If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!Rudyard Kipling, If
As time passes on, and I become more acquainted with death, I’m struck by the spectacle of its disruption. We know it comes for us all but we are never ready for it to come for those we love. The forceful removal of people from the fabric of our life is a fact of our human existence, and yet, its final blow falls upon us with the harsh reality of the natural world and the sublime surrealism of the supernatural unknown. We can never be fully prepared.
A close family friend was laid to rest this week-end. Ken Kaufman was the father, father-in-law, and grandfather to very dear friends. We all wept at his passing.
But this post is not about his death.
First, a bit of background. Ken’s coaching and education career spanned 59 years within numerous schools around Indiana. He finished his career at Cathedral High School. Click here to learn more of the facts about this wonderful man. He lived a full life.
I knew Ken Kaufman over the last 20 years or so of his life. To our family, he was always Grandpa Kaufman. We never knew him as a baseball or football coach with hundreds of wins or Sectional titles. We never knew of his many hours of officiating various high school contests. Until this week-end, we had never heard some of the more colorful stories of his coaching, teaching, bus driving, parenting, or grand-parenting exploits. We did know that he loved pie. We also knew that he loved his family.
In many ways these days, manhood is a confusing thing. What is it to be a man? It seems that our society is mixed on what it wants from its men, even down to the basics of gender. Do we want the hunter and protector? A strong man who provides well for his family. Do we want the sensitive man, who can be emotionally available for those who need him? What about the stoic man who can endure? The man who stays home with the kids so his wife can pursue her career? Perhaps we want the Renaissance Man, gifted with many talents, worldly and capable, able to manage it all.
Ken Kaufman was a man in the classic sense. Married for 57 years, he was a family man. Employed for 59 years, he was a working man. Over the last few days, I heard many people describe him as a simple man, including this great line: “Ken was happy to buy his son a Corvette and content to drive a Chevette.” Ken suffered no confusion on what manhood meant for him. He loved, worked, and helped, day in and day out, for a long time.
What I recognized very quickly in Ken Kaufman was that he showed up. I coached his grand-daughter for many years in softball and basketball, and remember him being present at pretty much everything. Ken, and his wife, Jane, lived in Kokomo (about an hour away from Indianapolis), but they were at everything their grand-children did: sporting events, school events, birthdays, holidays, etc. A defining element of Ken’s manhood was that he showed up, every time.
Another aspect of Ken appeared in what he said and what he didn’t say. In the many years he sat on the sidelines of events that I coached, I never heard him once. He didn’t heckle referees, shout at players, or even pull me aside once to offer advice. As one who has been guilty of being vocal at other events, I found Ken’s ability to hold his tongue one of his more manly traits. He endured my mistakes, and the mistakes of others with a quiet patience. I’m certain he offered suggestions to his grand-kids as he would anyone else he ever coached, but it was calm and constructive.
Over the last few days, I heard numerous people describe Ken as strong: physically, mentally, and in character. His was a quiet strength. Those he coached did not want to disappoint him, not because of fear, but because they didn’t want to let him down. Many talked of his ability to say just the right thing at the right time to console, calm, or motivate. Not just players, but his own children and grand-children.
There was nothing namby-pamby about Ken Kaufman. He was cut from that old cloth, you know, the tough denim kind that resists tears and holds up under constant pressure. A lot happens during 80 years of life and his was not immune to the struggles of loss, adversity, or resistance. One immediately recognized his mettle, that rocky stuff that holds up against the beating wind. He didn’t need to tell you, it was understood. Ken Kaufman came from a different era, and approached life with that old-fashioned code that included holding doors open for others, saying thank you, and not waiting to be asked.
One of my favorite stories about Ken tells of a family holiday when one of his grandchildren (not to be named here) was acting up. The little boy was wreaking havoc throughout the house, leaving mom and dad frustrated and done with him. Recognizing the situation, Ken called him over to sit with him. They sat down on the couch together, watching some game on TV, and Ken never said a word. He put his arm around him and was present. That little boy knew he was loved; even when he wasn’t lovable.
I didn’t know Ken as a coach or teacher. I never worked with him at the school or on the field. I just knew him through his family, through those he loved. I saw the world his efforts fostered and the life that had formed through his love and example. I witnessed the fruits of his relationship with Jane and the powerful effects of his persistent presence. I knew him through the eyes of my children, who felt like they knew a celebrity whenever he drove their bus for a school field trip or showed up for some other school event. I knew him as a man who kept his cool during intense sporting events, conflict, and frustration. I knew him as a man who loved greatly, and didn’t need to be at the center of anything.
During his funeral, I wept for his family, for death is heavy upon those who live to see it. But I smiled for Ken. He finished the race, taking the bumps and bruises of life, while remaining true to his family and his priorities; living with love, devotion, and a wise, manly, grace. He touched many lives over many years and he did it in his own way: with a steady presence and quiet strength. That’s a legacy, and an example, worth celebrating…and emulating.