70: Love in a T-Square

70: Love in a T-Square

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Love in a T-Square

Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.

~Swami Sivananda

“You know what they say, Sheila?” asked Dad as he neatly set out his lumber, workhorses and assorted tools. “Plan your work and work your plan.”

He grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and proceeded to sketch the stairs we were building for the hill behind my parents’ lakefront home. I caught the tail end of a “gotcha” grin on his face.

It was a cool, overcast day in early October, the peak of autumn in northern Michigan, when Dad invited me to assist on this project. I was an independent adult, home for a weekend visit, and I welcomed the opportunity to learn from the master craftsman. But I understood this rare invitation meant I was to stand quietly at attention and follow orders.

We started after breakfast. He wore his charcoal-gray overalls, the ones he donned for serious work like pulling in the dock or hauling brush. A hawk soared above and squirrels scurried about. After we set the posts, he proceeded to notch the stringers.

“Hold this,” he said, offering me a two-by-eight.

He lowered his safety glasses. I flinched, waiting for the piercing buzz of the saw, but instead, Dad put down the saw and grabbed the tape measure.

“Measure twice, cut once,” he said.

As he pushed the saw through the board, I breathed in the sweet smell of freshly cut lumber and watched sawdust pile on the ground.

My dad was a veterinarian but his hobby was woodworking and he conducted his life with the precision and forethought of a master carpenter. Reticent and highly disciplined, he liked things neat and orderly. His patience was often tested in a family of six children. I remember watching him at his workbench in the garage, his lips pursed in deep concentration. If I stood quietly, without interrupting, he would let me tighten the vise, or try my hand at wielding a hammer.

Though his stern demeanor intimidated me, I respected his skill and talent. When he assigned me a chore, it meant I would have to perform it to his high standards. I paid close attention to his specific instructions for everything from holding a screwdriver to painting (he taught me to punch evenly spaced holes along the gutter of a paint can to catch the overrun).

I paid attention that day when we built the stairs. Like a nurse assisting a surgeon, I obediently handed him tools as he called for them. He cut the treads and showed me how to toenail them to the stringers by pounding the nails at an angle. We spent all day working quietly together except for Dad’s periodic instructions. Our task completed, we carefully returned the tools to their assigned spots.

“Put your tools away and leave your workspace clean,” he reminded me.

I followed him down the new set of stairs and into the house where we sat at the kitchen table eating butter pecan ice cream and taking pride in a job well done.

He studied a spoonful of ice cream before putting it in his mouth and, without looking at me, uttered the words that contributed to a solid sense of self-esteem that has steadied me through many a trying time.

“Good job.”

Dad didn’t dole out those words frivolously. When he said, “Good job,” he meant it, and his approval comforted me more than a hug. When he praised my work, I felt an intoxicating sense of confidence.

Those occasions when I had the good fortune to work with Dad offered much more than carpentry lessons, more than practical advice on life — plan ahead, double check your work and clean up your messes.

Working side-by-side with Dad allowed me to watch him bask in the sheer joy of work, to catch the twinkle in his eye, to share his sense of pride, to see him as the incredibly smart and talented man that he was. I felt closest to Dad when he let me into his world of tools and do-it-yourself projects.

Those moments were a gift, and they will remain in my memory the way a goodbye kiss lingers in the heart.

~Sheila M. Myers

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