Act 1: Sitting at an IBM workbench.
I knew the call would come soon. I was soldering diodes onto a computer chip. The resin smoked. The phone rang in my manager’s office. Go home to your wife, he said, she called and said it’s time. I pass by the electronic parts window. A guy says to play with them a lot and soon. They grow up fast he called after me. I pace the waiting room thumbing old copies of Argosy. Early ’70’s, fathers-to-be weren’t allowed in the Delivery Room, remember. The doctor pushes through the door. Erin is here, he says. Then he leaves. In a short time I’m standing in a hallway and looking at the bassinet the nurse had pushed to the glass window. I look down. A red face looks back at me. Erin is swaddled tight like a pharoh’s wife. I look and think about the future. There is a clock on the wall of the white room. I think about grabbing the hands and stopping time. Off to call the family.
Act 2: An apartment in Scranton.
I’m working full-time as a teacher. That will take care of the next thirty-five years of my life. You crawl and get into everything your hands can grab. I sip a glass of wine at dinner and look over at you in your high-chair, your head is down and your cheeks are sitting in the mashed potatoes and peas. They stick to your face when we move you. You look like you’re part vegetable. Your hair is light, not blonde, not red…but somewhere in that mix.
Act 3: The white farmhouse on the hill.
You seem to fall asleep in the oddest places. I placed you on a potty chair and go to get a cold beer (we’re having a family reunion). I come back and you are slumped on the little seat with your head resting nicely on your shoulder. Were you dreaming about long ago when you went out into the world wrapped in a Pamper? Some years later, I play kickball with you on our lawn. Your face gets red. My heartbeat rises. There is chill in the late afternoon. Your shadow is long upon the grass. I wonder about your life to come.
Act 4: On a visit to the grandparents.
It’s thumb numbing cold as we take you to the IBM golf course where people are sledding. There is a small (I thought) rise in the snow about half way down. I got it alone. Testing. I hit the bump. The toboggan and I are airborne. Too many seconds later we crashed back to the packed snow. Toboggan goes here. I go there. My eye glasses go somewhere else entirely. You rush forward yelling. Is Daddy going to do that again? No, I said, wiping the ice from my glasses.
Act 5: Scene 1–Many years later.
You are in Dickinson College. You have made it your job to post the most recent Top Ten List from the Letterman Show. You are the expert when discussing Car Talk to anyone. We come to visit you and see you in a play staged by the Mermaid Players. It’s a Lanford Wilson drama. (It’s like sticking pins in my eyes, after all, when the last words of Act 1 is Oh My God, Oh My God you know it’ll be a rough road). I’m having a hard time wondering how my quiet, shy daughter will project from the stage. We take you to lunch on the afternoon of the performance. You gently inform your dad that your character will be a victim of an attempted rape. I’m sweating. Will I storm the stage?
Act 5: Scene 2 Many more years later.
Now your living in Georgia and Germany and Arizona and Savannah and India and D.C. and Washington. We visit you in Germany and you take us to Dachau. We leave with heavy hearts. We visit you in Arizona and you take us horseback riding in the desert. We see you less and less as you see more and more of the world. I think again of the white room and the hands of the clock.
Act 6: Drinking coffee in Tacoma (what an unusual thing to do).
I walk you down the path in a field near Orting, WA. You’re marrying the man you love, Bob. “Here, There and Everywhere” is playing from the box. Your loved ones have gathered to witness the marriage. There is a rainbow in the cloudy skies toward Rainer. Only someone watching me closely will notice a tear run down my cheek. My heart is bursting with happiness for you. And, under your white smock, a tiny life is growing.
Act 7: The late night phone call.
We wait and read and wait again. Your a nation away and in a hospital room, a delivery room (Is it white? Is there a clock?) The call comes on January 9, 2013. A boy! The two of you take your time deciding on a name. Finally: Elias Muir. A good name that reflects many ideas and feelings. A month later, I look into my grandson’s eyes. I’m in there somewhere. His fingernail contains a bit of my DNA. He sees me. He doesn’t know me, yet, but he’s staring. He falls asleep in the oddest places…like my lap…for nearly four hours during the Super Bowl. When you take him, I barely make it to the bathroom. I had no idea my bladder would hold off until the fourth quarter.
Act 8: The denouement.
We were in orbit around each other for years. A long time ago, you grew up, just like the guy at IBM said (but he failed to tell me how really, really fast that time would pass). You grew up and the little child I kicked the ball with found other planets to orbit. That’s the way that life goes. It goes on and on, unbroken. When you looked at your son moments after he was born, I’m sure you kissed him. I had to wait about an hour before I got to kiss you. I never thought I’d be a grandfather, but here I am. And I’m old now, there’s no other way around it. It’s as it should be. It’s as it has to be. But, please, whatever the future holds for me, promise me you will look at him like I looked at you (you’ll have to picture that part), and watch over him like I watched over you. And play with him. Play hard with him, because the time will pass so much faster than you could possibly imagine. The stage is set now for you, Bob and Elias. Go out and play the scene well.
I’ll wait in the wings.