By Kristian Dyer
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Kristian R. Dyer is the Jets’ beat reporter for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo! Sports as well as WFAN. He can be followed on Twitter @KristianRDyer.
Thirteen years ago today, my father went off to work like any other day, taking the PATH from New Jersey into Manhattan, walking out from underneath the World Trade Center buildings on his way to his office in Battery Park, next to the Twin Towers.
He walked away from that day. Many wouldn’t. But in those moments of crisis he showed his character, and why he will forever be the man I hope to someday be.
I had a wonderful childhood in North Jersey, with a role model of a father and truly warm and loving mother. Never at any time did I want for anything, but they also instilled in me an appreciation for hard work. My first real job was during my freshman year of high school at the local town library, designed to not only give me some spending money but an appreciation for an honest day’s work as well as saving for the future. Nights were spent on the front lawn kicking the soccer ball with my father after he got home from a tough day at the office and a long commute. My mother always made my favorite meal for my birthday or to mark special occasions, and as a school teacher, she dutifully made sure my homework was not only done well but done with excellence. I was blessed in so many ways with both of them in my life.
I was in college at that time, 13 years ago, my junior year to be exact. At Montclair State University, there was a hill on the east side of campus near Bohn Hall with an unobstructed view of the New York City skyline. I walked by it that Tuesday morning and didn’t even glance to the left on my way to the on-campus job I worked before class. Those Twin Towers were taken for granted. I had seen the view hundreds of times. There was no reason to look up that morning.
The next time I would walk by, they weren’t there, just smoke rising to the heavens. Like many others in the area, I didn’t know when I stood in that spot hours later if my father was still down there or not.
He was the man who took me to my first baseball game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia (a trip made with my mother). We had plenty of father-and-son trips to Shea Stadium as well. There were football games at the old Giants Stadium and our annual trip to see the Harlem Globetrotters play at the Meadowlands on President’s Day weekend. He’d wait with me outside stadiums so I could get an autograph or a photo with an athlete. We spent countless hours playing catch after the work day, and he dutifully pitched tennis balls to me on our front lawn. He didn’t love sports like I always did, but he spent all that time after a long day at work just to be with me.
We all have memories of hearing the news on that day; trying to piece together the puzzle in our minds of what was happening, and why. It was a beautiful day, a sky-blue morning. The crispness seemed to greet you on the way out the door.
I received an email from my father after the first plane hit, telling my mother and me that he was evacuating the office as the senior member on his floor. His email sent chills up my spine as I read it, the reports on the radio in the background muddled and lacking clarity. He was safe, he wrote, and “safe in the Lord.” I remember wondering if that was the last time I would ever hear from him.
His journey to safety didn’t start there, even as he walked to the waterfront along with tens of thousands of others looking to flee Manhattan and head back to New Jersey. He stopped to help others and helped load the wounded and injured pouring from the two towers into the waiting ferry boats. No one asked him to help. He just did it.
His thoughts as he stepped outside, caught in the streets during the collapse of the second tower, turned toward home. He thought of a concert that past weekend he attended with my mother, an early celebration for their 25th wedding anniversary one month later. It was a special night they had spent, hand in hand, at the concert. As the building came down and a cloud of dust and debris descended on him in the middle of the street, he wondered if there would be any more moments like that.
My father is the type of man who faithfully loves and adores his wife, He looks at his bride of almost 38 years as he did on their wedding day. He’s the hardest working man I’ve ever met, marked not just by excellence but integrity. Words don’t flow out of him freely, but he’s the type of man who will pick a flower from the garden and bring it in to my mother, a teacher, and put it on her textbooks as she sorted through the grading to be done that night.
But on that day, he embodied not just what a man is, but what I want to be.
In turn, he gave no thought to himself, instead turning his attention to helping those like him whose thoughts earlier that day were of going to work and returning home in the evening. Many would do just that, forever changed. Many would never return home again.
He looked not at himself on that dock in Manhattan, but rolled up his sleeves and went to work. It was a different type of work than he planned on doing when he boarded the train for the office. But standing at the same spot where his office window just an hour before revealed a tranquil Hudson River, he now fought through the smoke and confusion to help others. It was the work he was called to do for that day, and maybe for his lifetime as well.
In times of crisis, a man’s character is revealed. In those hours after the first plane then the second plane hit and forever changed the New York City skyline, my father showed exactly why he is my hero. Not knowing what was to come next and with whispers and hysteria of the survivors saying that a nerve gas attack was coming or another plane was going to hit, my father stood there and helped. Next to the first responders, he helped the injured and hurt get a boat ride to safety, taking the last boat out late that morning once everyone was on board.
He went to work that day with meetings on his mind, budgets and staff issues filling his head. Instead, his daily plan was ripped apart, shredded by those who want to bring our country to its knees.
What the terrorists wanted to do that day was humble our nation into surrender. Yet it was Americans all over, like my father, who stood tall and helped their fellow man.
It wasn’t until about seven hours later that I finally learned that he was safe and back home, in the loving arms of my mother who wouldn’t let go of him for hours after that. He was covered head to foot in dust, but his voice was still strong and his eyes still looked upon his beautiful bride with love. She took care of him and cleaned him, with her words and her actions showing her love for him as well.
They each had left that morning like any other day, with their usual hug and kiss. Each returned back to home that night and greeted each other, again with a hug and a kiss. But this time it was different. This time they held on a bit longer.
There was no anger in his voice when I saw him that afternoon, just concern for the people he helped and those left under the rubble. He doesn’t talk often about the day or his role in helping others to treatment and safety.
I see it in his eyes sometimes, when he talks about what he saw, what he heard and how he escaped harm. He always makes mention of how God not only spared him, but preserved and protected him.
All I know is that he’s my father, and in the biggest crisis of our time, he revealed the man he is — and continues to be.
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