Sunday 15 May 2011

The Old Man Lends a Hand

     "That's when I need my father's eyes..."
                                            -Eric Clapton

     "You're just like your dad!"

     Ten years ago, that comment would have triggered an instant knee-jerk denial.  Nope, uh-uh, no way.  Me and him?  Worlds apart!  He is a methodical, fastidious, golf-playing, wine -drinking, analytical, engineering type, and I am, er,  not.  HE. PLAYS. GOLF. Hell, comparing a sailor and a golfer is simply a coded insult.
To both of us.
     Today, with the benefit of the hard-earned, dues-paid-in-full wisdom that passing the 40th birthday exit on life's highway has earned, I consider a comparison to my father to be a compliment.

     Somehow, somewhere, between adolescence and apparent adulthood, I stopped rolling my eyes at my father's advice, and began to seek it.  I didn't just hear him, I listened to what my dad had to say.  Occasionally, he even listened to me, because we had begun to speak a common language.
    As I muddled through my latest low-buck project, I realized my dad and I had to talk the talk. Material for this project was tight, and I needed to make the most of it.  There was no fudge factor. I knew what I didn't know, and I didn't know enough to know how not to screw up this project, therefore I figured I'd avail myself of the man who likely knew what I didn't know, y'know?  Yeah, I could have bought some more wood and measure- twice-cut three-times through more stock than necessary until I figured it out, but that goes against the low-buck ethos of making do with whatcha got.
     So, I loaded my companionway- door project, all the raw stock I thought I would need, a smattering of tools and SWMBO into Leonard the Smart car and we headed off to the Jones ancestral estate to celebrate Mother's Day.
Halfway there, SWMBO and I both realized that we had left the Mother's Day card on the dining room table.  Etiquette-wise, this was just a whole mess of wrong.   No card, and a plan to bogart my father for an afternoon of making sawdust.  I am sure Emily Post has a chapter on this.
    "Happy Mother's Day, Mom!  Sorry, I forgot your card, but I brought a whole crapload of wood! Dad, can I use your workshop?"

    Something tells me this is gonna turn around and bite me in the ass at some point in the future.

    I skedaddle to my father's basement workshop with him in tow, and explain what I am building, how I think I should proceed,  and what the end result should look like, sketch out a couple of quick drawings and some dimensions.  Dad thought about it for a handful of moments, and then told us what we were really going to do.
He set to setting up his table saw and ripping stock, I set to watching.
    This is how it usually goes when I get my dad involved in a project.  There is only room in his metaphorical kitchen for one chef....
     And it ain't me.
     For over 30 years, my job has been to pull out the plug, sweep up the sawdust, nod and reply "Yep."  to any question asked.  I used to resent it.  Now, I get it.
Besides, I've learned a lot over the years, watching and sweeping.
    In short order the doors were laid out, cut, jigged, screwed and routed.  In the process I discovered another tool I just had to have, and made the rare discovery that I owned a tool that my father didn't possess- ha!  for the first time in years I can give him a Father's Day  gift that isn't in gift -card form!
    And we talked.
    Jones men are not the most communicative.  In fact, phone conversations between myself and my dad or my brother and I usually consist of:
"How are you?"
"Good.  you."
"Talk to you soon."
   But, when we have a paintbrush in our hands or a saw in front of us, my dad  and I become veritable chatterboxes.  We tend to talk to the work, not each other,  because we are there to work not socialize, but those occupational conversations are when I have learned the most about, and from, my father.  This project was no exception as I discovered the value of a pocket screw jig.
     I also rediscovered the value of an organized workspace.  It takes a lot less time to build something when you're not a) looking for tools, b) looking for stock, c) cleaning a space to work.  I used to lean on the -my-shop-is-too-small-to-be-organized excuse, but after spending an afternoon in my father's shop I realized that his workspace is not much bigger than mine, it just feels that way.
Here's mine:

  Here's my dad's:

He's got a rolling clamp rack, for pete's sake!

My tools are all over the bench, his are on a wall.

     And here's the doors we built together:
 After getting them back to stately Jones manor, I trimmed them out...

  ... and sealed them with two coats of epoxy:

Thanks, Dad!
And thanks, Mom, for allowing me to borrow him on Mother's Day.  Louise and I love you both.

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