To Dad, on Turning 70 by Dominic Laing

Creative Nonfiction

– 0 –

You are born, in Scotland. In February. It is cold outside. And wet.

Perhaps you shake and shiver, newly exposed to this strange world all at once. Perhaps, as she swaddles you, as your spine flattens against her forearm, your body calms, and your fluttering nerves resolve themselves into a soft coo.

It is dark outside, yet there is light. She smiles as her thumb maps your forehead.

“Barrie,” the young mother says to herself. “His name is Barrie.”

 

– 1 –

You are 10, on the New York subway. America is thrilling. School is a chore — but study hard, your father says, and you’ll succeed. You think about multiplication tables. You think about the Statue of Liberty and wonder if her arms ever get tired. You think about trains, and under your breath, you mimic the sound of the whistle.

“Chooo-chooo.”

You think about your favorite book, Robinson Crusoe. You think about being lost at sea, mutineers and Friday — and you’re so lost in thought you almost miss your stop.

 

– 2 –

You are 20, and you sit in an Argentine Cathedral. You gaze up at the ceiling, then your eyes fall down to the windows. Jesus and the disciples meet your gaze. You remember the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and you remember Gethsemane.

Your head rests against the pew, and you pray. “Padre, Bendito Señor, ayúdame. El mundo aparece demasiado grande y demasiado rápido, y no conozco caminarlo. Te amo. Amen.”

Father, Blessed Lord, help me. The world seems too big and too fast, and I don’t know how to walk in it. I love you. Amen.

 

– 3 –

You are 30, on a plane — leaving Arizona, returning home to California from a business trip. You straighten your tie. You think of your law degree — of the pain in your neck you woke up with the day after you passed the bar, because you fell asleep sitting up on the bed.

You think about your married friends. You wanted to be a punter and you wanted to be a pilot, but now you’re alone on a plane and the world doesn’t make sense to you.

The plane accelerates, lifts. The wheels pull up into the belly, and you ascend.

 

– 4 –

You are 40, holding your third child in your arms — “Andrea,” you say. You practice saying the name while you look at her. It’s different now; saying her name aloud with her in the room, in your arms.

You look at Nancy, your wife. You recall the six weeks from first date to proposal. You kiss her, and she leans back in bed to rest.

Dominic, your second-born, is stubborn and doesn’t want to speak to his new sister. Your oldest, William, is smitten. He calls her Snow White.

“Andrea,” you say again. “Her name is Andrea.”

 

– 5 –

You are 50, and no longer practicing law. A friend offers you an executive position at their business with normal hours, and you take it.

You’re teaching your kids to golf, because one started hacking away with your old clubs and a whiffle ball, and you’re tired of all the divots in the front-yard.

More time at home, however, doesn’t simplify everything — in fact it complicates matters. The kids are more combustible now — they’re more fragile and more quarrelsome than ever. You are thankful.

You are confused, and frustrated at times, and you are thankful.

 

– 6 –

You are 60. Dominic graduates from college and lives in Southern California. He wants to write and make movies. William gets married. You sit next to Nancy and watch as William pledges fidelity to his love in the same place you stood almost 30 years previous.

You’re traveling again, now that the kids are older. Everything hurts more — your joints, your muscles — when good friends pass away without warning.

The officiant presents Mr. and Mrs. William Laing, and you think to yourself, “How am I here, and how do I make this moment last forever?”

 

– 7 –

You are 70, and you live in Texas. Two of your children work with you. Dominic, the other, lives in Portland. You talk to him about the weather — hot; work — busy; and Jesus — Bendito Señor — as mysterious and wonderful as He was in Argentina.

Your grandchildren call you “Papa Bear,” and co-workers call you “Sir.” Nancy calls you “Did you take out the recycling?”, your children call you “Dad”, and your parents call you “Barrie.”

In the morning, you watch hummingbirds. You tend to the feeders.

And in the hum of their wings, you hear God call you “Son.”

 

Biography
Dominic Laing lives in Portland, Oregon. He’s currently learning how to remodel his house and be a good long-distance uncle. He believes Storytelling is the dual grace of knowing and becoming known. Dominic’s recent work has been published in Ruminate, Embers Igniting, and HCE Review.

Image: Shlomo Shalev

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