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Sara's birthday gift

By Sara Krakauer

In honor of my dad's 70th birthday, I am writing him a blog entry. As his youngest daughter, and the one who says things as they are, I hope to set some records straight. And I'll try to do it without embarrassing him or getting myself disowned.

Sara, Larry, and Elissa, with dog BaileyEven when I was little, I knew that my dad was the smartest dad around (see blog entry #90, "Being smart"). He knew how things worked, like where the car door window went when I rolled it down.

He could remember all the songs from his old records, which he listened to years ago as a kid. And above all else, he could answer any question about anything (other than pop culture).

My trust in his intelligence, as it turned out, might have been more of a detriment than an asset. For years, I thought that frobnicate was a real word, rather than some MIT lingo that made its way into our living room. When I started getting funny looks from my college classmates, it occurred to me that non-Krakauers might not be familiar with this word that my dad used when he scolded me for fiddling with the battery cover on the remote control.

In fact, my best memories of my dad have nothing to do with his intelligence. I remember him coming home from work every day at 6:30 sharp. Elissa and I would run to the door and scream "up! up!" He would lift us up off the ground, holding us by the midsection, until our fingertips hit the ceiling. When we were too big to be lifted, or too busy with some TV show, our dog Bailey continued the tradition. Though she didn't ask to be lifted up, she wagged and hustled with glee, and my dad would always give her lots of excited kisses and dog love.

Larry draped with a shawlAs a child, one of my least favorite things was going to bed. In fact, I gave my parents a hard time almost every night, and many nights forced my mom to say her famous line: "Go to bed. I'm tired." Despite my struggles with bedtime, some of my best childhood memories involve my dad tucking me in.

My favorite game was when he would pick me up and lay me onto my sheets upside down, with my feet on my pillow. Then he would pretend to be tucking me in as normal, and he would go about laying the blanket on top of me as I shouted, "No! Not that way! The other way!" Then, he would say, "Oh! Sorry!" and pick me up and flip me over so that I was face down in my pillow. I would giggle as he tucked me in all around and then eventually get to repeat it all again being turned the right way. This way, getting tucked in was very funny, and I got to be tucked at least three times, prolonging the process and getting more time with my dad.

Photos of Larry eatingIt was these simple, everyday moments that were my favorites growing up. And some things never change. Like, if we put a Dave Barry book in front of my dad, he will giggle and eventually fall to the ground in hysterics. If I put my foot in front of him, he will give me a little foot massage. And if anyone puts any kind of leftovers on the table in front of him, he will probably eat them even when he's on a diet. (He'll just calculate the points later.)

Growing up, I didn't really know much about my dad's life outside of the house. Sometimes I saw when the French group came over and I would wander through sheepishly on my way to the kitchen, hoping they didn't speak to me in French. Occasionally I was forced to attend events with old MIT friends. And I remember visiting his office at work and getting to draw on a white board with dry erase markers, which perhaps foreshadowed my current work as a teacher.

My perspective broadened when my father came to Chicago in 1997, while I was a student at Northwestern University. He came on this trip without my mom, causing the rare occurrence of solo father-daughter bonding time. This was a business trip, for which he was giving a speech at a Kronos conference. Beforehand, he came to my dorm and got to spend some time seeing my world there. One of my friends later said, "Wow. Your dad wasn't what I expected." I shrugged and asked what he expected. He said, "I guess I just didn't expect him to be so… short and Jewish." I laughed and noted that I, too, am short and Jewish.

Sara wearing glasses and a fake moustacheAnyway, my dad took me to see his speech at the conference. When we arrived, we were ushered to a special table up at the front, which was clearly a VIP section. I think the company president was up front with us, and I'm pretty sure it was like the treatment the king and queen get when they go to the theatre. All these people were interested to meet me and I shook a lot of hands. I started to wonder if the evening might be as boring as I anticipated.

There were a few introductory speeches, and then came my dad's big moment on stage. If you want to know about the content of the speech, you can read about it in his blog (#41, "History of Kronos"). There was a lot of stand up comedy and he set stuff on fire, etc. etc. Actually, the speech itself was not the impressive part. The shocking and unbelievable part was what happened in the audience.

Larry dancingAfter he made one reference that I didn't understand, the crowd was hysterical, and there was a big round of applause. After a few more of what appeared to be "in jokes," the crowd was whooping and the pauses for clapping got longer and longer. By the end of the speech, the crowd of stuffy executives in suits were up on their feet, giving him a standing ovation, screaming. My dad made his way off the stage and we were now, officially, celebrities. As we made our way out of the hall, we fought our way through throngs of adoring fans. One woman asked my dad to autograph her arm.

It was then that I realized that my dad was popular. This was never a word that I would have used to describe my dad. I knew that he was nerdy, and smart, and maybe even funny, but the crowd's reaction went beyond those characteristics. It was clear that these work people loved him for many of the same reasons that I did. My dad gets excited about little things, and puts his heart into them deeply, and shares that contagion with others. And anyone in the audience could tell - this guy on stage is giving 100%, and that's why they loved him.

LarryAt some point, I transitioned to being that thing we call "adult," and I started seeing my father differently. While I'd like to say that I was like his fans at that conference, it wasn't like that. In fact, I began to see that he doesn't know everything. He will always want to read the whole instruction manual and can't force himself to just click until what he wants on the screen shows up. My dad makes mistakes.

At the same time, I started to see that my dad also has more whole-hearted enthusiasm than anyone I know. Larry Krakauer doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, but his commitment to the people and passions in his life is unparalleled. And, sometimes, it's easier than usual to see inside.

I was there, in his childhood home in Great Neck, when his mother passed away. I watched as we said goodbye to her that night, and subsequently at her memorial service. Months later, my dad and his sisters, my mom and my uncle, spent weekend after weekend cleaning out the house.

On the last weekend of purging, I went to my grandmother's house to claim what items I could salvage. We rushed around the house all weekend, opening drawers and fishing to the back of cabinets. We stuffed the car with everything that could possibly fit. When we couldn't fit any more, I made my dad tie a suitcase to the car roof, and I agreed to sit for the four hour ride with bags at my feet and on my lap. I wanted to keep as many memories as I could. And when we were finally ready, we were hours past our planned departure time. My mom said, "Larry, say goodbye to your childhood home."

Sara and LarryAnd just like that, we stopped rushing. We all sat down on the couch in the living room and looked around, with me on one side of my dad, and my mom on the other side. My dad took a deep breath in and started to cry. I think I just put my arm around him, but I don't really remember. I just know that we sat there together for a while and I pictured his years playing there, and my childhood romps around the very same space. As the memories unfolded in front of us, we were together in a new way. My dad was a new kind of grown up, and so was I.

In that moment, I saw my dad as a loving son, a dedicated husband, and a giving father. Sure, my dad's brain is an impressive one. However, it's his humanity and compassion that have made him so influential to so many people over the past 70 years. My dad has a huge heart, and I feel so lucky to have learned about love from him. Happy 70th birthday, Dad. I love you.

I didn't want to interrupt Sara's wonderful birthday gift with my usual intrusive footnotes. But after wiping away my tears, I do need to add a few details.

I received Sara's composition approximately as shown above, pictures and all. Sara has always created artistic projects of one sort or another - see my blog entry about her called "Busy, busy". When she was a child, I would have received this on paper, with the photos pasted on. But it's a sign of the times that this time, I received it in an e-mail message, as an Adobe Acrobat ("PDF") attachment. I converted it to HTML to add to my blog, adding only couple of links where Sara referred to earlier blog entries. I also added the ability to click on the pictures to see a larger copy (which I asked Sara to send me).

The artistic rendering of the first four photos was done by an "app" on Sara's iPhone called Hipstamatic. She used the iPhone to photograph prints in an old album, and used the app to modify them. Sara is currently the only member of our family with a "smart phone", and it's perfect for her. She loves to play with all the obscure apps she can find.

The verb "to frobnicate" is indeed MIT Jargon, immortalized in the MIT/Stanford Artificial Intelligence jargon file (sometimes called the "Hacker's Dictionary") that describes the slang used in MIT's Artificial Intelligence group. There, it's defined as, "To manipulate or adjust, to tweak." But I usually heard it to mean, "To play with a small object in your hands, for no particular reason other than the tactile stimulation."

An earlier gift from Sara has since been described
in another blog entry, called Things I worry about.

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© 2012 Lawrence J. Krakauer   Click here to send me e-mail.
Originally posted January 19, 2012

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