My father is a carpenter. He has worked with his hands from an age when many today have likely never had a job, and used his craft to raise five children. He learned his trade from his own father, under conditions that would make any OSHA officer sweat. While many children may not be able to tell you quite what their daddy does at work, I’ve always known, in part because summers included plenty of “take your kids to work days” spent collecting torn shingles or fetching tools. By the time I finished middle school I had been on more roofs, and seen more stages of home construction than most adults I know. In high school I knew if I needed money that lending Dad a hand was my best bet.

Exposure to my father’s craft instilled in me a fondness of the smell of sawdust, a sense of giddiness and curiosity around power tools, and a general confidence in the Home Depot that makes store associates a little uneasy. While these all contribute to my enjoyment of DIY projects, what I witnessed of my father’s career that has been most impactful was the way in which he conducted his business, and his demeanor in work and in life.

Here are some lessons learned as a carpenter’s daughter.

There is a most- appropriate tool or material for any job, but sometimes you have to get creative.

 Sure, we’d all like to see a job done right, and quality matters, but sometimes we need to make do with what we have on hand. A tarp on an old roof lets you sleep through a storm, and a quick coat of primer hides a patch job from a leaky pipe. Dad often brought home left over materials from jobs and went to this pile when the next job needed something they couldn’t afford. It wasn’t always pretty, but it got the job done. We can’t always have exactly what we want or need at the perfect moment, but that is often okay because solutions are everywhere. Just be sure to keep a close eye, and never leave a quick fix as a permanent fixture when you can help it.

Measurement is essential, and failing to assess a situation only makes for more work.

Nothing kills the flow of a job like running out of materials or cutting the last board an inch too short. Assessing what you need to tackle a big project is essential to success. This was an issue that hit Dad hard over the years, often when a homeowner took their own measurements to save him a trip. Winging it may get you pretty far, but it’s not nearly as effective as planning and preparation.

Enjoying the process gets you through.

Carpentry is full of tedious tasks like sanding, staining, and painting. While sometimes it makes sense to hire out that kind of job, every now and then it’s nice to spend an afternoon with occupied hands and a simple task at hand. Dad has a lot of knowledge of the complexity of building or repairing homes, but he doesn’t slack when it comes to the boring stuff either. It seems that mindfulness is the carpenter’s greatest tool, and if you know anything of the practice you’ll know that being immersed in a moment is the most relaxing way to experience it. If you must do it, try to enjoy it.

Reactions make frustrations better or worse.


My father is the most patient person I’ve ever met. He’s contemplative and deliberate in his work and in life. I’ve seen him become noticeably frustrated only a handful of times, even with five very lively children under foot. If Dad let out a “Shoot!” or “Dag-nabbit!” you knew it was bad.  This is one of his qualities that I have to fight my nature to practice, but when I do it pays off. Dad whistles a lot, too. I used to think it was because he was just a happy guy, but it occurred to me once as he began whistling mere moments after a very difficult encounter with my rebellious teenaged self that maybe he was willfully choosing to whistle through the tough stuff all along. Life can be frustrating, but it’s up to us to approach it with grace.

When you work hard, you sleep better.

My dad was often at work before dawn, coming home to get us off to school before heading back out, picking us up in the work van and many times going back to work until late into the night. Even though he honored the Sabbath every week by attending church, he usually ended up making commitments in the lobby, checking on a job on the way home, or changing out his Sunday cowboy boots for his worn work boots and toolbelt to go work a few more hours.

Second to his work, Dad is also known for his amazing ability to go from alert to dead sleep in mere moments, often in parked cars outside of shopping malls while his kids ran around with friends, or sitting straight up in a lounge chair just minutes into a ballgame. His is the most peaceful and deep slumber that I’ve not even seen in my own children. So don’t aim to sleep like a baby, work hard and sleep like a carpenter.  

People often have needs that exceed their means.

  Through my life I’ve grown frustrated at how hard my dad has had to work, how little people seem to respect his time, and how easily he forgave debts or under charged. What I think I failed to realize was that my father hasn’t been simply building a career all these years, he’s been serving people with his knowledge and skill. His customers have real needs: leaking roofs or crumbling handrails. They had possibly resigned themselves to be content with homes that didn’t fit their abilities or that made their lives the most challenging in the very place they should be most comfortable. Thinking of this reminds me that we can’t always see the suffering of others, but that once they get up the nerve to reveal their vulnerability, it’s up to others with the ability to help them.

A job’s not done until the tools are packed away.

Some of those summer days on job sites ran long. I clearly remember the anticipation of waiting for my dad to nail down the last shingles or stain the last deck rail. As he’d finish I’d rush over to the work van in hopes of getting a real seat rather than a spot on the tool box for the ride home. I’d sit there waiting for what seemed like ages as dad would walk the perimeter making sure we got each shingle from the bushes, as he rinsed paint brushes or swept up drywall dust. I hated it then, but now I know the sense of calm that comes from knowing a job is truly ready for its intended. Once the carpenter’s tools are away, and signs of the work itself are removed, the real magic happens. The homeowner sees their new space or repaired area, and they’re grateful. They’re grateful for people like my dad who take pride in their work and treat all people and places with their due respect.

 

Even though I’m no carpenter, I hope to grow to be even half as respectable as my father.

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