From Dad’s Toolbox
from the Lair of the Wildman
There’s a wrong I’d like to right. The man I wronged is dead, so I am asking you to hear my truth in this regard. If it resonates, so be it, or, share your truth.
I was 48 when I first heard of a Warrior Weekend and the idea that there were other men in the world that wondered . . . ‘is this it, is this what being a man is?’ was foreign to me. I was hungry for the company of men I just didn’t know it, I was more often hiding behind the skirts of women, looking for validation. Or just plain hiding.
I grew up in Minnesota in the 60’s, the son of a hard-working, high-school educated man. He was plain-spoken, raised on a farm (that I cherished), he cried once that I can remember – when his father died, he was a perfectionist, and, he was profoundly unavailable to me emotionally.
I took this personally and when I began to spend time with men, it became fashionable for me, in reviewing the life I had with my father, to proclaim that he really wan’t much of a father, or, that he didn’t have much to give and therefore could really be the father I needed. I want to amend that story I made up.
Richard was a self-taught carpenter. He spent most of his early to middle working life in the employ of developers and the year I was twelve he had a great partner. Every day, for months that year, Dad and Bob hung 100 sheets of rock a day. It was the equivalent of five houses a week. Do words written with unabashed pride read differently? Richard was 48 that year and it wasn’t long after that he went into business for himself.
Richard was how I worked my way through college. Not every son gets to know the intimacies of this ancient father/son dance, but some do and I count my self lucky. As fortunate as I feel, know too that working for a father is a bugger. A perfectionist is seldom a perfectionist unto themselves and so it was with dad. My work and ethic was under constant and unwavering scrutiny. This was especially true in the world where ‘plumb’ and ‘level’ reside. As an adolescent, I was frequently given to ‘good enough’. I didn’t get it.
Let me put it another way. The idea that all things are ‘connected’ doesn’t emerge from Buddhist philosophy; it came from a carpenter, and he wasn’t born with it, its functional wisdom that is the product of trial and error. Try building a wall on a floor that isn’t level. Try hanging a door in a wall that isn’t plumb. Install a window or cabinet in a room and, damn, if one thing doesn’t lean on the other. There’s something sneaky about plumb and level because a degree here, is a foot on the other side of the room. The consequence of being inattentive in this moment, can mean unforeseen tragedy a month or a year down the road. Gives me pause even now.
When I was 28, a buddy and I built a cabin in the foothills of Mt. Shasta in northern California. My emotionally unavailable father drove the straight 46 hours out with me in a Jeep Wrangler to help. We didn’t talk so much about life, but he brought his tool box.
When I was later married and at 33 started to build another cabin on a lake in western Wisconsin. My father spent weeks and months helping me finish the place. We disagreed on politics, religion, and gutters but he brought his tool box.
Then, at 42, in an attempt to save my marriage we sold everything and bought a run down 100-acre farm.to ‘start over’, It was an 80-year-old man who brought his tool box and drove the 80 miles out to help where he could. Finally, divorced, I moved back in with dad to help him out with his Cancer diagnosis and collect myself, I began to go through his tools and when he died in June of 2012, I used some of them to build his casket. He loved the long clear grain of fir.
I reflect from time to time on the things I have built in my life and recognize with a flush, that I didn’t clearly see what dad was really giving me.