Jettisoning and not this Father's Day

I’ve been jettisoning stuff of late and have found it harrowing, liberating and, on this Fathers’ Day, very affirming.

For too long, I avoided it: throw too much overboard, and too much of what aspired to make you “you” is lost. Toss too little, and too much of what clutters the “you” in you remains. Now, I’ve reached that stage in life where, in plumbing parlance, I’m circling the drain. I’m clinging to the porcelain with as much tenacity as I can muster, but I’ve learned that keeping too many old aspirations, without re-examination, can weaken my grip.

Illustrative, I think, is a couple of the contents of the garage I had built, extra wide, extra deep, so I could warehouse everything I aspired to get to, one day.

For decades, I had my first car in there, a 1929 Ford that I was going to restore. And, up in the attic, I had some wood I could make something with.

When I was in high school, my dad and I drove that Ford 350 miles home from Iron Mountain. Each of its wheels was a different size, and it rolled like a fat man (I say this with authority) walking down a sidewalk, backfiring enough to twice stampede cows. My dad hoped I’d learn about cars; I aspired to that, too. It never came to pass.

The oak was acquired before Sue and I moved to Hinsdale, and consisted of three long boards, some narrower slats and odd lengths of fancy chair rail. I’d used the chair rail in our previous home, but the source of the long boards and slats remains a mystery to me.

Deciding to get rid of the Ford should have been a no-brainer — the time for becoming a gearhead had long passed — but it was not. I’d kept that car because it was tangible evidence of a memory, of having the kind of dad who’d drive 350 miles in a backfiring old heap, hoping his kid would learn life skills from working on it. The memory of that, not the car, was what needed to be kept.

The oak was different. Working with those old boards, slats, and rail was still possible, even inviting. There wasn’t enough to be wasteful, so I planned two tiny bookcases to use the last marginal inch. Designing, measuring, cutting and finishing wood, frugally and efficiently, was something else my dad hoped I’d learn. I did.

I built the two small bookcases and if I do say so myself, from a substantial distance, in poor light, they appear ... well, adequate. My dad had nothing to do with my acquiring that wood, but he had much to do with teaching me how to work with it. It’s the tangible memory of that I see when I look at those two bookcases.

May you be so blessed, this Fathers’ Day.

— Jack Fredrickson of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].