How my dad became an ironworker, photographer, and matchmaker
It’s a Friday night when the front door to our house bursts open and my dad walks through it, fresh off of a six-hour drive from New York City. He drops his bags, kisses us hello, and then turns to grab his brand-new camera. My dad is a New York City ironworker, and after all the stories we hear about the buildings he and his buddies are putting up, my sister and I decide to buy him a camera to document his view of the dazzling New York City skyline from twenty stories up. Ironworkers are known for their “office in the sky,” and we’re eager to see what kind of architectural grandeur he’s captured from his perch.
You can tell a lot about a person by what kind of pictures they take. Everyone has their own judgement on which people and moments should be preserved, and even within these moments there are different angles and points of view for every subject. A good photograph can immortalize an otherwise fleeting moment, and a good photographer can unearth a focal point not seen by every eye.
I can still remember the first photo my dad sent to me when he started working in NYC. One day, I woke up to a text message with an attached photo. Time-stamped at 5 a.m., it was taken on his job from the ground level, looking all the way up to the top of the building. It was all lit up, and, at that hour, it was still dark outside, so the twinkling of the lights was reflected in the photo. The caption was simple: “One World Trade Center.” After a few months in NYC, my dad had finally landed one of the most sought-after jobs, rebuilding the World Trade Center. My dad worked mostly on the underground portion, and though it was a tough assignment, One World Trade Center stands today as the tallest building in the United States.
With the image of One World Trade dancing around our heads, my sister and I are fully aware of what majesty may lay within my dad’s camera. We’re bubbling with anticipation as he turns it on. He flips through a couple throwaway photos as he describes what he wants to show us. “Here it is! I took this a few days ago on the job.” He flips it around so we can look at it and our enthusiasm quickly turns to confusion: we’re looking at a picture of some random dude in a hard hat. “So,” my dad explains, “I think I found Taylor’s husband.”
I’m sorry, what?
He goes on. “This is Jake. He works with me, and he’s a great worker, and he’s really nice. I think you should marry him.”
My sister and I stand there with our mouths open, trying to compute.
Before my brain snaps back into gear, I retreat for a few minutes into my own head. I run the logistics of this arranged marriage. Does this mean I have to move to New York City? I mean, I certainly love the pizza! On the downside, I’m not great in crowds and generally don’t love rats. I can’t drive on the crowded city streets, and you can forget about parallel parking on them—it is not in my skill set unless you’re looking to pulverize some street-side mailboxes. I excel only at perpendicular parking, thank you. I wonder if Jake likes pasta in Little Italy, or he is more of a street vendor kinda guy? I mean, I suppose it depends on what kind of food I’m craving, and traffic can be such a problem but sometimes the subway really smells . . .
I’m jolted back to reality by the sound of my sister’s panicked yelling. “DAD! You can’t take pictures of guys on your job like a matchmaker! That’s not what the camera is for!”
“Why not?” He shoots back. “The pictures aren’t for me. They’re for Taylor. I think she’d like him. He’s always laughing and happy.” My brother hears this and chimes in from the next room: “Taylor will put an end to that happiness real quick.”
As I listen to my dad and sister bicker, I’m amused by this turn of events. I’m pretty happy as a single gal, and my dad never seems bothered by that. He never pressures me to get married the way some parents do and always gives me space to figure myself out. The most he ever said on the subject was nudging me toward Washington Commanders linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Every Sunday when we watched football, Dad would celebrate an outstanding play by Kerrigan by saying, “This guy is great. Taylor, you have my permission to marry him.” Mind you, I never asked …but details, details. So, whether the guy is an ironworker in NYC or a linebacker in the NFL, my dad apparently will only accept greatness for his daughter.
We gave my dad the camera to take pictures of all the once-in-a-lifetime jobs he works on. At the very least, maybe some pictures of the Statue of Liberty or that Pizza Rat who gamely drags his slice all over the subway. We want any evidence of the important work he is doing in one of the greatest cities in the world—a job he worked hard to get and a job we’re still proud to talk about.
The way my dad chose to use this camera is actually a perfect picture of who he is. He may be a proud ironworker who left his fingerprints on the tallest building in America, but he is first and foremost a dad, and he stands to us as one of the tallest in the world.