I was not born into a handy family. My dad never owned a power saw, router, grinder, etc. (the best I’ve done so far is acquire a sawzall) so we didn’t work on any do-it-yourself labor intensive home improvement projects growing up. The biggest annual “handy” project that my dad had to do every fall was put up and hammer nails into boards to cover the screens in the screen porch that was attached to our detached garage back in my hometown of Duluth. That was always a big event and a big deal. To his credit my dad never once complained about having to do it. When I was a teenager I realized that my dad didn’t care for this task very much but he knew it was something that had to be done; just like he knew that it was better for the life of the driveway to shovel down to the pavement and breaking through the inch or so of ice that would sometimes build up on top of the driveway. This is something that my dad always did and always wanted us to do even if my brother and I didn’t always want to do it. Keeping the driveway as clear from snow and ice as is possible in Duluth, MN paid off because the blacktop on the driveway never needed to be replaced in the 14 years that I lived in the house. My dad did all of this with basic metal and plastic shovels. Maybe he used an ice pick every once in a while but it wasn’t very often. Who says you need expensive tools to do certain jobs right?
I grew up in a normal life in a relatively normal family (my mom was and is a recovering alcoholic but she was sober during most of my formative years). I played the usual sports during my elementary years, was a cub scout and boy scout, hung out with the neighborhood kids and friends I made at school, and was exposed to the same culture any other kid would have been exposed to growing up in the 1980s and ’90s in northeastern Minnesota. My parents are orginally from the Twin Cities and they moved back here before my dad even retired from working for the federal government so that might be one of the reasons why they forbid my brother and I to ever play hockey (I know a lot of kids play hockey in the Twin Cities but it’s uncommon if a boy doesn’t play hockey for at least a couple of seasons if he grows up in Duluth). My parents always had lively discussions focused on politics, culture, news, etc. at the dinner table so I was getting plenty of abstract education both at school and at home.
The things that I didn’t get much exposed to was getting dirty and working with my hands. Some kids know how to pull apart car engines by the time they’re 14. I’m proud that I can replace a car’s battery and headlights as an adult. My dad always wanted my brother and I to enjoy additional advantages he didn’t get to enjoy growing up such as paying for our college education (my parents covered the cost of a public university in the late ’90s and early 2000s). My brother decided to go to Macalester College in Saint Paul so he ended up joining the Army National Guard and working four other jobs during his first two years of college (he worked three jobs during the school year) so he could supplement my parents’ contribution. I failed the medical exam to get into the national guard when it was my turn so I didn’t have much of a choice if I wanted my parents to pay my way. Besides that, my grades and ACT scores weren’t even on the same planet as my brother’s so I was going to attend a public university no matter what-if I could even get into one, that is. Somehow, Saint Cloud State accepted me so that is where I was bound my freshmen year. It didn’t work out so I came back home and went to school at the University of Wisconsin Superior for the next three and a half years. In the end, even though I had acquired about 127 credits, that didn’t work out either and I ended up dropping out of college, despite the extra advantages my father made sure I had.
So it was not out of pure curiosity that I learned to do a few things with my hands. It was more out of necessity. I worked a string of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs until I was given my first big “break” at the age of 27. I was hired into a track apprenticeship at Metro Transit and it was in the Track Department where I learned what a grinder was and how to use it. It’s where I learned how to use an air compressor. It’s where I learned to hook up a trailer. It’s where I learned to drive a front end loader. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s where I learned how to properly use a vice grip.
By this time I had completed a Liberal Arts degree at Metrostate University just so I could say I earned that four year degree that my parents wanted me to get, just as they and my brother had earned before me (unlike me they all earned it on time [my brother in 3 and a half]). The problem with a made up degree is you can bascially only get a made up job. So while I was making good money as a Track Apprentice at Metro Transit I was also attending night classes at Saint Paul College in the field of computer networking (a field that doesn’t require you to be super handy-just a little). In 2010, at the age of 30, I finally got a good job in a field where I didn’t have to exert an exhausting amount of physical labor every day. Sure, there is some, but it’s not nearly the amount that I had grown accustomed to.
My dad was smarter than I was in his younger days. He knew if he completed school when he was supposed to he could make a good life for himself and make a good life for his family. That is precisely what he did. I wish I had learned from his example earlier but I guess I’m one of those people who have to learn lessons the hard way-at least I did. So even if my dad never taught me how to build a shelf he taught me the most important lesson he could have ever taught me, and that is how to be a good man. My dad’s example is nothing short of a Chirstmas blessing that I will always keep in my heart. In the end it doesn’t matter what our loved ones know. It matters who they are and how they act. I can think of no better example of how to live my life then that which my dad has always set.
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, dad.