It's late. I've been studying for days, only taking breaks to eat, sleep, node, and buy my father a birthday card. He's well past the half-century mark now, and showing no signs of fading. And after I post the card, I come back home and pull out the ol' acoustic guitar he gave me a long time ago, rummaging through the gig bag for something new to play.

There's a book of Irish ballads in there. It used to be his, but I'm sure he doesn't need it anymore: he must know all of these by heart. We used to play "The Fields of Athenry" every time I came home, him on his Stratocaster and me on the keyboard... and here's "Limerick You're a Lady," and God, I probably haven't heard "Sean South from Garryowen" since we saw Limerick thrash Cork way back when.

And then there's one I remember from the old man's Paddy Reilly tapes, back when I was in single digits...

Raised on songs and stories, heroes of renown,
The passing tales and glories that once was Dublin Town.
The hallowed halls and houses, the haunting children's rhymes,
That once was Dublin City in the rare ould times.
Ring-a ring-a rosey, as the light declines,
I remember Dublin City in the rare ould times.

He came to this country because he married American. Right before I was born, he gave up his flat in Dublin and his job with Aer Lingus. He worked a million jobs: fixing cars, building houses, pulling Bobcats out of cypress trees. And then, back before I can even remember, he got a job with a big airline, and took us from Florida to Oklahoma.

Every image I've ever had of him involves his mechanic's uniform. Back when I was three, I wrote: I love my daddy when he goes to work and comes back tomorrow. He always came back tomorrow, with his lunchbox in his hand, as I was in the living room with Lego bricks all over the floor. That was how I knew him.

Now, I'm older. Now, he's older. Now, his company is getting over an executive compensation scandal, and it's a few days away from bankruptcy, and he's probably a few days away from being downsized out of his career. But back then, I didn't read Motley Fool or watch CNBC. He just came home tomorrow, and that was it.

My name it is Sean Dempsey, as Dublin as can be
Born hard and late in Pimlico, in a house that ceased to be.
By trade I was a cooper, lost out to redundancy,
Like my house that fell to progress, my trade's a memory.
Ring-a ring-a rosey, as the light declines,
I remember Dublin City in the rare ould times.

We lived in North Carolina for a few years, in a white house with green shutters... he painted it. When I wasn't exploring the creek or smashing Hot Wheels into each other, I would go out to where he was working on one of several Volkswagens, and maybe hit the pedal for him so he could check the new brake lights. He always came home tomorrow.

Then, one morning in fifth grade, he woke me up early. Mom had had a terrible stomachache in the middle of the night, and we needed to go to the hospital. That was the last time I wasn't scared of the hospital. After that, she kept going back, and she kept getting a different diagnosis. The hives came, then the tumors, then the operations.

We moved to South Florida when I was still in middle school, and it was there that one day, I was called to the office, and he was sitting there, suddenly small, and I didn't know what to think until he hugged me and told me. And we were both silent going down Interstate 595 to the hospital where she lay.

I didn't cry at her funeral, and neither did he. The days just blended together after that. He would disappear at night and resurface in the morning, as though he had gotten lost somewhere along the line, and I would disappear into the baud until my eyes turned red and my body cried out. But still, he came home tomorrow, and that was all I needed to know.

And I courted Peggy Dignan, as pretty as you please,
A rogue and a Child of Mary, from the rebel Liberties,
I lost her to a student chap, with skin as black as coal,
When he took her off to Birmingham, she took away my soul.
Ring-a ring-a rosey, as the light declines,
I remember Dublin City in the rare ould times.

His job mattered less and less as the company grew more and more corrupt and more and more mismanaged, but he still went every day. In fact, he met his new wife on the employee bus. We left our house in the suburbs, and moved to a high-rise by the Atlantic shore, looking out across the ocean toward the island of yore.

I went to Japan and then I finished high school and then I packed and then I left. But I would still come back over the holidays to see my friends, even though they were growing fewer and farther between. My best friend capitalized on his right of return and moved to Jerusalem: my old sweetheart disappeared, my favorite English teacher died, my friends from middle school were all on drugs, and my friends from Japan were all thousands of miles away in every direction.

I can feel myself getting old, even though I know I'm too young to be old. Even the people who are older than me look like children now.

The years have made me bitter, the gargle dims my brain,
'Cause Dublin keeps on changing, and nothing seems the same.
The Pillar and the Met have gone, the Royal long since pulled down,
As the great unyielding concrete makes a city of my town.
Ring-a ring-a rosey, as the light declines,
I remember Dublin City in the rare ould times.

Now, I don't think about my father coming home tomorrow. He thinks about me coming home tomorrow. I know that all the Guinness and Jet A won't bode well for him in the long run, and I know that it won't be long before there's no home to go home to.

But I know that in a couple of days, he'll have his Strat, and I'll have my keyboards, and we'll have another session. Now, we're both old. We both remember the rare ould times, and the rare ould times will live with us until he and I are buried in the family plot in Kilbehenny, in the shadow of Galtymore where it all started. And when he goes, I know what I'll say:

Fare thee well sweet Anna Liffey, I can no longer stay,
And watch the new glass cages, that spring up along the Quay.
My mind's too full of memories, too old to hear new chimes,
I'm part of what was Dublin, in the rare ould times.
Ring-a ring-a rosey, as the light declines,
I remember Dublin City in the rare ould times.

The night air feels cooler now, and the guitar can wait. Only two more exams to go, and then the freeway will take me home. I can see tomorrow already, and I can see home on the horizon.

"the rare ould times" by pete st john