Big Guy

I am grateful to have snapped a picture of the Eldest asleep on my dad’s lap when she’s no more than 3 weeks old. Her tiny hand clings tightly to his index finger; she can’t get her fingers all the way around it.

Always, when I think of my dad, I think of his hands – which is only right, because he’s always been a man of action much more than of words. My dad has worked with his hands and his back for as long as I can remember, and he’d be doing it still if he weren’t only human.

I’m glad he hasn’t been able to work so hard in the last 8 years since we moved to Michigan, because I finally started to get to know him, and to discover the amazing brain underneath the brawn. Dad is a natural math whiz; he’s not just good at it, he loves math the way I love literature. One day driving together, he told me how physics had thrilled him in high school. Somehow, it didn’t sink in until then that he could’ve gone to college just as easily on an academic scholarship as on an athletic one – only he never got a chance, his education a casualty of his father’s sudden death.

So my dad spent a lot of his life making his living based on his physical strength. The fine brain didn’t get wasted – he couldn’t have succeeded in construction without it. But I’m sad he didn’t get to putter around in a lab and just delight in the pure beauty that I know math and science are to him.

And I’m deeply grateful that I did get to go to college and putter around in dark theaters and spend hours studying Greeks and Shakespeare and a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t supposed to do you any good in life but that has made my life immeasurably rich. I owe that privilege to my dad and mom, who, denied college themselves, made sure I had it.

Dad has taught me so much:

The extraordinary beauty of a wheatfield in the wind in August. “Doesn’t it look like the ocean?,” he said in a hushed voice. It did. It was perhaps the most reverent moment of my life, and I will never forget it.

The importance of rhythm. A drummer in high school who saw Louis Armstrong live, my dad was a great dancer in his time, but more importantly, really knows how to tell a good story. The man has awesome timing.

That being crazy about your spouse after 60 plus years of marriage isn’t just possible, it’s natural. When he and Mom still lived in Michigan, the spouse and I took the kids to their house for a barbeque. The spouse noted, “You know, he was clearly feeling lousy today, but by damn, if he wasn’t checking out your mom’s legs. That was about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Loyalty like a rock. Dad has always been there for me, no matter how stupid one or the other of us has been (mostly me), and no matter how much we pissed each other off.

A finely-developed sense of the ridiculous, particularly that within yourself. The man is definitive self-deprecation.

That stories are important. Especially when they’re funny.

That a lot of times, it’s good to be quiet and just watch everyone else. Or just be there. My last year in college, Dad was flying between Idaho and California every week, and he had layovers at the Salt Lake Airport. I would always go meet him and we’d get a coke. We really didn’t say much. We were just together. It was lovely.

That it’s ok to be good at lots of things. Because when you fail at one, you have so many other things you can do.

How to pray. With your whole heart.

He is a man who hasn’t said much, but who has a beautiful voice. I am grateful to have heard it more and more in the last few years, and to hear it when I read the writing he has just begun and that I hope doesn’t stop any time soon.

Among a variety of ailments, my dad’s heart is enlarged. I wish that it weren’t, but honestly, I’m not surprised. Conn Bauer has one helluva big heart. He may have the biggest one of anyone I’ve ever known.

I love you, Pop. Happy Father’s Day.

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