Doug Bruns

Don Bruns

In Death, Family, Life, Memoir on May 6, 2014 at 12:42 pm



My father, about whom I have written extensively here, died last week. He was 92. He died in his bed peacefully. No machines, no tubes, no wires. I was with him and was able to tell him one last time that I was proud of him and that I loved him. He went out like he lived, without drama, understated, quietly.

I wrote this essay about him 23 years ago. The Baltimore Sun picked it up and published it on Father’s Day. Dad and Mom came to our house for lunch that Sunday and I read the essay to him. He had not seen it and sat quietly as I read. It was my Father’s Day gift to him. I reprint it below as tribute to my father.



My father cannot throw a baseball overhand. He has a bad shoulder. I recollect as a youngster him trying a couple of times, but he threw awkwardly, like a young child. He stood there, looking apologetic and rubbing his shoulder. “It’s been a problem all my life, this shoulder of mine. But I can throw pretty darn fast underhand,” he said. So we played catch a while, he throwing underhand, I on the look out for friends who might see us and tease me.

That was a long time ago. He still throws underhand. I see him with his grandchildren. I am suspicious of the problem of the bad shoulder. He has never otherwise complained of shoulder problems. I think he never learned to throw a ball properly and is too embarrassed to admit it. One is taught to throw a ball. My children are learning now: Plant one foot, elbow high, follow through. It does not come naturally to most mortals.

My father was born in 1922. His was the rugged life of a youngster in Indiana during the Depression. The only picture I ever saw of him as a child was a faded snapshot of him and his two brothers kneeling in a sandbox, all looking typically boyish. He wore a beret, tilted. It must have seemed exotic, a beret, not a cap. They seem to be squinting into the sun and their clothes are ragged.

From  what I know of his youth it did not have much room for ball playing with his dad. Like many of that era his father scraped for odd jobs here and there. He did not much comfort his family, my grandfather, but rather brought home the grief and struggle that was his experience. Once, my father told me, his dad hit him in the face with the back of his hand. It was at the dinner table. I think he told me to convey his own struggle, not only in growing up, but with fathering. Like ball playing, he was never shown properly how it is done.

I sense the struggle in my father not to be like his father. Each generation rejects the former generation in its individual way. He brought to fatherhood his best, a true heart and a deep character.

A man given to working with his hands, Dad was forever building me boxes and cars and toys in his workshop: building new things when properly he had other work to do. One of the first and best memories I have is sitting on the gray concrete slab of his workshop mixing water and sawdust in a cup with a long nail, while he worked away on something or other.

I inherited his engineering ingenuity. That is, I am pretty good at figuring a solution to a problem, but the skills are lacking. I tended to demean them in my youth. It was part of my statement of generational independence. The bookcase he recently built for me, now proudly displayed in my living room, is a monument not only to his ability but to my incredulity. How does one build something like this? When he gave it to me he ran his palm along the edge. I saw his knowledge and intelligence reflected in the grace of his hand over the wood, like a skater across ice. He built three houses in his time, two from the ground up, one essentially alone. How does one build a house? The answer is imponderable to me. He would have taught me his skill if I had let him.

My mother, whenever my father was doing something for me, would fondly advise: “Remember this when you have children.” She was, of course, referring to the devotion with which my father granted his time and skill. I think often of my mother’s statement. I have children of my own, and I am learning to appreciate what was my father’s gift to me: the best he could muster, even if it meant having to pitch underhand, and his time whenever I asked for it. One must be brave to be devoted so heartily to the next generation, and one must be loving and trusting of the future.

                                                                                                Originally Published in the Baltimore Sun, Father’s Dad, June 15, 1991

  1. I am sorry to hear that Doug. Kevin

  2. Condolences on the death of your rathe, Dougr. Your essay was a beautiful tribute to him. In addition, it reminds me how a written tribute is probably the most personal and meaningful gift that can be given to someone. A good reminder before these Hallmark Days of honoring family members.

  3. Oh Doug, I’m so sorry to hear about your father. I know it’s probably a blessing but that doesn’t mean there will be any less of a hole in your heart. He was such a lovely man, so gentle and kind. You were so blessed to have him and he to have you. Your tribute to him is extraordinary. I remember the one you wrote about how you got your name also. I hope he read them. I will always treasure the box that he made and gave me. I keep it on my mantle in my bedroom with my mother’s rosary and my grandmother’s brooch in it. Fitting.

    Much love, Patrishka

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Thanks, Patrishka. I appreciate your thoughts and comments a great deal. You’ll appreciate that the last few months of dad’s life he was surrounded by attentive, attractive and adoring women, his caregivers. You better then most how much my father appreciated the company of women (another similarity he and I shared!), so you will no doubt appreciate how much he enjoyed all that, even as he was failing. He certainly enjoyed your company on occasion. It is comforting to know how his gift to you, the wood box, is being employed. I have one here on my desk full of pens and pencils and another one over there, on top of a cabinet, chock full of coins and bills from travels abroad. Thanks for your note and sharing your thoughts.
      Love, D

  4. Dear Doug ~

    I am sorry for your loss and my thoughts are with you. I know how close you were with your father and there is solace, for certain, that he went without tubes or machines, and with you by his side.

    I read the words you had written about your father and I sincerely think it is some of your best writing. What a great testament your article was to your father and, especially, to you as a grateful son.

    I have been on the road for several months and my travels will stop (for four days) on Monday when I depart Maine (I am flying to PWM on Sunday night) for NH. Are you available for breakfast on Monday?

    Your friend, Thatcher

  5. […] cleaned out dad’s room the day after he died. All of his belongings packed into three grocery-store banana boxes and four trash bags. I took the […]

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