Husband, father, machinist, mentor. Born Nov. 4, 1926, in Bitków, Poland, died Dec. 22, 2012, in Montreal of Alzheimer’s disease, aged 86.
Two years ago, when I finished my dissertation, I dedicated it to my father. You might ask, what is it that your father inspired you to do?
He did not have an easy life. At the age of 14, he was sent to a German work camp. After the war, he travelled to Belgium, then Canada, but where he always wanted to be was back home.
From the time of my birth until he retired, Otto worked in factories in Montreal. The pay was modest and the work wasn’t very interesting. But there was one memory that always brought a sparkle to his eye. It was his involvement, when he came to Canada, with Polish community groups, especially the Lachman choir.
He loved those groups so much that he ensured my sister and I would have a similar experience. He and my mom brought us to our first Polish song and dance group as soon as I could walk.
I danced with the Podhale Folk Dance Ensemble until I started university, and when I got the opportunity to do research as a graduate student, I had little doubt what I would use it for: to try to better understand what facilitates or hinders people’s involvement with community groups.
Many years before, my father had taught me how to answer much harder questions.
In the first year of primary school, I came home with a difficult homework assignment: to draw a picture of God. I worried all the way home, and when my dad got back from work, I filled him in on the problem.
I knew what Jesus looked like, and what the Holy Spirit looked like, but I had no idea what God looked like. My dad laughed and said to give him a bit of time to think about it.
Soon after, he came back, took out paper and a pencil, and drew a great, beautiful hand coming down through clouds, shaping creation.
I looked up at him and thought, “Wow!” He taught me there and then that even big questions have answers: You just have to think a little longer.
I was not the only one inspired by my father.
My sister, Isabelle, worked to understand a different aspect of our father’s reality in her research – that of well-being in old age. Our father was older than most when he had us, and Isabelle was drawn to study the lives of the older generation.
Her husband was inspired by Otto to work in Alzheimer’s research after finishing his studies in biochemistry. And finally, my partner, Allan, spent a summer working in a factory, as my father had done for all the years I knew him.
If someone who faced hardship throughout his life was so able to inspire those around him, how will each of us love and inspire our children, our parents, our friends and those around us? In honour of my father, let us ask ourselves.
Monika Bauer is one of Otto’s daughters.
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