This is a bit of a toughie for me. It’s been one year today since Gus and Gunny’s Pappy—my Father-in-Law—Andrew Bowers passed away. He was a tremendous influence on both boys’ lives, and we miss him dearly. My Mother-in-Law Solveig gave me the honor of asking me to speak at his funeral. This, to me, was the measure of a man, and how a gentle spirit can spring forth from even the rockiest soil.
Here are my words—he’s a man to be remembered—certainly missed.
The word “family” seems so simple. Mother, Father, Son, Daughter. Happy, together, united by love, and the small glimpse of the divine that comes with creation and the birth of our future days. But it is in the dusting of that simple word that we come to find the measure of a man, or of anyone for that matter. Andrew Bowers—my father in law— schooled me in a concept of that simple, yet so nuanced a word that will last me, and I believe many of you, the rest of our days.
It was six years ago, on another lazy day in Margaritaville. Kirsten, myself, and our terrible two, Gustav, were making our first “family” appearance in the Keys. Our flaxen-haired lad had spent many an infant hour sleeping comfortably on his Pappy’s tummy, as Andy, the self-professed “baby man” and his hot-water bottle of a belly was an early, soothing tonic to our first-born.
But Gus at two was a different creature altogether—Mommy’s boy all the way. His two pools of blue would become oceans at the mere thought of leaving his mother’s side, his impressive use of multi-syllabic words and sentences reduced to a blubbering “MO-MEEEEE!”
As we crossed the threshold, passing the great Manatee mailbox and the view of the “big water” our little barnacle trepidatiously emerged from the car, wide-eyed at a view of part of nature he had never experienced, clutching his six-foot lifeline and tugging her toward that salten miracle.
“Gus, we haven’t even gotten the bags out of the car!” Kirsten gasped, exhausted from the trek across Florida. Mor-Mor came over to give her “goldklump” a kiss, which he magnanimously granted while sinking ever more deeply into the triangle of safety between Mommy’s legs.
Then came Andy. He came first with familiarity. Every boy and girl in this room knows what’s going to come after Pappy says “Gimme Five!” right? Let me hear it.
But after that “how-ya-do, how-ya-do, how-ya-do” it was Pappy’s hands, massive, the hands that had held knife and gun, and were bound in venomous hatred in a time of war, that clawed at a car as he struggled for life, that made life-and-death decisions in the service of the law—it was these hands that had been through so much pain, hands that had every right to be blistered with the calluses of reality, it was those hands that came down, gently, reaching through that invisible forcefield of fear, grasping my son’s small fingers. He then softly said, “come, let’s you and Pappy go see the big water together.”
And they were off, just like that, not a tear, not a whimper—well, perhaps one or two out of Kirsten. Through the gate, over the coral gravel, a little push of the tire swing shaped like a horse, a tug at a sagging diaper, grandson and grandfather were together, bound by love and nature’s vast miracles. After all, there was no one on this earth better to share a love of “big” things with more than Andrew Bowers.
I had very much respected Andy before that moment, and felt lucky that I had such a kind man as my father-in-law. Glad that my mother-in-law Solveig had found a true love to fill her heart and life. But it was in that moment that I saw why she loved him so dearly, and that was the moment I knew I loved him, too. It is why the waves of tears continued to crash even as I wrote these words last night, and as I struggle to bring voice to them today.
Andy showed me in that moment, and so many times since, what family can really mean. That family need not be defined by blood, that the miracle of creation, and the passing of generations can be shared with unparalled love when moored in the harbor of abiding respect. Whether in Baltimore, Fairmont, Stony Brook, or Villa Viking, Andrew Bowers didn’t simply have a family, he made one. And I, for one, am delighted to have been taken into his orbit, albeit for a time briefer than we all had hoped.
I will miss my father-in-law, my father, deeply, but I hope to delight in the gifts he gave to all of his family–my family–in the time we all have left together on this earth.