A Hammer, Some Nails and a Bench My Dad Would Have Helped Me Build

Isn't this the story a writer is supposed to write the first Father's Day after she loses her dad?

It's Father's Day and I'm building a bench. 

It's going to be tall and long and attached somehow to my dining room wall. I'm going to paint it three shades of gold and when it's finished my kids will argue over who will be the first to sit on it for breakfast.

Like most projects I embark upon, it's going to take awhile. 

It's Father's Day and I'm building a bench.

But this isn't a story about a bench, really. 

The house my dad built

My dad was a builder. He could build anything.

When I was in graduate school he built me a custom bookcase (I call it custom because he had me measure the depth and height of my favorite books to make sure they'd fit on its finished shelves). A few years later he built my son — his first grandson — a bookcase, too. He built docks and decks and model ships. He built two sheds and a screened-in porch that should someday be the setting for a really long poem about the perfect family.

He once told me that when he was about to start a project he would lie awake in bed early on weekend mornings and just picture in his head what he was going to do first. He said he could see every finished product, even before the first nail had been positioned.

He was a visionary. A craftsman. An artist. A virtuoso, I suppose.

I know what you're thinking: If only he were here to help his daughter with her crazy bench thing.

The builder's daughter 

My dad died in a car accident on a northern Michigan country road nine days before Christmas.

So on that day six months ago, it took just a few awful seconds for this story to be like many you'll likely read today: all of a sudden I became that girl, the one without a dad on the day set aside for dads. To really embellish the cliche, I'm a writer, so this is perhaps the one thing I've been expected to write: the tribute-to-the-best-dad-ever story.

But here's the thing that's wrong with all of that: am I really without a dad on Father's Day?

Everything my dad ever taught me is part of who I am. That's easy to nod your head up and down to when you read it aloud from a greeting card. But isn't it true?

My dad taught me to ask questions and pursue every possible answer. He taught me to say what I mean, mean what I say, be prepared for the truth, and live for the moment. 

My dad taught me to appreciate headlines but not get caught up in the drama of the headline-makers.

He taught me that life isn't fair.

And without ever knowing it, he taught me to take an idea and build it into something real: something that has the potential to last a long, long time. 

Where is my hammer?

The whole bench thing exists mostly in my mind. Like my dad, I can envision the finished product. The bench idea also exists in these Pinterest photos I've been collecting and in a picture of a long bench I snapped at a restaurant downtown.

You should know that I don't yet own an electric saw and have only once been to an actual lumber store. But that's okay. Because the thing is, in all of those lessons I mentioned, I haven't yet revealed the most important one — the one that will make me a builder, too, after all.

Without probably ever knowing it, my dad taught me to dare myself to learn. 

So with that, I'm building a bench, and I have no doubt it will be some sort of inherited talent that will inspire and motivate me along the way. Because my dad is not here to guide me — but he is.

My dad was a builder (in his spare time). He had a wife, a daughter, a son and four grandchildren. He had a house and a cottage and he called days with clear skies "million dollar days." 

He died all alone in a field, and I've thought of that every second of every day for the past six months. 

And right now he's no doubt wondering when I'm going to stop writing, pick up the hammer and just get to work.

Stacey June 18, 2012 at 11:49 PM
a genuine heart-felt little story, kristin!
Dinice Buitendorp-Paul June 19, 2012 at 05:25 AM
Thanks for sharing so eloquently such beautiful thoughts of your dad & his legacy. This was the first Father's Day since my dad died in a car accident 4 days before my birthday last year. I really appreciated reading your tribute in the midst of my own mixed up thoughts.
Kristin Bull June 19, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Thank-you, everyone, for the heartfelt thoughts :)
Shannon June 19, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Thank you Kristin for sharing. It made me smile and cry a little. I too do something my father taught me on my second year missing my father on fathers day. This year running a 5k even though it rained and was not the perfect setting. I felt him with me and on this important day and that is all that mattered. Take care.
Kelly Luplow June 20, 2012 at 05:20 AM
A beautiful tribute to your dad. Everyday will forever be "Million Dollar Days". There is no doubt in my mind that he will continue to live through you and Matt and his grandchildren. We all miss him very much!!!


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