The last time I saw him was from the railway line that spanned the Boyne River in Drogheda. 30 miles from Dublin. The year was 1978.
He was a speck in the distance, standing in our small garden waving goodbye for the last time.
He was not an emotive man, but incredibly protective of his children and the loss of another would go hard on him. He would not cry, but go quiet, withdrawn for several days.
Moments later the train swept me away to America, first to Dublin then an Aer Lingus plane across an ocean to a new world.
I wasn’t lonely, I was full of life and piss and vinegar and anxious to get going. Life’s vista was opening up and I was in a hurry to blaze my trail.
Like millions before America was calling. His wish for me to stay home, stick to a teaching job, marry and settle down, could never compete.
Now I wonder how he felt that long ago fine June morning as he watched his third son disappear in the distance, losing another son to emigration. He knew what it was to say goodbye.
He had grown up one of fourteen in a three-room house on a small holding in Gaelic-speaking West Kerry. The kids had scattered to the four winds as soon as they were able, but he had stayed home and become a teacher.
He raised seven kids with my mother and at one time five were away, scattered like his own family before him.
We spoke only once after I left before he died. It was frustrating,he was quite deaf, and I knew he could hardly hear what I was saying.
A few weeks after I left he was dead of a heart attack, I was on a Greyhound bus to California at the time, unaware, stopping off in many American towns on the way on a long mazy trip across country.
The year was 1978 and there were no cell phones, only old-style landlines in Greyhound bus stations where calling Ireland was impossible. I was uncontactable.
I reached a fork in the road in Salt Lake City bus station. Los Angeles was one bus destination, San Francisco the other. I felt him urging me to take San Francisco. It was the night he died.
Was he with me on that long journey across the salt lakes, to the Nevada Mountains and beyond?
I like to think he was. He loved the stories of the old West and here I was landing in the self-same territory inspired with the same version of the American dream that drove so many Irish before me.
Back home he had followed my progress west on a map, living it vicariously. I wrote to him about Cheyenne, Wyoming, the badlands and Tombstone City, places that fired his childhood imagination. He did not live to see the letters.
He was a writer too, I took so much from him, and today am lucky I can still hear his voice reading his short stories in Gaelic on the radio long ago.
This Father’s Day I will put on one of those CDs and for a moment the years will roll back as that powerful Kerry accent and beautiful lilting Gaelic can be heard again.
Then I will raise a glass to the old man, with the granddaughter he never knew and for a moment the world will be full again.
Happy Father’s Day to all.
* Originally published in 2014.