I miss my friend Matt Bair.
We lost our good friend and brother, Matt Bair, in October. Several of my fraternity brothers have spoken about how he was like their big brother – someone they could look up to and would help guide them, giving advice, or a kick in the rump when needed. That wasn’t quite my relationship with Matt. I wouldn’t call him an “older brother,” but a brother none the less. Our lives mirrored each other in many ways. We started Michigan State University about the same time, graduated within a semester of each other, started our professional lives about the same time, and while Matt and Jen were married earlier than Kate and myself, we started having kids about the same time, too. While I didn’t turn to Matt in times of trouble, or to seek advice, there was one time Matt was there for me without my ever asking.
In 2013 the company I was working for started a reorganization process and I was one of the first casualties. Kate and I had made the decision to leave the state of Michigan and all we ever knew. We were leaving our families, friends, and support to move over 500 miles away for a job I knew little about in an area neither of us had even visited. In the midst of our wrestling with this major life decision, the nomadic Matt and Jen were in the Detroit area visiting family and Matt called telling me they were going out with our friend, Don Kowalewski, to celebrate his birthday. Matt and Jen wanted me and Kate to come out with them, but we had just sold the house we loved and I knew we needed to get organized, plus I wasn’t sure I was in the mood to hang out with friends. But Matt insisted. After all, we didn’t get to see them very often as they had moved to Peoria by this point. So, we met up with them and the night progressed as it always does at the end of ‘Celebrate Don week’ for his birthday (Editor’s Note: It’s actually called I Love Don Week and is a weeklong celebration of Don, his life, and an opportunity for anyone and everyone to shower Don with gifts and praise).
I found myself sitting in a casino bar in downtown Detroit talking with Matt. There were several people there all around us, but it was just the two of us and really only me talking and him listening. That was one of his many gifts – the ability to make you feel as if you were the only person in the world, and definitely the only person he wanted to be talking to right then. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t add little comments or anecdotes or goofy stories of his own, he just listened. When I was done telling him my fears and concerns about moving my family so far away from all we have ever known, he told me about his and Jen’s experiences and all their moves.
The night progressed and we all started to go our separate ways. Matt pulled me aside, away from the others and pulled me face to face with him. He looked me in the eye and he said, “it’ll be alright, Rick. You are a good man, a good father, and a good husband. This is a new adventure for your whole family to enjoy. It will make you stronger, more resilient, and more reliant on Kate. There will be hard times, but lots of laughs too and you will do great!”
He then pulled me into a big hug and said, “I’m proud of you.”
That was the last time I saw Matt in person. We talked from time to time on the phone and texted more often, but not as often as I would have liked. I will never forget that conversation and how it helped me realize I was strong enough to take that first step of the crazy journey Kate, Connor, Matt (my youngest son), and I were about to take. I’m sitting here writing this on the eve of my 48th birthday trying to stay dry-eyed as get it all out. Matt didn’t make his 48th but his impact on so many lives will be forever felt as he was bigger than life.
I miss my friend Matt Bair.