutes to get home. When traffic is snarled in New York, it stays snarled these days. Sixth Avenue was closed off for a street fair. Fifth Avenue was closed off because everybody hates Donald Trump.
There was nothing for it but to make small talk as we crawled across town. My father made pithy remarks about the woman who had kept pace with us, walking on the sidewalk from Madison to 10th Avenue.
Finally, we were at our building. I loaded all the luggage and Liam’s car seat while my father picked up my now sleeping son to carry him to our apartment. We were finally home, a family, three generations for the holidays, persevering through every test New York’s traffic could throw at us.
Which is when Liam peed all over my father.
You know, we say things like “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.” Or “I could have died of embarrassment.” Or “Fuck me gently with a rusty chainsaw.” But those platitudes don’t really cover the mortification and sense of failure that came over me at that moment. We’d been looking so forward to this. And while all we could do was laugh at how absurdly terrible my father’s welcome had been, that sense that I’d failed him was inescapable.
It did fade, of course. All embarrassments do. This wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was just, to borrow a famous children’s title, a series of unfortunate events. My father placed no blame, and repeatedly made it clear how happy he was to just be here.
Brooklyn Bridge crossing
The next morning was a whirlwind. My wife was running a race and it was going to be up to me to get my father, Nana, Liam and me, to Central Park first thing in the morning to see her cross the finish line. Then a trip to Chinatown for dim sum, and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
But that sense of disappointment from the night before lingered. I rushed them out the door to the race, feeling like nothing more like a sled dog driver, whipping his charges to “Mush!” We stood around the Golden Unicorn waiting on a table for 45 minutes, desperately trying to keep the 3-year-old entertained, as it felt more to me like testing Nana and Papa’s patience rather than Liam’s.
By the time we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, the cold and the wind had picked up. Instead of a scenic stroll, and enjoying a classic way to take in the Big Apple, we huddled against the sudden biting cold, practically sprinting our way to DUMBO.
I’d begun to panic. This was supposed to be a joyful reunion for my father and my son. Instead, this was a disaster. My stress level rose, my temper shortened, and even through the icy air, the inside of my head felt heated and scrambled. I felt myself spinning into a panic. This wasn’t perfect at all. This wasn’t going according to plan. This was an absolute fucking disaster.
That’s when my wife gently tapped my arm. I looked blearily up to see her smile and point.
“Get picture,” she said.
My father and my son had wandered off to see the East River. Liam loves boats and Dad was pointing out the big ship steaming toward the harbor, a red and white tanker called Alara. Liam squealed with delight and tore away off down the boardwalk toward it, my father gamely giving chase.
They played on the Brooklyn shore together for a long time. Nana, my wife, and I would intermittently join them, but this moment was all about my father and my son, together at last. They ran, they laughed, they played, and they were happy to be with each other.
Everything that had been bothering me melted away. This was the moment I’d been waiting for, and it came regardless of the traffic, the puke, the pee, or the cold weather. I wasn’t the only one who’d been looking forward to this moment, we all had. My father, my wife, Nana, and my son.
My father carries my son in front of the Brooklyn Bridge. Very much of the Earth had moved to make this picture possible. Very much. And no, not all of it was perfect.
Everything with his visit was going to be fine. Everything always was going to be. The picture with the Brooklyn Bridge was proof of this. It will stay in my mind forever.