Goodbye Dad (Part One)
The Ultimate Handyman
I am not what anyone in his or her right mind would ever call a handyman. My brain is pretty good at handling abstract concepts, but when it comes to any kind of practical mechanical matters, it is apparently not hardwired correctly. My dad, however, was a different story entirely. An engineer by trade, he also had the ability to work and tinker with his hands, translating design into reality. For as long as I can remember, he was always working on projects around the house both big and small.
Not long after I was born, he built a two story wooden rocket ship in our backyard, complete with a carpeted "second floor," ladder, table, and windows. For years, it was one of the epicenters of play on our street, serving at times as a clubhouse, a haunted house, or just a place to go and hide. Even more impressive was what he did with our 1970s style van (complete with white shell on the top). Starting from scratch, he managed to fit into that thing a bathroom, kitchen sink, two couch chairs, a place for a little dining table, and a loft where my brother and I could sleep. (At one point, he even installed a little black and white TV set and a CB radio.) With the couches laid flat and a hammock draped over the front seats, we could sleep five of us comfortably on all of the various journeys that we took. It was like a miniature roving house. He would then proceed over the years to build us various basketball hoops (with which dad and I had many classic one on one battles), construct a ping pong table (which was also the site of some epic struggles), remodel bathrooms, put together an old school six-foot screen projection TV from a kit, and build god knows how many cabinets and shelves around the house, among other things.
About fifteen years ago, my wife and I bought our own house, the same house where I am currently typing this little blog. To put it mildly, it was a fixer-upper. During those first few days before we moved in, almost the entire family showed up to get the place painted and presentable. Dad, of course, was there, patching walls, installing door knobs, and generally taking care of the little things that I wouldn't even think of doing. This would be the first of countless times that he would come to help me with - or, more often than not, basically do on his own - a wide variety of home repair/improvement projects: ceiling fans, toilets, leaky faucets, garage door openers, dishwashers, garbage disposals, and the list could go on. It will probably be years before I stop picking up the phone to call dad whenever something around the house is going wrong.
As my dad's health deteriorated over the past couple of weeks and it started to become clear that he was probably not going to make it, all kinds of things around my house kept reminding me of him. It sounds cliche to say it, but he has truly always been there for me. No matter what the problem was, I always assumed that he would drop whatever he was doing and come fix it. And most of the time, he did. My house, in a sense, is an enduring monument to the kind of parent that he was.
I'm not sure if anyone has ever said that we never truly grow up until our parents are gone. If no one has, then it should have been said. So long as our parents are around, there is a deeply embedded sense that we can always go running back to them when times get rough. In my case, I probably relied on dad a bit too much. It is possible that mechanical skills did not necessarily skip a generation with me. I just never had to develop them because it seemed that my dad could do anything. But now, it may be time to finish growing up and start fixing more of my own problems.
As time passes, I am sure that I will increasingly be able to look at all of the things that dad fixed or created at his house, at my house, and at our cabin in the mountains without thinking of him and feeling a hole in my gut. But I doubt that I will ever fix anything - or, more likely in my case, pay someone to fix anything - without thinking of dad. That's the way it's supposed to be.