This has been a good old house. My family moved in when I was 14 and my father still lives here. Every once in a while he talks about downsizing and moving to a smaller, more manageable place. He never will. There are too many memories here, he is too comfortable here, he is aging beyond what makes such a move practical and this is his house, the family homestead.
It dawned on me this morning when some unremarkable thing worked unremarkably well, that he knows the place better than anyone. I am in town for the holidays and my brother and sister were here also for her birthday, and a number of the grandchildren had gathered too. It was loud and chaotic and fun.
My brother left for home in Arizona this morning and he was loading up his truck with my father’s old Shopsmith woodworking tools, things I don’t really know anything about. There was a table saw, a band saw, a router and table, drill press, all kinds of things. I helped him load it up. But then there were boxes too – clamps, attachments, accessories, blades, motors, guides, all kinds of things. My dad was poking around looking for things, pulling things off of shelves, out of cabinets and drawers, asking where this or that box or instruction manual was for one thing or another. I was really quite impressed with how much he had put into this over so many years, how much reading and study he must have done, trials and errors, so much in the way of hours, energy and resources. I had no idea but my appreciation and respect for him grew from this.
My father has Parkinson’s and is not as mobile as he used to be. He was doing all this as best he could, pausing to sit on a stepladder when he needed to. He was an excellent craftsman in his day -patient, meticulous, detailed and thorough. He made the usual shelves and cabinets, but lots of other things too. He made rocking horses for his grandchildren, porch swings, fine furniture, all kinds of things. He hasn’t used his Shopsmith in years but he hasn’t been willing to part with it either, until today. As my brother pulled out of the driveway, my father was sitting on the stepladder watching and I imagined I might see him tear up saying goodbye to a dear old friend as well as to his youngest son. He didn’t as far as I could tell. Maybe he was ready.
So color me sentimental and nostalgic. It is the holidays. I miss my kids and had just spent two rich weeks with two of them and their families in Portland, Oregon. Last night we had been going through old photo albums and dismantling them. I took some of the photos of my family; my brother and sister took theirs. They were old photos in old albums but it was time.
When I was in Portland last week I was talking to my kids about the adult relationship parents want and work toward with their adult children. That’s a substantial transition for them and for us. I would like them to know what I think about events they may have altogether different memories of. I want them to know what motivated me, the ways in which they were dearly loved even though they might have missed it or interpreted things in other ways, in childlike ways because they were children. I want to be able to apologize where I may need to, to articulate that certain rules or decisions I made were probably not great ideas but always came with sincerest intentions for their own development, for what I thought might help them on the path to their highest callings as human beings.
As a father I have had this fantasy that sometime I will be able to give my kids my side of so many stories, that they will want to hear it and understand. I don’t want to do it to prove myself right on anything, vindicate myself, drag ex-wives down, to make excuses or victimize myself or any of that. I just want who I am, what I’ve done, decisions I’ve made to be understood in the context of love and parenting. I want them to understand for their own sake most of all, for the sake of peace, to help them exorcise ghosts and demons. If there are things I need to apologize or make amends for, I would like the dignity and opportunity to do that.
Sitting on the stepladder going through things, my father knew what all the tools were for, what that old roll of sprinkler wire was for and what the problems with the sprinklers were, what the bags of mortar and grout were for, the scraps of baseboard and other wood, the plumbing and electrical parts. I just expected unremarkable things to work and they usually did work unremarkably well. Rocking horses and porch swings just showed up. I know the house too, which windows are most likely to be open late at night to sneak in by, but he knows this place better than anyone. There is so much I don’t know about what he knows. He will take much of it with him sadly, but I hope there are more days like today, where my appreciation and respect can jump up a notch or two, where I can understand a little better, humanize him a little more, grant him the benefit of the doubt and extend some grace. There’s a lot there, and I do want to know the history and stories of my family after all; not just the facts, but the human side most of all.