I am the son(*) of an iron worker and I am truly amazed with all the jobs my dad worked on in his lifetime. He was a very humble person and just did his job with complete dedication and pride. He loved what he did and he did it with all his heart and soul. He always put in a hard day of work on each job he was involved in and when he came home he was exhausted. When my father was a young kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York he would always look forward to the times his dad would invite his iron worker friends over to the house. My dad was inspired by his father who was a proud iron worker and he loved to listen to his dad and his iron worker friends talk about their job and the buildings they were working on. My grandfather was one of the iron workers involved in the building of Shea Stadium in the early 1960’s when my dad was working on the Verrazano bridge. My grandfather worked into his early 60’s as an iron worker until he fell in a work related accident in 1972 having survived but he was hurt pretty bad and it was the end of his working days. He would die within a few years of the accident and it was very difficult for my dad and the family but my dad managed to forge on and devote himself to his family and to his iron-working career.
My dad was never fearful on the high iron and his nickname was “the rabbit” because he would run along the beams and he was very fast. He always managed to do his job and get through the work day because he had a family depending on him and he was always conscious of what it took to do his job. He always made sure he was positioned safely and he would never take foolish risk. He did everything with precision and thought before he acted. He had nerves of steel and he was proud of what he did.
My dad shared stories with us growing up of his experiences and one such story he talked about was when he was a young kid of 22 in 1957 when he was working as an apprentice and it was his responsibility to get the senior iron workers coffee and snacks and soda in the morning and afternoon. He went to the local store with the money rounded up from the iron workers and he would place the order and make sure he had everything before he left. As he was carrying the containers of hot coffee, the cakes and the sodas he would gently climb the steps leading up to the work area and as he got near the top he lost his balance and slipped falling down onto the canvasing on the lower level lucky to find he was OK but was splashed with the hot coffee. When one of the senior iron workers saw what happened he shouted down to my dad asking if he was OK and he replied he was but he dropped the coffee. Then the iron worker shouted back to him “I’m glad you’re OK but you better go and get more coffee.” My dad having fallen got back up ran down the steps and bought another round of coffee and snacks out of his own money and this time made it up to the crew making sure they each got their coffee, snacks and soda. My dad was a always making sure he did the right thing and this earned him a great reputation. After several years of learning from the senior iron workers he became a seasoned iron worker with a following.
One of my dad’s proudest achievements was working on the Verrazano bridge where he spent nearly 4 years and he lived through many happy and sad experiences there. It was on the bridge that my dad saw one of his friends fall to his death which really had a major impact affecting him for years to come. It was something he lived with and dealt with but he was very sad about the event. He was a smaller man at 5’7″ weighing 135 lbs and his coworker was 6’2″ weighing over 200 lbs. It was a day he would never forget as he had just finished talking with him and within minutes he heard him screaming his name. As my dad turned in the direction of the screams he looked in horror as he realized his friend was holding on to the bracing for dear life and my dad tried his best to pull him up but the weight and the damaged hand my dad had from a work related accident were too much to save him. As he slipped through my dad’s hands my dad also was about to go over but another iron worker took quick action jumping on top of my dad and holding him in position having saved his life.
We were truly indebted to the fellow iron worker who saved my dad’s life. Another sad day my dad recalled while working on the bridge was that fateful day in November of 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was another surreal experience and my dad was deeply saddened and in shock when he found out. As word spread the iron workers were told to knock off and go home out of respect for our slain president.
In his lifetime my dad worked on the Verrazano bridge, the World Trade Center, the Marriott Marquis hotel in Manhattan, The WR Grace building in Manhattan, the Citibank building in Long Island City, The Brooklyn Court houses, John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, New York where my sister and I and her son graduated from and many hospitals, schools and buildings.
A touching story that I will share that explains how much of a loving husband, father and dedicated iron worker my dad was is based on a follow up interview my dad had with a very famous author years later. Gay Talese wrote many great books in his career and took the time out to chronicle the experiences of the iron workers who worked on and built the Verrazano bridge in the early 1960’s in his book, The bridge. He had several interviews with my dad. The first was conducted during the construction of the Verrazano bridge in the aftermath of the tragic death of a fellow iron worker who my dad tried desperately to save but was unable to.
After my mother’s death in 1990 my dad was lost and lonely and the one thing he had besides us in his corner was his iron working skills which he still relied on into his early to mid 50’s. He went back to work on the Verrazano bridge in 1991-1992 to do refurbishing work and felt great to be back there where he started as a young man in his mid 20’s. As he was working on the restoration and using red lead paint he went to the very top of the towers and in a tribute to his wife, my mom he wrote out her name, Catherine in the paint with his work glove and looked out to see the view of Staten Island from the Brooklyn side remembering it clearly as if it was 1963 again and he wiped his brow, shed a tear, said a prayer and went back to work. Gay Talese was very touched by this and he added this in a re-release of the original book and added my dad’s take on the tragic incident regarding the World Trade Center which my dad helped build in the early 1970’s. I also had tears in my eyes as I read this and how I knew how much my dad loved my mom and my 2 sisters and I. He was a great man and I am so proud to know that Mr. Gay Talese took the time to get to know my dad and share a little bit about him in his line of work and his experiences and to write about all the great men and women involved in building the Verrazano Bridge.
I always am amazed when I see all that my dad was a part of and I have such pride and respect for him and all the iron workers who build the cities and risk their life everyday. It is the iron workers who don’t nearly get the respect or pay they deserve. In an era where baseball players get paid exorbitant salaries for playing a game which I do enjoy I feel that it is unfair. I will express my feeling on this in a simple but meaningful quote as follows: “The next time you cheer a baseball player for hitting a home run in the ball park and acknowledging them as a hero think of the iron workers who sacrificed their lives in building that ballpark for grown men to play a game.” “It is the iron workers who build the ballparks and the skyscrapers who are the true hero’s and they should be compensated as such for all their hard work which seems to be taken for granted.”
I am so very proud of my dad who always gave his all to his work as an iron worker and he leaves a part of himself in all he did and I am glad to say I am his son.
(*) – son (I am proud of my dad and I was born a boy and given my dad’s name but I am transgender identifying as a girl and it was my lifelong struggle since 4 years old). Out of respect for my dad I am a son.