Mr. Fix-it

I have an unexpected day off today, so I’m using the time to do a brake job on my truck. Yes, I’m the guy that still changes his own oil, that washes his own vehicles and the guy that refuses to pay anyone to do anything that he can do himself. That’s a trait that I mostly attribute to my dad, he could fix darned near anything or at least rig it well enough to passably function.

Dad was a telephone man by trade, he worked as a Line Repairman for Bell South for over 30 years. But he was a true jack of all trades. He did a large amount of the work needed to build the house that I spent a large part of my youth in and I did the same thing with my home 20 years later. In fact, that’s one of the last projects dad helped me with, it wasn’t too long after that he started showing signs of the PPA that would eventually lead to us losing him.

Dad’s not the only person who instilled the DIY attitude in me. My uncle Colquitt Arnold, who passed about a year before dad, was very much the same way. He was a farmer for a large portion of his life but he did more things than I can imagine. For a few summers in high school, I worked for him cutting lumber at his backyard sawmill and building picnic tables at his barn/shop. During those summers I never saw him call for help when fixing all of the equipment that we used, he just did it. Uncle Colquitt probably deserves a bit more attention on this blog, I’ll make a point to write a bit more about him soon.

Although a lot of folks may say that I’m just a cheap skate, it’s more than that. It’s knowing that I can take care of myself and my family, it’s taking pride in doing something myself. I now make sure that I take the time to include my son on my projects so that he might pick up a bit of the DIY spark himself.

Leaving Tracks

No one can pass through life, any more than he can pass through a bit of country, without leaving tracks behind, and those tracks may often be helpful to those coming after him in finding their way.

– Sir Robert Baden-Powell –

With the passing of my father, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of all of the things that he taught me, how he influenced me and how he helped to shape the man I am today. During these times of reflection, it’s occurred to me just how much we influence and shape the people around us.

We often talk about Nature vs Nurture and I tend to believe that we are who we are, in large part because of who we’ve known in our lives. It’s impossible to spend any significant amount of time with another person and not be influenced by them. This was especially true of my father. He loved to share what he knew and he knew a hell of a lot.

He didn’t spend a lot of time explaining things, he showed you instead. Dad’s way of teaching was to jump in and do something by your side, not for you, not in front of you, but with you. Every time I worked with him it was a learning experience. He was a master at passing on tips that he’d learned the hard way.

There’s an endless number of things that we can learn by being taught, but the things that really count can’t be taught in a traditional sense. You can’t teach someone to be a good person, to respect others, to be kind, to be honest and forthright. But you can show them how by exhibiting those traits yourself.

When you’re around someone who you respect and love, you desire to emulate them, to be like them, to gain their respect. By simply being a good person and sharing yourself with others, you’ll pass those traits on. Attitudes and behaviors are infectious and self-perpetuating, for better or worse. We’re social animals that desire to be accepted.

Sorry if that got a bit too “rainbows & unicorns” for you, but my point is that we are who we are because of the people around us. I’m a better person for having the father that I did and I’ll continue to pass on the things that he passed on to me.

Clearing the fog

It’s only been two weeks since my father passed away, and he’s been in my thoughts a lot, but I’ve noticed something interesting and fantastic about my memories of him as of late.

Dad suffered from Dementia and PPA for about seven years. We watched him decline from a hard-working, smart and funny man into someone who needed constant care. During the last few years, my thoughts of him centered around his care and health. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I couldn’t really see past his current state and my memories of him earlier in my life had become clouded.

Over the past few weeks I’ve found memories of my dad regularly popping into my head, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with some random thought of him or I’ll think about him while doing some innocuous task. But few of these memories are of him as being sick. Instead they’ve been thoughts of him as a healthy, strong and vibrant man, not necessarily a young man, but a healthy and happy one.

Even small details have reverted to earlier times. As dad became less able to care for himself, he grew a goatee which reduced the amount of face that he, or later we needed to shave. But the image of him that’s been in my mind since lately sports only the bushy mustache that he wore for most of his adult life.

I’m not sure why my mind is working this way. My wife suggests that all of the stories that we’ve been sharing about him have reset my brain in some way and maybe she’s right. I’m also guessing that I’m subconsciously trying to concentrate on the good times, which were numerous.

Dad

I recently lost my father after a long illness. We managed to keep him home until the end. I wrote this to read at his memorial service.
My father was not a highly educated man, but he was a true student of the world. While my mother is the professional educator in the family, dad taught me the ways of the world.

Dad taught me:

  • How to ride a two-wheeler and how to patch up the inevitable skinned knee.
  • To always carry a pocketknife, it’s the most valuable tool you’ll ever have.
  • How to shoot straight, both with a rifle and with my words.
  • To respect authority, at least when they’re watching.
  • How to fix a car that won’t start and how to fix the dent you made when you got frustrated and punched the hood.
  • How to swing a hammer and how to colorfully express your feelings when you managed to smack your thumb with it.
  • To never pay someone to do something that you can do yourself, or to at least give it a shot before you call in reinforcements.
  • That a hard day’s work has a value of it’s own beyond any paycheck.
  • To take pride in the things that you create, no matter how simple or imperfect they may be.
  • That the best solution to a problem is usually the simplest one.
  • How to slow down and enjoy a laugh and a beer with friends.
  • If you’re quick to help others, others will help you when the need arises.
  • To be serious when you need to be and a clown whenever you can be.
  • Most importantly he taught me to care for my family above all else, to cherish time spent in the company of those that you love and care about.
  • He taught me how to be a man and a father.

Like his father, my dad built things. He built most of the home that we spent a good part of our lives in and helped me build mine. But the most important things that he ever built were the relationships with his family and friends.