Lessons found in Dad’s toolbox

It’s nearly Father’s Day. Sons and daughters are racking their brains trying to figure out what in blazes to buy dear old Dad this year. Even sons who are fathers themselves are at a loss as to what Dad might possibly want on his special day.

You might think that the solution to this problem would be to ask Dad what he would like for Father’s Day. When I was 5 years old, my older sisters sent me in, like a communist spy, to find out what Dad really wanted us kids to buy for him. Dad would rather have talked about his time in the war than to answer that gotcha question.

“Oh, you know, I just want to spend the day with all my kids,” he said, while secretly fantasizing about an all-day golf outing involving exactly none of his six children.

With no useful input, we siblings pooled our money to get something that he would really appreciate. The six of us — four girls and two boys — went to Sears and bought the perfect tie to compliment Dad’s wardrobe. Yeah, I know. It’s a cliché. But, I was 5. My oldest sister was 17. She’s the one who should have known better. 

It’s nearly impossible to properly accessorize a wardrobe that was purchased piecemeal from a hospital thrift store. What kind of tie goes with green polyester pants and a red checkered jacket you might ask? None. No tie in the history of mankind, especially not the blue paisley tie that took us hours to choose, could possibly have brought that ensemble together.

It wasn’t until 30 years later, when we gathered to help Mom and Dad divvy up their possessions prior to the sale of the family home, that I realized our Father’s Day gift strategy was incredibly flawed. In contrast to Dad’s vast tie collection, Dad’s tool collection was, by my standards, woefully lacking. I mean, we were right there at Sears, the home of Craftsmen — the world’s finest tools — and we bought the man a tie. For shame.

Dad’s toolbox was just that, a long box with a dowel for a handle. It was the kind of toolbox that Larry, Curly or Moe carried into some rich snob’s home moments before they tore a faucet from the kitchen sink and flooded the entire building. They were the worst repairmen, with horrible Yelp reviews, and yet they kept getting work. It made no sense.

Dad started his tool collection in the early days of the Roosevelt administration and completed it by the Cuban Missile Crisis. He had a folding wooden ruler, an adjustable wrench, six combination wrenches, half a dozen sockets and a rusty ratchet wrench, a chain pipe wrench, a hand saw, one standard screwdriver and one Phillips head, a hammer, two metal-bodied electric sander and drill, and a Ka-Bar knife — Dad’s lone memento from his days fighting the Wehrmacht during the Battle of the Bulge.

I have eight toolboxes full of tools and another four toolboxes worth of tools spread across the floor of the garage. I forget what tools I own and order new tools through Amazon, only to find duplicates in a forgotten toolbox prior to their Prime delivery.

A growing subset of my collection are tools that no longer work. Either the commutator has stopped commutating, the $80 battery no longer holds a charge, or they just plain break. Thanks, Harbor Freight.

Dad’s hand tools never broke because, get this, he used them as intended. If a power tool stopped working, he took it to the hardware store to be fixed. Say Dad got half-electrocuted when his Black and Decker drill shorted out and 110 volts of countrified AC current shot through the metal casing into his arm? No problem. The hardware store kept dozens of new cords in stock because this kind of thing happened rather often with that model. Dad was a child of the Depression. He didn’t throw a perfectly good tool away just because it nearly killed him. That would be wasteful.

I saw a Father’s Day sale flyer recently and thought of all the tools I could buy for myself. Dad would have tossed that flyer away. His toolbox was filled with what he needed, nothing more, nothing less. And, he took care of what he had. I didn’t understand this when we divvied up Mom and Dad’s stuff all those years ago and I left Dad’s old toolbox and his old tools to be dropped off at the Goodwill.

I did find a blue paisley tie in my suitcase when I got home. Dad must have been trying to figure out how to get rid of that thing for years. Even his cataract-glazed eyes knew that a blue paisley tie does not go with green polyester pants and a red checkered jacket.

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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