As I write this to you, the sun is beginning to make its first debut for the year 2015. Currently, the temperature on the beach at Point Lookout, New York is 28 degrees. The wind direction is west by northwest and gusting from 16 to 27mph. The tide is ebbing between high and low and the inshore wave height is averaging between three to four feet.
There is a small craft advisory until later this evening. I suppose this is due to the high winds—but I don’t mind. I have come to this place to welcome in the New Year and say goodbye to the year that was.
More importantly, I come here to say hello to my Old Man, wherever he may be.
The last walk he and I took on this beach was New Year’s morning, 1989. I was 16 years old at the time. I had just parted ways with the Long Island Public School System. However, The Old Man said “If you want to live here, you have to work or go to school.”
But I did both—and not by choice.
I did not do well in public school, partly because of my social anxieties, partly because of my depression and physical insecurities, and partly because of my frustration with a misunderstood and undiagnosed learning disability.
I did not like the classroom settings. I did not like the feeling I had while walking through the hallways. I did not like the series of social cliques or the struggles I had while trying to fit in and find my own description of cool.
Home schooling was easier for me. There was no one around to impress. There were no other students in the room which meant there were no reasons to feel stupid if I had a question. There were no upset, or underpaid, and resentful teachers to argue with. There was never really any homework or tests (at least, none that I remember.)
There were never any hassles. There was no reason to cut class or duck someone in the hallways—because there were no hallways. My classroom consisted of two stools and the island-like counter which was across from my kitchen sink.
During the first morning or 1989, The Old Man and I took our yearly walk on the beach. This day was our day of truce. No matter what happened throughout the year, no matter what our disputes were, this day was our day of peace.
We began this tradition when I was a small boy. On cold New Year’s mornings, The Old Man would bundle me up and tuck my ears beneath a hat that was knitted by my grandmother. He would stuff my little hands inside of my mittens. Then he zipped my zipper all the way up and snapped the top buttons of my fluffy blue down jacket.
He would say, “It’s pretty cold out there, kid. I guess we’ll have to double up on the hot chocolate when we get back.”
Throughout the years of my life, and from then until now, I have had many cups of hot chocolate . . . but none of them were as good as the cups I had with The Old Man.
We would walk along the beach, which was otherwise empty. We counted the dead seagulls that washed upon the shore. We collected sea shells; we collected the abandoned fishhooks and tangled fishing rigs that came in with the tide.
We walked for what seemed like miles to my little legs, and as we walked, The Old Man would talk to me.
Sometimes he would tell me stories about his childhood. He would tell me about my grandfather. He would tell me about his Uncle Moey. And as we walked, The Old Man would take off in conversation. I listened to him, but I seldom understood what he was saying. It seemed even in my young age, I knew The Old Man was just venting.
God, I admired him. He was my hero.
He was my Old Man. He was my father . . .
but I called him Pop.
As we headed from the rockpiles on the east end of Point Lookout, the ocean tumbled on the wet sands to our right, and the frosty sand dunes that capped with snow were on our left.
We passed the bungalows at Lido and walked towards Long Beach. The crashing waves echoed, and overhead, crying seagulls flew circles in an empty winter sky.
The Old Man walked in a regular pace; however; I scurried behind him with my tiny little legs and tried to keep up. I would step in the footprints he left in the sand so I could “Follow in his footsteps,” so to speak.
I wanted to be just like him . . .
Our last walk in 89 is hazy in memory.
I was troubled then. I was young in age but living with an adult-sized addiction. Though he loved me, The Old Man was not proud. My name was linked to several problems in our community. I was removed from school. My hair was long and I dragged my feet when I walked. I spoke through my teeth and I mumbled. I entered the world of addiction at a very young age and lost my innocence.
Our walks became quiet after this happened.
I assume he spoke less because he was unsure of what to say.
“I just don’t want to see you kill yourself,” he said.
He would tell me, “Your friends are all bums,” and I could hear the love and frustration in his voice.
“I just want to see you do well,” he told me.
“You’re my son and I love you. But it hurts to see you live like this.
As he tried to reach me, I remained quiet and slowly walked beside him. But even at my worst and in my most rebellious times; I still made sure to step in a few of The Old Man’s footprints . . .
Although it may be sad, there is something beautiful to this memory.
And I keep it.
I keep it because it reminds me that love comes with hard times. Love comes with disappointment, but love never gives in, and though The Old Man was disappointed, he never gave up on me,
I keep this memory inside of me and on New Year’s morning, I head over to the beach for a visit. I revisit the little boy I was. I remember the stories and the long walks I took with The Old Man.
I keep this piece of me alive and when I take my first step onto the sand, I let that little boy out.
I tell him, “It’s okay. You can come out now.”
But I feel as though the little boy cries because The Old Man is gone and there are no footsteps for him to follow.
I tell him, “It’s alright. You don’t have to cry. Just take my hand and I’ll be right here with you.”
I tell him, “It’s our turn to make our own footsteps now.”
I say, “I know which way to go, so don’t worry. We won’t get lost.”
I tell him, “And I know it’s cold out, but we’ll just have to double up on the hot chocolate when we get home.”
The sun is up now.
It is time for me to make my own footprints in the sand.
Just like The Old Man had people that depended on him, I have people that depend on me. I have a family. I am a father. I am a homeowner. I work with my hands and I pay my bills to the best of my ability.
I guess all those times I stepped in The Old Man’s footprints really paid off.
Happy New Year, Pop