Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Foundation

Four generations of Baker men in one photo
In clockwise order: My father, grandfather, me and my son. San Diego, 2008.

In honor of my father, Robert M. Baker Jr., who died on March 6, 2016. I gave the following eulogy on March 15, 2016, at La CaƱada Presbyterian Church in honor of his passing:

You see it on the news every so often. Some sort of disaster — a hurricane, wildfire, or a earthquake — hits a community. We see the images of devastation. "The wave knocked houses off of their foundations." "The home burned down to its foundation."

Foundation. We know things went south when "foundation" is mentioned.

But sometimes, "foundation" is a word of hope. Those washed-away homes? If the foundation survived, it's the place from which you start rebuilding. What's the first thing layed down when a new home is built? The foundation.

Over the past few weeks a storm afflicted our family. It blew us around, caused casualties, and — metaphorically — knocked down the comfortable homes we lived in. It was a hard few weeks.

And despite that, while I can’t speak for everyone, I will rebuild as strong as before. Why? Because my foundation is intact.

And that’s partly due to my father, who helped lay it.

My father and I had dissimilar personalities in many, many ways. Our politics, our social attitudes, our tastes in entertainment — all quite different. But there are so many things that are, well, me, that I can trace directly from him.

My first memory was of him playing blocks and airplanes with me in Glendale. I still like to build things.

The first memory to which I can put an approximate date was him and I sitting on top of a brick wall outside a supermarket around the time of the Bicentennial. He was cutting up watermelon slices for us with his car keys. I still appreciate a low-tech, low-cost solution to problems.

My father would take me out to the Tehachapi Loop to watch the trains. I think that's one reason I came to love all things transportation.

My father lent me his books, particularly those on World War II and early 20th Century America. Inspired by my early reading, I eventually got a history degree and even now, the majority of my reading is in history.

My love of geography arose when he would drive us all over — not just California, but Canada, Florida, the east coast — and point out what he saw as interesting (even if us kids found it less so).

Those are just a few examples.

I didn’t know it at the time, and sometimes didn’t appreciate it, but he was laying a foundation. Many of the attitudes that shape how I live my life, how I treat my children, how I react to the world, arose because of my father’s influence.

And these attitudes survived in the later years, when I rarely saw my father. I didn’t get new examples from him, but the foundation he helped lay was there. Therefore, at every crossroad during my life, when I decided what to do (or sometimes what NOT to do), he was there.

This has been a hard few weeks. A lot of feelings and memories, both good and bad, that were long submerged came to the surface. But I will recover — we as a family will recover — because the man whose life we’re here to honor, Robert “Bob” Baker — my father, laid a good foundation for me.

Like his father laid for him. Like I am laying for my children, and they for theirs.

Every parent lays a foundation for their children, and mine is strong. Regardless of any other feelings, I will always be grateful to my father for giving me that strong foundation.

Thank you for coming and for honoring my father.