History shows that blood doesn't matter to Bruce Bartlett.
"Dad is really into his family," son Ben said, "but he has a heart for everyone whether family or stranger."
Bruce has not only stepped up to the plate to help those in need more than once without hesitation and often without being asked but is also a magnet for those in search of a father figure. One 13-year-old neighbor boy, Shannon Tallent, stopped by the Bartlett home to play a quick game of basketball, and ended up staying eight years. Bruce said that because he came from a bad situation, Tallent lived there until he was 21. He now considers Bruce to be his father, calling him "Dad."
Then there's Kaylee Enyart, younger sister to deceased daughter-in-law, Allison. Because they grew up with an absentee father, Bruce called them daughters and they called him "Dad." And like any concerned father, Bruce takes Kaylee to doctor and physical therapy appointments, following her ATV accident on Road 619 a couple of months ago, in which she suffered traumatic brain injury. It was just about 18 months earlier that Kaylee's sister, Allison (Ben's wife), died in a car accident in North Fork.
Ben never slept in the home he had shared with Allison again. Instead, he and his two young children Paige and Wesley moved in with Bruce and Lynne (his wife of 33 years). While the transition hasn't always been smooth, it has become less complicated and easier over time.
"When they lived in North Fork, I saw my grandchildren once a week; now I see them every day," Bruce explained. "My son was off living his own life; now I eat dinner with him every night. Now that we have kids back in the house, we're more hands-on and feel more alive sometimes, it's difficult, though fighting with Paige (age 7 and a first-grader) to do her homework or pick up her clothes; or to get Wesley (3) to gather his toys. And now, we're starting the potty-training stage. You know, I never thought I'd be 54-years-old and changing as many diapers as I'm changing right now."
Still, Bruce finds himself a little torn these days.
"I want Ben to stay here, but then, I also want him to meet a nice girl, start a relationship and remarry, even have more children. He's such a good father. I want him to have his own life again."
After raising their two children, son Ben and daughter Kelli (McCarty), Bruce and Lynne settled into an "empty nest" routine and lifestyle. Bruce retired from Southern Pacific Railroad in 1994, and following the philosophy he was raised with of giving back to the community, whether it be volunteering at a school, at a non-profit, or cleaning a river bed, he has volunteered as Manna House food manager since 2006. Prior to that, he coached a Yosemite Soccer League girls team for six years, served as parent teacher committee president at Oak Creek Intermediate for three years, and as president of the OCI Fite Improvement Council for two years.
Post retirement, Bruce's days are definitely busy playing the role of helpful grandfather, concerned father, and watchful son for his 89-year-old father, D.M. (Dan), who lives alone about a-half mile from Bruce, who was diagnosed with lung cancer 16 months ago.
"Dad underwent 32 treatments of radiation and has been doing pretty good for about eight months," Bruce said. "He takes care of himself. His memory is intact. He's aware of everything around him. He cooks, does his own laundry. We have dinner together three or four times a week so that I can keep an eye on his diet to make sure he isn't eating those Jimmy Dean Sausages. The other thing that worries me is his driving."
For most, life under these circumstances would feel overwhelming, almost too much to bear. The death of a daughter-in-law in a car accident, the loss of a grandchild Joe (Ben and Allison's second child lived only 70 minutes), a teenager recovering from major medical trauma, and a father fighting cancer. But Bruce has the ability to take life and all it throws at him in stride, and has had inspiring teachers along his journey.
"My dad is my role model," Bruce said proudly. "I knew I was loved, and he spent a lot of time with me when I was growing up. He took me fishing in every stream and every river up here, so when my son was old enough to walk, my Dad and I took him fishing. And when my grandson, Wesley, turned 18 months, we all went fishing together. My son is my role model, too. He lived through two horrific events the death of a child and the death of his wife. When you see your wife carried up a hill in a body bag ..." Bruce stopped here for a moment, regained composure and continued "... well, he's a hero to me. He's endured so much and is still a good guy ... still trusting, still believes in goodness and the value of hard work."
Being a man of faith, Bruce added one more role model to his short list.
"Jesus is the man. He changed everything on the face of the earth," Bruce said. I envision Jesus having an abundance of love. Everyone was His friend. He sacrificed everything for us, and even during his bleakest times, He never gave up on us. I try to live my life in a way that when my time is up, He'll be there to greet me with a big smile and say, 'I've been waiting for you.' And then, maybe me and Him will spend some time together ... maybe do a little fishing."
After the day has come to a close, after the grandchildren are tucked in for the night, and Bruce is reassured that his father is cozy, that Kaylee is comfortable, he takes a little time for himself, a little time for reflection.
"You know, the secret to being a good father is having a strong male role model, being patient and when mistakes are made, just letting it go. Also important is spending time together being Dad and son, being Dad and daughter. It's really that simple," Bruce explained.
"I'm an outdoorsy-kind-of guy, so we go fishing, camping and boating all the time. My dad and mom did that with me, and I do it with my kids, and now I do it with my grandkids. Up until the time my kids were grown, every vacation was geared around them, any available time we had was family time. It was never boys night out or girls night out, it was family night out."
Earlier Bruce had received a call from a bored Kaylee, asking, "Will you come get me?" Without hesitation, Bruce assured Kaylee he would pick her up and bring her back home with him.
"My plate is definitely full right now, but it makes me a better person. I don't even think about it," he said matter-of-factly. "It's just what Dads do."