A fun factoid most people don’t know about me is that my dad built most of my nice furniture. Sure, there’s the glossy piano that I got as a graduation present, back when teaching piano was my only means of self-support, and the exotic media stand I bought from my cousin, whose taste I’ve tried to emulate since L.A. Gear was the hip new thing; however, nothing comes close to the same level as the furniture my dad built. This is the only reason I have had grown-up furniture at all, rather than apartments full of Ikea hand-me-downs and garage sale finds.
It started with the desk. I had started writing my first novel at eighteen, back before I knew the impossibility of being a self-supporting writer, and I was forced to type at the family computer. Back at the turn of the twentieth century–a time of hardship and strife if there ever was one–most households only had one computer, and ours resided in the same room as the TV. This was problematic for many reasons.
“Do you guys have to watch TV now!” I’d yell, more of a threat than a question, as I plunked away at my story of attempted murder and self-discovery in a small town. Back then, all my stories featured some version of the same melodramatic plot, an attempt on my part to vicariously live a more interesting life.
Eventually, as I entered college and my work became more academic in nature, it became apparent that I’d need a less public place to work on my studies/major plot points, so my dad volunteered to build me my own desk. I drew the design myself, complete with accurately labeled dimensions, and he set to work.
Every night after work, he’d update me on his progress. “I’m working on the hutch today,” or, “I finished the drawers, but I still need to work on the faces,” he’d let me know when he came in from the shop, usually after seven or so. Since starting his own woodworking business when I was a kid, he rarely came in before then, and he also devoted many weekends to work. I felt small with every update, humbled that he would work so hard and create something useful, compared to me with my shabby little stories.
Sometimes he’d call me out to the shop to show me his progress, chipping away at the project little by little after work. He always acted like it was just something he threw together, as if in his hands the joints magically fused in an act of carpenter’s alchemy that would forever remain mysterious in my eyes.
Finally, he asked, “Are you free this weekend? It’s ready for sanding and finishing.”
My dad didn’t like finishing as much as he liked building, so this was not my first encounter with the process. He often drafted me to finish simple projects that required a steady hand, patience and a clean brush. Armed with several different grits of sandpaper, I smoothed away the sharp edges and splinters. Two coats of finish, and voilà! I was ready to churn out the Great American Novel.
When my books began overflowing my childhood shelf, I got a bookshelf, too. Once again, I drew out the dimensions, and once again my dad built it, leaving the sanding and finishing to me. An attractive cabinet also came to me in this manner, this one for no particular reason.
I don’t produce much of anything useful nowadays. But what I do produce, it’s because of my dad.