I spent 1975 in a hardware store. As my dad built our house, I roamed the aisles studying bins of screws, smelling lumber and comparing types of pipe. As a family, we did nearly everything on the house. We started by clearing the property and building a corral for the horses. Even as I write, I’m sure my dad is continuing to do something on the property to make it just a bit better. By observing and taking part in this process, I learned that my dad is pretty amazing. He can do anything. He is systematic in his approach to figuring out how to get things done. Because of this, he’s always the first person I call when I have a home improvement project to complete.
Back in the late 1900s, before the internet and during the time when long distant calls had per minute cost, I could call my dad and let him know about a problem. I’d tell him what was broken and more often then not, he’d do some research, and get back to me with a list of supplies to gather and, “I’ll be over this weekend.”
My dad lives in Central Oregon so a trip to the Willamette Valley takes at least three hours. When his mom was alive and his grandchildren were small, the trip over the mountain didn’t seem to bother him. About the time I started paying someone to mow my lawn, I think my dad started suggesting that I hire someone to fix my broken things. His trips over the mountain because less frequent and when he was at my house, he was content just sitting and visiting. His visits also got shorter. If he came for a grandchild’s graduation, he would arrive a few hours before, spend the night then leave first thing the next morning.
The fall we bought a house right around the time my son bought a house nearby, my parents planned a trip to check things out. I expected my dad would be eager to do all of the little projects that seem a natural part of moving in so I had a list ready for him. Shockingly he came, observed, made suggestions then left without doing a single project. I figured was saving his energy so he could jump in at my son’s house (the son who claims he’s the favorite grandchild). Instead, my dad admired the projects, gave some encouraging words then went on his way.
Luckily, Ace Hardware, YouTube and FaceTime have saved me. I have also developed a much greater tolerance for things that don’t work quite right. Holes in the wall can be hidden by proper artwork or furniture placement. One leaky master bath faucet can be turned off under the sink if the second sink still works. For the things I can’t live without, my dad has talked me through it.
Unfortunately, my dad had some medical challenges come up over the past year and the series of treatments required were only offered in the Portland area. We saw a lot more of my parents and because he was trapped in our area for sometimes two days in a row, his antsy nature had him knocking projects off my list. We did the projects side by side and I learned a few very special things from him. Learning theorist Lev Vygotsky believes that learners grow the most when working in the Zone of Proximal Development with another. For instance, if you are learning to play tennis and you play with someone slightly better than you, you will grow more as a player than if you were to play with Serena Williams. My dad is the Serena Williams of home improvement BUT I learned from him because he was so transparent in talking me through his process.
Lesson 1-Go to the right store and ask for help. When I step into Home Depot, Lows, or Ace Hardware, the smell alone takes be back to 1975. I dreamily walk up and down every aisle. Before we left the house, my dad had figured out the best place to get our supplies. When we got there, he asked the first person who greeted us for help. We were in and out in minutes and had just what we needed. Suburban Ace Hardware on 185th and Alexander in Aloha, Oregon is the BEST.
Lesson 2-If someone asks you for help, work with them not for them. Build capacity in others so they can do things without you. I didn’t realize how much of this my dad has done until I replaced sheetrock in my son’s room all by myself. I feather spackle like a pro. My dad’s voice is in my head as I work. I’m grateful that he’s just a phone call or Facetime away still but more and more, I can share the “after” photos instead of relying on him every step of the way.
Lesson 3-Together we are better! Building memories as I build skills is what I most appreciate about these projects. While I can do things on my own, I’ve enjoyed building relationships with others as I do projects. In a time where social media allows us to feel connected even as we isolate, building things together is healthy and fun. A friend tells me often about her work with Catalyst Northwest and how she learns skills as she pours into others by helping with home improvement projects. I’m grateful that my dad has modeled how to care for others in the community.
Lesson 4-It takes strength and flexibility (mental and physical) to do home improvement projects. Aging bodies benefit from this type of work. Yoga, time on the treadmill and strength training, make the work easier as well. While home improvement projects are sometimes a pain, I wonder if there is a correlation between aging well and this type of work.
Lesson 5-Being able to break a big task down into small, doable steps takes practice but gets things done. My dad has always been a list maker but I think I realized that he gets so much done because he always know the next small step he needs to take. My last project was “paint son’s room” but it seemed overwhelming until I realized that I could break it into many 5 minute tasks. When my list went from “paint room” to *tape baseboard, *tape window, *remove outlet cover, *bring in ladder, *cover floor with tarp, *get sheetrock… I started using small chunks of time to do one small thing. The many small steps also made it easier to invite others into the work. My mother-in-law loves to paint so once the room was prepped, she transformed it with color in less than 2 hours.
Having the world’s greatest dad has made my journey more interesting. Daily, I uncover skills I forgot I’d learned when I was young all thanks to my dad. I won’t tell you all I know about hunting, fishing, horses, peeling poles for a fence, sagebrush removal, or auto repair this time but the lessons I’ve learned stretch on and on. I wonder how the world would be different if everyone had a dad like mine?