THE BLOG

The Tools My Father Gave Me

06/12/2014 04:53 pm ET | Updated Aug 12, 2014
Devon Corneal

I've spent the better part of three days in our basement tool room, or, as I've come to call it "the pit of despair." A few months ago, my husband, frustrated that he couldn't locate a simple screwdriver in the mess that had accumulated over the past seven years, mentioned that having that room organized would be a great Father's Day gift. So, while he is away on business, I've secretly been cleaning, demolishing, painting, and organizing this small corner of our home. What was supposed to be a quick Martha Stewart makeover involving a few storage bins and a nice sweep, has turned into my very own Waterloo. I've used industrial paints that have killed brain cells, remediated questionable mold, spent quality time with the folks at Home Depot, and sifted through thousands of assorted hooks, nails and screws to sort them into carefully labeled drawers.

I love my husband, but I considered throwing in the towel and buying him a tie.

You know what stopped me? My dad. This is exactly the kind of project he loves -- a little bit of dirt, a little bit of know-how and a short timeline. It's taking what could be a simple project and turning it into something better. If my dad were here, we would have gutted the room, hung drywall, built cabinets and put in a new floor. Since he's a couple of hundred miles away, I settled for basic safety and cleanliness. I've been texting him pictures of my progress and today he called to say how proud he is of me. He may be a little disappointed that I didn't put in baseboard, but he's hiding it well.

As a mother, I often wonder how much of what I'm teaching my boys really sinks in. This week, I've realized that the lessons our parents teach us do matter. In honor of Father's Day, and to celebrate the fact that I'm almost done and can finally join humanity again, here are just a few of the things I've learned from my dad.

1. Any job worth doing is worth doing properly.

My dad comes from a family of preternaturally capable men who can design and build houses, plant and grow complex gardens, and operate machinery of all shapes and sizes. They also expect their children to learn to do these things and do them the right way. When I was younger, I hated the instruction and exactitude of father-daughter projects, but as an adult I appreciate how valuable that time was. There were no shortcuts, no half-assed attempts, no "it's good enough, can we stop now?" It was all or nothing every time. To this day, I take perverse pride in knowing that I can paint a room like a professional and have all the tools to do it right. Speaking of tools...

2. Kids need tools.

My younger brother inherited my father's ability to tinker and build. When he was 2, my father found him taking apart a telephone under his crib. When I was 2, my father found me with my nose in a book. Our natural inclinations notwithstanding, my dad taught both of us how to fix a leaky toilet, mow the lawn, hang a picture, and change the oil in our cars. Jiffy Lube was not an option. He encouraged us to play with socket wrenches and pliers in the garage and trusted us to figure out how to use them. A smashed finger or toe was a small price to pay. When I went away to college, I took new sheets, a mini-fridge, and a tool set of my very own. Today, I still use my old level and screwdrivers to tackle household projects and I take great joy in watching my son play in the backyard with the hammer his grandfather bought him. I draw the line at the power drill though. He has to wait until he's at least 8 for that.

3. The grand gesture is worth making.

When I was 6 or 7, my dad gave me a blue Schwinn bicycle with a white basket on the front handlebars for my birthday. It was beautiful and I rode it for years. What I remember most, though, was that the white basket was filled with roses. That simple bouquet took an already special gift and made it extraordinary. My dad is the master of the surprise extravagant gift -- not because he's a lavish or over-the-top guy -- but because he appreciates the joy those surprises bring. Let's hope my husband feels the same excitement over the tool room.

4. You can learn anything if you put your mind to it.

My husband once asked my father how he learned all the skills he has. My dad sort of shrugged and said when he was a teenager he wanted to figure out how to do some electrical work so he got a book from the library and started reading. You know, no big deal.

5. The left lane is for passing.

My father used to race cars in his spare time. My dad drives like he lives his life -- with precision, goals, benchmarks and sheer pleasure. When I got my license, he tried to teach me everything he knew. I never mastered the stick shift, but most of the rest of it stuck. I can scan tree lines to anticipate which way the road will curve and I can brake without giving my passengers whiplash. Most importantly though, I learned there is a time and a place for everything. The right lane is the scenic route -- the place to be when you've got all the time in the world. The left lane is the highway -- it's for getting past obstacles and moving forward. The scenic route is a fine place to be, but if you're on the highway, go fast.