A Father’s Instruction

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” That was one question that as a child, I could never answer. I didn’t know. Sometimes, I still think I don’t know when I grow up. When I was a child, it was all interesting to me. To pick one thing to be was absurd. I didn’t think there was a limit to my capabilities. If it was humanly possible, it was in the realm of possibility for me. There was just one problem. How would I learn? I didn’t grow up with YouTube. It didn’t exist back then. Role models? They were out there, but I didn’t know how to ask or even if I was allowed to ask. The possibilities were in my imagination, but unfortunately that is where they were left to lie dormant.

The best Christmas I ever had.

Of course, I loved getting presents at Christmas when I was a kid. Who doesn’t? But toys only have so much shelf-life. Soon they get forgotten about or discarded. Some other kid has something better that leads to the never-ending desire to acquire more.

There was one Christmas that I will never forget. It was the best one and came in my early thirties. I think it was the second Christmas with my wife. We had just moved to a new house in Tallahassee and her parents came up for the holiday. When it was my turn to receive a gift, I was told to cover my eyes. I did and soon my imagination ran wild as a key was placed in my hand. Eyes still covered and clutching that key, I was led out to the garage. Little did I know that my life was going to change when I opened my eyes. In the garage was a red, shiny, brand new…toolbox. That Christmas, I got all the tools every guy should have. Sixteen years later, I still use them on a regular basis. Here was the beginning of some of the possibilities I imagined when I was a youth.

Before I met my Father-in-law, Hank, I never worked on a car. I never worked on a house. I don’t think I ever built anything that wasn’t preassembled. After being married to his daughter for almost seventeen years, I can say that has all changed. Most of what I learned how to do over the years has in some way or shape been because of what I have learned from him, even if the lesson was in the possibilities that it could be done.

How much money have I saved over the years doing my own work? Does the money even compare to what I will be able to teach my own son as he grows into a man? That is actually the greatest gift. If I would have had children before I met Hank, I would not have been able to teach them much in the ways of self-reliance. My only advice would have been to get a good job that can pay for the things you want or need to fix.

The old man (said with the greatest respect) has many admirable qualities: A Marine veteran. A teacher. He is able to carry a tune, sling a gun from horseback, and fix about anything that could be fixed. He has been married to the same lady for almost fifty years, a feat that is becoming rarer and rarer these days. I probably can’t scratch the surface of what this man can do or what he has taught me over the years. I call him Hank, but in truth I should just call him father. He took me in and taught me things I wished I would have learned in my youth. He has always been patient with me, willing to go a little slower in order that I may understand. He has treated me as a true son and by his example taught me how to be a good father. Much of what I am today, I owe to the lessons he taught me.

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