Back in October we decided to update the paint colours in our kitchen and living room, and before you know it the whole thing spiralled out of control into a full-scale renovation. We’d been saying for years that at some point we’d finish the basement to create an extra bedroom and family living space, and under the circumstances – COVID restrictions and work from home – we decided now was the time to act. My brother (a professional framer) and Dad (who spent summers framing during his university years) came down for a day to help frame in the new basement rooms, and after that I thought I’d take it from there.
Here’s the thing about those TV renovation shows: they make it look easy. They make you feel capable, despite the fact that most of the work happens off camera. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, and even if you’re fully aware that you don’t know what you’re doing, these shows kind of make you feel like you do.
Enough to try anyways.
I quickly realized I was in way over my head. Although he never said it out loud, I think my Dad realized it too. So, graciously, he offered to come back and help out. And he just kept coming. The job that I naively thought would take me a week or so actually turned out to be closer to two months of both of us working three to four nights per week and full Saturdays. (We did it safely, by the way, wearing masks and observing public health guidelines – which is important to note during a global pandemic).
Working with Dad
I can’t really express how much it’s meant to me to work with my Dad on finishing the basement. First of all, he really saved the day – without his skills and proficiency there’s no way that, armed with no experience and a few YouTube videos, I would have been able to do an acceptable job by myself. But the greater gift has been the opportunity to spend so much time simply doing something together. While we worked, we would talk about things that interest us: sports, music, theology, the church, politics, national identity, family history, craft beer, the outdoors, life. We made jokes and laughed a lot. We spent a lot of time thinking, problem solving, putting our heads together, and – from time to time – stepping back to feel good about our progress.
Working with Dad has brought back a bunch of memories. One of my earliest vivid childhood memories is from when our house needed a new roof. I must have been five years old or so, and all of a sudden one day a bunch of guys (many of them Dad’s fellow Christian school teachers) showed up with hammers and work belts. I remember how interesting it all felt (a new roof on our house!), and the sense of fraternity and community that I perceived among my Dad and his friends working on this project together. I wanted in. Eventually I was given the job of scouring the lawn for stray nails, with a one cent per-nail bounty as an added bonus. What a feeling! I was one of the guys, and I was about to be rich! Years later when I was a teenager and our new house was in need of a new roof, the crew came back, just like before, only this time I truly became one of the guys swinging hammers up on the roof. I can’t help but feel like something has been lost from one generation to the next. Now that I’m an adult with a roof of my own, my friends mostly don’t have the skillset to help me redo it and, anyways, we’re all too busy to call on each other for this kind of help.
Going on ahead
Other memories that have come back to me are more general, more like specific feelings or the sudden recognition of shared patterns of mind. I’m realizing how much I’ve learned from my Dad, how much I’ve inherited of his disposition, outlook, work ethic and demeanor. I’m recognizing the extent to which he has shown me, over the full arc of our lives together, a good way to be at every stage. This is what good fathers do, I think: they show the way. It makes me think of the pillars of cloud and fire, manifestations of God the Father, which led the Israelites through the desert in Exodus. When it was time to move, the pillar went out ahead. And when it was time to stay put, the pillar rested over the Tabernacle at the centre of camp. This is a helpful and instructive way to think about fatherhood, because I know my Dad’s ability to play this role in my life flows directly from his relationship with his heavenly Father. Having a trustworthy and reliable father to follow has been one my life’s great blessings, and has enabled me in my own life to “travel by day or night” (Ex.13:21) in countless different ways.