Again this year, I know I’ll receive warm hugs and kisses from my daughters in recognition of yet another Father’s Day, my forty-ninth such occasion. It never grows old.
We fathers grow old, however, despite our best efforts. And in so doing, we lose our own fathers as they board the last train to glory, to borrow from Arlo Guthrie. My dad departed the station almost twenty years ago, but he remains with me almost daily in my reveries. And never more so than on Father’s Day.
When I was a young boy, he would take me to local railroad crossings to watch the big steam locomotives and their endless caravans go storming by. I treasured those occasions because I would have his undivided attention, a not-so-frequent circumstance in a family that eventually numbered five children.
He enjoyed the time with me, too, I’m sure; but he loved those trains even more than I did, a boyhood fascination he never lost. If he could have been anything else in life but an insurance executive, I believe he’d have been an engineer on one of those behemoths. He was truly a railwayman, if only in his dreams.
As a lad, it never occurred to me to ask him if his dad, my grandpa, had taken him to see the trains, and I’ve often wondered if, during those times with me, he might have been fondly remembering standing by the rails with his own father.
At the time of his passing, I wrote these lines to commemorate what he meant to me, to express my love for him, and they comfort me still—
The Railwayman You’d take me down beside the rails to watch the trains go storming by, And tell me all those wond’rous tales of engineers who sat on high, In cabs of steel, and steam, and smoke; of firemen in their floppy hats, The coal they’d move, the fires they’d stoke, as o’er the hills and ‘cross the flats The locomotives huffed and steamed, their whistles blowing long and loud. And one small boy, he stood and dreamed beside his daddy, tall and proud. Terrifying monsters were they, bearing down upon us two, who Felt their force on that steel highway, hearts a-racing---loving, true. I’d almost flinch as on they came toward us, with their dragon-face A-belching, spewing, throwing flame and steam and smoke o’er ev’ry place. But you’d stand fast beside the track, and, oh! the spectacle was grand. So, unafraid, I’d not step back, ‘cause you were there holding my hand. Oh, Railwayman, oh, Railwayman, I’m glad you knew when you grew old, How much I loved you---Dad, my friend---who shared with me your dreams untold. Oh, Railwayman, oh, Railwayman, if I, beside you once again, Could only stand safe in your hand, awaiting with you our next train.
All aboard, Dad…all aboard!
And Happy Father’s Day to all who, like me, are both fathers and sons. We are blessed.
[A slightly different version of this tale was first published here in 2017.]