Setting An Example

When I was a boy my father made a point of including me in working on the house.  We did it all, plumbing, electrical, painting and more. Not to mention the times that we changed the oil in his car. I spent quite a bit of that time being told to hold the flashlight or hand him the appropriate tool for the job. It wasn’t easy to just stand there. I wanted to do more than hold the flashlight, I wanted to do something.

My dad was good about that. I have lots of memories of being given the opportunity to do something more than serve as a human light fixture. I also have lots of memories of stripping screws or doing something similar. The men in the family are blessed with strength, but not a lot of finesse. Not to mention that when you are 7, 8, 9 or 10 years old you are so excited you tend to lose focus.

Sometimes my father would grow irritated with me and I’d have to listen to him lecture me about not doing it again, whatever it was. If we was really tired he would tell me that he didn’t have time to wait for me and he would do it himself. That drove me crazy. I never understood how he could be so tired. All I saw was him drive off to his office. That didn’t seem so hard.

Really, I would walk to school and come home with as much energy as when I had left. I just couldn’t conceive of being tired. Decades later when I became a father I finally began to understand why he did what he did. Age and experience made it clear why he was tired as well as an appreciation for him in many ways that I hadn’t anticipated feeling.

Flash forward to July, 2010. I am out with the boys playing a game of pick up basketball. Someone takes an awkward shot and the ball ends up stuck between the rim and the backboard. It is not unusual, happens all the time. Usually we just grab another ball and throw it at the one that is stuck. It is an effective technique of dislodging it. Alternatively if we have someone with hops they leap up and tap it out. This is also effective.

But on this occasion we have neither an extra ball nor someone who is able to jump up and knock it out.  I take a quick look at the ball, take five steps backwards and then start running towards the basket. I hear a few of the guys make sarcastic remarks about old Jewish men not being able to jump, but I don’t respond. I am not going to jump. I can tap the backboard, but I can’t grab the rim anymore and the last thing I want to do is embarrass myself that way.

We are playing on a portable basketball system (not exactly like the picture in the link, but close enough). It is a large structure and it is secured so that it won’t roll or collapse. As I am running I drop my shoulder and slam into it like a fullback reaching for the goal. It is not Barry Sanders like at all, more like Walter Payton or Earl Campbell. Better yet it has the desired effect, as the impact shakes the ball loose and we are able to resume playing the game.

There is a lot of laughter and some of the guys start talking about calling me Tank, Bull or Beast. But I am not paying attention to them because something about the moment has taken me back to being that kid who helped my father. I can hear him telling me that even though it worked, it wasn’t really a smart way to do it. It is surreal, I hear his voice in my head and remember him saying that strength wasn’t enough.

Later on I’ll sit on the sidelines resting and think about the moment. I’ll remember being angry that he doesn’t like my work. I’ll remember listening to him explain that there were moments when you had to use your head. Interspersed with those thoughts are memories of his father, my grandfather talking to me. Grandpa is telling me to stay calm and not let my temper get me in trouble. I listen carefully to him and wonder if my father is exaggerating in his tales about his father. Grandpa is always calm with me.

A short time later I’ll be in the car thinking about conversations with my kids and I’ll smile. I am not so different with my children. My son doesn’t realize it, but the moments and conversations we have now are similar to those I once had with dad. I do my best to be patient with him. I try to teach him how to do these things, what tools he needs for the job and how to use them. He complains that he doesn’t want to hold the flashlight any longer and I let him do some of the work. Damn, he just messed it up and I have more work to do. I tell him calmly what he did wrong but my face betrays my frustration and he protests.

History repeats itself to an extent, but I remember being his age so I wrap him in a bear hug and tell him that I am not angry with him. He has to learn, but our time is limited so I need to take over. He says ok and we switch places.

I smile to myself and hope that one day he has fond memories of these moments with me just as I do with my father.

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  1. Dakota February 2, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    I sit here in Afghanistan, my second time through this place since we started this gig and I’m just poking thru the internet killing time at 3am when I should really be back in bed and I stumbled across this.

    My family and my father on the far far side of the globe, on the exact opposite side of both the planet and the clock…

    My dad is self employed and blue collar… electrical, plumbing, heating, A/C and a bit of carpentry as well. Wise to ways of the world and book smart to boot.
    I grew up in a family full of handy and creative men (in practical ways) who encouraged you to observe and learn and even help some… didn’t appreciate it then but I sure do now… especially as I’ve gotten to know more men whose fathers and male role models weren’t like this with them.

    I’ve been the flashlight holder and tool runner too.

    Not much fun when the work is in a farm crawl space and you have to crawl out, then thru the basement then up the stairs to the work truck to get the drill and box of bits and then down the stairs, thru the basement up into the crawl space then dragging the drill all they way to where your father waits cursing the cheap SOB who build the crawl space only 20 inches high…. and once you get there you find out that he needed, “…the HAMMER drill for this… Whaddar you thinking?” Red faced, turn around… head back out and rinse and repeat…

    I remember going from mostly watching getting tools and being the light to a little helping and on up the ladder…

    Yea… when I have a son… I’m going to make damn sure he watches and learns too.
    I’m sure he’ll break some stuff and muck up a few jobs but by god he’ll know what it means to be a man when he get older.

    Thanks for bringing me a good memory to warm my heart this cold afghan night… even if it did bring a bit of a tear to my eye.


  2. The Rebbetzin's Husband January 6, 2011 at 10:20 am

    I love it. But I would have jumped.

  3. melissa January 4, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    i always wish to give my kids the same experiences and happy memories that my parents did for my sister and i.
    great post!

  4. Clark Kent's Lunchbox January 4, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Geez J. You just ripped a page out of my life here… same situations, same conversations. 20 minutes before I read this I just had another with my dad, and the day prior I had one with my son. my dad and I definitely butted heads. My sons will butt heads with me in time, but the one thing that always stuck out was that my dad cared enough to teach me to do things the right way. That’s what I hope my kids will remember later on. I also hold myself to that standard my dad set of actually setting that example as a dad myself.

    This was one really great post.

    • Jack January 4, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      My dad and I still go at it- albeit with far less frequency than we used to. He did a good job of making sure that I turned into his clone. Ok, not his exact clone but arguing with him is an awful lot like fighting with myself.

      I can see the same thing happening with my son. But as you said the message and memories are positive so I can live with it.

  5. Aidan Donnelley Rowley January 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Isn’t it amazing how our experience of being parented so affects our experience of being a parent? Great post. Very exciting about the new blog!

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