This blog post is by Ali Dyer, the Social Marketing Manager at Autism Speaks. Her older brother Jeff has autism. You can read more about Jeff and her family here.
My father comes from a storied football background. His father Pete was a legend having made a name for himself around the Hudson Valley from the many years he spent on the sidelines from high school to college. My dad was a water boy as soon as he could walk, learning the game inside and out, soaking up everything he could. From there, my dad became a star athlete and grew up to play for my Pop-pop – no pressure… yea uh-huh!?
Dad as Pearl River Quarterback
Football was a part of my dad, and he dreamed of becoming a coach; so he went to college to become a teacher, not because he loved algebra, but because he longed for the sidelines. Well, my dad’s dreams came true because his hard work paid off and at the ripe age of 22, he got his first job in Irvington and made it to the sidelines.
My Dad as Irvington Head Coach, Pop-Pop, and a Cousin
He immediately made an impact, both in and out of the classroom, establishing himself among students and faculty. His football dreams all changed though when Cupid’s bow hit him and he saw my beautiful mother (my mother my angel link) for the first time …
My parents’ relationship happened fast and furious. It started as friends, but once it shifted, they wed and started a family. They’ll always say that the reason they are still happily married is because they were committed to each other and having a family, no matter what curveball was thrown their way.
Mom and Dad on Wedding Day
People always say, you’d never seen a person so proud as when my oldest brother Tommy was born. My dad was bursting with pride and in complete awe of my mother, like she was the first woman to ever give birth. He still exudes those feelings to this day, true love and admiration for all that she is. It is among the greatest gifts he has given me actually; he has taught me exactly how my partner should love me.
One month after I was born, my brother Jeff was diagnosed with autism; when they asked what that meant, they were told to go look it up in an encyclopedia. At that moment my family changed. Even more than ever, my parents were committed to keeping the five of us a solid unit.
A dear family friend recently came to an Autism Speaks event and heard my mom talk to other autism moms, sharing the similarities they faced over the years, and she was sort of surprised. She said that she didn’t realize how difficult it was for us because we were always happy. But the thing is, she wasn’t off base at all, we were … despite our varied challenges, which is all a testament to my mom and dad.
A Christmas Card from the Early Years
My parents say that I am their ‘angel,’ as I was the girl after two boys, and as my father held me with complete adoration for the first time, my mom said, ‘I hope you still look at her like that when she ‘s older.’ Guess what… he did, and does.
Each night before bed, my father would sing ‘Handy Man’ or ‘What a Wonderful World’ to me, which I still to this day put on when I can’t fall asleep. He didn’t miss any of my events, yelling from the sidelines ‘Run like the wind!’ from the time I was playing youth soccer (yeah I know, soccer) to competitive lacrosse as I aged. He loves that we watched Friends together, even though I was probably too young. The support I’ve had in every decision I have made, for better for worse, he has been there (even if after he has to tell me, ‘I don’t hate your guts or anything, but…’)
My brothers and I (and all of our friends) grew up on the sidelines and in his classroom. Anyone that came in his path knew what he was about – family, unity, together, living in harmony, gung-ho if you will – and it wasn’t because he preached it, he lived it. He is a man of principle.
When things were especially tough for my family, he left coaching to be with the family fulltime. How could he keep coaching, working incredibly long hours, when his family needed him? It would go against everything he instilled in all of the young people he touched.
It was only for a few seasons, and he when he returned, the town practically had a parade! Irvington was a town that rallied around football and the heart and soul of it was back – not just my dad, but all of the Dyers.
His record of wins and losses isn’t what made my dad a success; it was the family that he created and the values and support that he instilled in his students and players over the years. After time, my dad retired from Irvington and came across the river to coach my oldest brother Tommy, which was a sad loss for Irvington, but what a gift for my dad and brother. Since then, Irvington created a Bill Dyer Day.
The thing about my dad though, is he doesn’t have that whole ‘macho coach thing’ going on; he is as much of a Renaissance man as they come! He’s a cook, gardener, horse-lover, singer (Willy and the Wonders), character in school project master, chatty daddy, ice cream sundae maker, checkbook balancer, to name a few. He is the most colorful man I know and one of my four best friends – sorry guys (Mom, Dad, Tom and Jeff) I don’t choose favorites!
Dad as Injun Joe and Tommy as Tom Sawyer
When my brother Jeff moved into his group home, it shook us to the core, but it hit my dad the hardest. He always wants to have ‘the big guy home,’ but what it really amounts to is, he wants us all to be home. My mom often says he wishes we were, ’9, 7, and 5 forever.’ When Tommy or I aren’t around my dad gets a little empty feeling, but he shouldn’t; he has us. I know that we all keep him with us every step we take.
As I have gotten older so much of me has wanted to prove that I can be independent, and my dad has always given me the confidence to believe that I can. He is SO proud of me and is there to pick me up when I may fail.
In recent years my father has faced adversity and has quite literally had to fight for his life using the same inner strength and courage he preached to so many over the years. The ‘Xs and Os’ are not what make him a legend; it is the sea of people he impacted and changed for the better over the years.
Dad, you are legendary, and I’d be lying if I said I wish we couldn’t stay like this forever …