14: Built with Love

14: Built with Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

Built with Love

He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.

~Clarence Budington Kelland

He had the typical lifestyle of a district manager for a busy grocery chain. He was always on call and there were always problems to be solved. He traveled too much, too. Due to this hectic and stressful schedule there wasn’t much opportunity for his young family to see him. And when he was home, he was much too exhausted to enjoy it.

As a child I didn’t understand why my father was gone so much. In my simple, innocent mind his absence meant that there were other places he’d rather be and other people who were more important.

But on Christmas Day, when I was ten years old, I was given a doll-house. It was an unusual gift for a rough and tumble girl who preferred climbing trees to playing dress-up. I was perplexed but also completely enamored of it at the same time. It was so large I could have almost lived in it myself. I studied the dollhouse, all the details and finishes. It was a beautiful, two-story farmhouse with a wraparound porch. The house was mounted on a mobile platform that had been covered with artificial grass turf to look like a yard. Inside it had a kitchen, den, bathroom and two bedrooms that were begging for decorations and doll furniture. Despite my tomboy tendencies, my mind started to run wild with ideas to make this magnificent farmhouse come to life.

What I didn’t know then, but would later understand, was that the greatest gift was not actually the dollhouse but the fact that my busy father built it himself. He managed to turn his office into a workshop and squeeze in hanging shingles, attaching siding and painting the foundation between meetings and travel. He would stay late into the night and go in earlier in the mornings to do a little more each day. This was not a small task for a man not known for his handiness. However, my dad lovingly put that remarkable dollhouse together for his precious little girl and he did it completely on his own.

On Christmas Day he proudly showed me all the features of the dollhouse he had labored over for months: the doors that opened and closed; the foundation he’d painted half a dozen times to give it the perfect texture and color; and even the first pieces of furniture he’d picked out to get me started on the decorating. All in all he had spent well over forty hours making sure this house would be fit for his tomboy.

And he even recognized that despite my tomboy interests, I would still love that dollhouse. The gift started me realizing that his absence wasn’t at all about him finding other things more important than his family. In fact, he was working hard at his job to painstakingly create a life for all of us, with the same care and attention and devotion that he had put into that dollhouse for me. All in all, that dollhouse was the greatest gift he could have ever given me.

~Jennifer R. Land

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