The Art of Fatherhood DIY

There is a whole art to doing DIY as a father with (or near) your kids. I don’t know who my birth father is, so this is a lesson I learned through the surrogates in my life: first my maternal grandfather and later my father-in-law. Both men have their similarities: in their late sixties to late seventies; both engineers (steam, medical); both grew up poor; both are in long-term happy marriages (56 and 36 years) one has two kids and no grandkids; the other has five kids (two, alas, have passed on), four grandkids and three great-grandkids; one grew up in Liverpool the son of a man who tried to be DIY King but failed hilariously; and, one grew up on a small farm in the middle-of-nowhere Saskatchewan with a father who passed away early (some say from suicide, but it is never talked about). 

These two men from opposite sides of the world both have a similar worldview: DIY at home is an important bedrock in ensuring familial safety, bonding, quality time together, and equally important is teaching their kids DIY because they knew it was a way to ensure their kids could take care of themselves (and hence, have to worry less about them.) There is a lot more to this, but this is the essence of their approach to Fatherhood DIY.

I have fond memories of time spent DIY-ing with both of these men. With Grandpa I learned how to build a slide (surprising complicated, I must admit), a deck, paint a ridiculous number of fences, work with metal/wood, and a host of other things. With my father-in-law I learned how to wallpaper. These fond memories and skills have bonded me to these men: when I think of them, I think with affection, love, and care. To be clear this isn’t the only place I ‘work’ on my bond with these men, but it is certainly an important conceptual space and place where this rendering happens.

This is not the extent of DIY I know how to do, I did learn a lot with my own mother, but it was a different experience than with these two men. For alongside these skills I also learned about them as men, and their hopes and dreams for their own kids. Grandpa used our time together to talk about his childhood (which he is reticent about), teach me other useful skills (we never worked on cars together but he did tell me a lot about them…), query me about my life (I guess, it was a good time to dig in on things that would be awkward staring at each other and discussing…), and proclaim that when I get my own house I can take care of it myself. My father-in-law who has given up on his son, my husband being in any way proficient in the art of DIY, has I believe proclaimed me the DIY Queen in our future house. Thus, when I help my father-in-law I get entertaining stories about his own Dad and Mum (who have passed on before I even met my husband), and, useful tidbits of medical knowledge (hearts are complicated, I must say).

Outside of these moments, neither of these men will (usually) talk about their childhoods or their parents who have now passed on. But, in these cosy moments brought together by DIY, mutual avoidance of eye contact and a slight creation of mess, these men both dig into their past to pass it onto the next generation. I have pieced together a story of my grandpa’s life through tiny pieces gifted by my grandpa in these moments of bonding (alongside my grandmother’s bellicosity about her in-laws). I have also begun the process of piecing together the story of my husband’s paternal side. And, thus, I can pass on these legacies to our children, whenever they may come.

They also will dig into what they hope for their kids: ability to take care of themselves when they are gone. Both experienced fathers who for one reason or another did not pass on mediated self-sufficient lessons (Grandpa lost his Dad at fourteen, and the youngest of three boys, often was left behind when his Dad was alive; and, my father-in-law’s Dad tried to teach him DIY but always botched the jobs he undertook), and so these two men by dint of survival taught themselves. I remember a hilarious story about my father-in-law having to fix a light circuit before his father electrocuted himself. With their hard-found knowledge both men wanted to break this cycle, and instead pass on mediated self-sufficient lessons to their kids (or partner if that particular child proved to hate DIY); and in this way, showcased their deep and unrelenting love of their children. 

This Art of Fatherhood DIY is an indirect means to get closer to their children while also teaching them valuable life-skills. 

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