1. 1.I AM your father and I love you.

  2. 2.We are golden retrievers.

  3. 3.We bring comfort and cuddles to the haggard, the away-from-homers.

  4. 4.With a wag and a welcome message we smuggle in through security, we make stressed-out travelers feel better. Or try to.

  5. 5.We are airport therapy dogs.

[photo: golden retriever in a periwinkle “Pet Me” vest]

  1. 6.Your mother and I built this airport therapy dog contract services business from scratch 15 years ago.

  2. 7.It’s been quite a ride.

  3. 8.The one-horse airports. Indifferent municipal planners. Ill-conceived energy policies. An increasingly fragile airline industry. Increasingly fragile airline passengers. A ride. A satisfying one, for the most part. Yes.

  4. 9.This business is changing. So’s the world. As you and I have discussed in recent months.

  5. 10.We’ve also discussed this: It’s time. For new ideas, new service delivery methods, new data-driven analytical processes. New ways to relieve, as we say.

[graphic: “Big Data” image with numbers in the shape of an unscalable mountain]

  1. 11.It’s also time for new-breed leaders. Again, as we’ve discussed.

  2. 12.I feel a little strange thinking it, stranger still writing it down. But it doesn’t make it any less true. It’s time to hand the reins at Airport Therapy Dogs LLC to you, dearest Claire.

  3. 13.And on the eve of this transition, I’m anxious. Nervous, maybe. I find myself searching. Struggling to figure out what I want to say to you. What I should say. How to organize my thoughts. I’m making a listicle, for chrissakes, if that’s what this is.

[image: only known photo of a golden retriever’s soul in limbo]

  1. 14.Is this the right time? The right moment? The right thing right now?

  2. 15.Am I leaving this place in a position for you to succeed? To carve your own path?

  3. 16.There’s also this: What have I accomplished? Did I do right by our customers? Did I do right by the canine comfort profession? Did I do right by you?

  4. 17.I know I was gone a lot. It’s this business, yes, but still. I know I missed things.

[photo: Claire graduating from her first therapy dog training class, Oneonta, NY]

  1. 18.I know, too, I haven’t been all that open at times. Although I think you know—I hope you know—I’ve always been here for you. At least I hope have.

  2. 19.You and I are somewhat alike in this area. It’s not like you’ve confided in me all that often, either. We don’t talk about things. Maybe that’s my fault, or partly. I’ll try to do better.

  3. 20.I’m confident you haven’t felt pressured into this succession thing—at least I hope you haven’t. I’m pretty sure I never said “Some day, this will all be yours.” If I implied it, I didn’t mean to. If I did, I’m sorry.

  4. 21.Because I know you could do anything you wanted to do. Be anything you wanted to be. You’re amazing, Claire. I’ve known it forever.

  5. 22.Remember the time I got stuck on a job? It was before we opened this place, and I wasn’t there for your first gig—that airport in Schenectady.

[photo: “Welcome to Schenectady County Airport, Andy Capp Fries Now Available in Vending Machines” sign]

  1. 23.I know you know I wasn’t there, but I don’t know if you know what your mother told me about that day.

  2. 24.She told me you were nervous, but that nobody knew it. She said you wore a vest I’d given you. The yellow one that was out of style and didn’t fit right.

  3. 25.She told me, too, about the rumpled man in a navy pinstripe suit. The unreachable man with the weight of the world on his mind. A shell of a man who didn’t smile, maybe couldn’t. Maybe hadn’t in years.

  4. 26.Your mother told me you saw all this, but that you also knew better. How you could just tell.

  5. 27.She told me how you somehow—somehow—caught this man’s eye. How she saw him see you looking so welcoming. So friendly. So guileless. So beautiful.

  6. 28.God I miss your mother. I know you miss her, too.

  7. 29.Your mother told me how the unsmiling man saw you and stopped in his tracks. How he hesitated before approaching you. How you half-smiled like the Golden you are. How he reached down and awkwardly patted your head. How he looked a little less rumpled afterward.

  8. 30.It was a gorgeous, perfect moment, your mother said. She said it was like nesting dolls. You open one and it reveals another. And another. And another. Seven nesting dolls in all.

  9. 31.And in the seventh doll, the smallest doll, you see something. It’s Scotch-taped to the bottom, your mother said, something you need a spyglass to see. And through the spyglass, you see it. A message written in a child’s hand, in Crayola: “What it means to be alive.”

[photo: from left to right, seven nesting dolls, biggest to smallest]

  1. 32.If your mother could see you now, Claire. If she could see what I see. How smart you are. How unobtrusively empathetic you are. How alive you are. How the world is better because of it. How I am.

  2. 33.This transition will be a process—I hate that word “process” and I’m sorry to use it, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Succession isn’t an event. It’s a, well, the p-word. It’ll take awhile.

  3. 34.There’s a lot more I could say and will say, if you want me to. But I’ll leave it at this: Know I’m here if you need me.

  4. 35.Know, too, that I’m not here if you need me to be that, too. You know this, Claire. Oh my dearest Claire.

  5. 36.Ever yours and in comfort and cuddles I remain,

Pat Foran is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in WhiskeyPaper, Bending Genres, Gravel, formercactus, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Disappointed Housewife and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @pdforan

© 2018 Pat Foran. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, November 2018.

Images from The Noun Project (credits: Cristiano Zoucas).


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by Pat Foran
For my dearest claire, 
the new CEO of airport therapy dogs, llc