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Built by six hands

by Simon King 14 days ago in family · updated 2 days ago

The sum of shared parts

Built by six hands
Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash

You know they say you have to learn people's love language. It's how they communicate their feelings. Born in 1945 in England, my father may have never quite been given the tools to share his emotions in a conventional way. It's not that I don't know he loves me, of that I am absolutley assured. It's that he has never said it. It's like a speech impediment. I know he wants to. I know how proud of me he is. I feel that. I see it in his face. Telling me though? That's a hurdle too high.

I love him.

I used to really resent him. I felt like I was in a prison of his imagining. That I was not a perfect son, not even close and for that I must be punished with the lifelong painful torture of indiference. I'm sure I was dissapointing a bit. I've dissapointed myself enough, there's plenty of that to fill all the bellies at the table. The thing is, his distance, his almost icy treatment, it was not because he didn't love me, it's because nobody ever explained to him how to say it.

I love him.

My father could have been more. That's not to say what he is isn't something I take great pride in. I admire him and he has always done what he thought was right for his family. He worked himself to near breakdown and turned into a vortex of personal dissapointment and desperation that only those (like myself) now circling the drain of their potential could understand. Like an uneven load in a washing machine, that's just bad news and worrying to be around but it isn't the washing machine's fault. It's the person that filled it up.

I love him.

And so it went. Son and father at odds. Son drops out of school, father believes education is the only key to success. A success he feels slipped from his grasp. He wasn't angry at me for dropping out, he was afraid for me. Sure it seemed like anger but it was fear. Because he loves me but like he was staring at a broken car engine and all he had was cardboard wrenches, he was just not given the tools to do the job.

I love him.

In 2017, a new father myself, I got the idea to restore a vintage camping trailer. My father, brother and I had gone camping a few times in my pre teen years and those where some of the happiest days of my life. At some point he had decided we needed and old tent trailer. This was like 1990 and the trailer we got was probably twenty plus years old. A time capsule made of canvas, aluminum siding and old moldy foam matresses but I loved it. Well, I loved what it represented. He was trying. He wanted to bond even though I'm sure he didn't quite know what that meant. Still, even though time shakes your memories like an EtchaSketch some of them hang on in the corners. I don't remember most of the details but I remember the feeling. It was something I desperately needed to share with my new son.

I love him.

My wife and I had camped for years before my son arrived. The first time we did I was so sour. Unforgiveable. I hadn't been camping since those days in that old orange tent trailer, that was my thing, with my dad. I'm not sharing that with you. I was wrong. My wife wasn't stepping on toes she was giving me new shoes. After a few days I came out of it and I still feel bad for acting such a fool. I didn't even know why I was so grumpy at first, at least I didn't then. I do now. I had cardboard wrenches.

I love him.

So there I was, traveling in Europe at the time and my dad is out looking at this old vintage trailer for me.

"Can you send me a picture?"

"I don't know... these phones... oh for goodness sake."

"Well, I just read the Craigslist ad, it sounded good but I can't see it so I don't know. I mean, should we get it."

"I think it'll be fine."

That's dad talk for "get this one" and I trust his judgement, so we did. Well he did. I still haven't paid him back for it. I should probably do that.

I love him.

So now I get back from my travels with my wife and new son, all excited to show them the project I have decided to undertake with my father (I said I needed his help, I needed his company more) that will propel us from simple tent people to full blown vintage camper gliterati. I was stoked to see the pearl that I was sure I merely had to polish for it to become priceless.

I love him.

When we pulled into the drive all I saw was what can best be described as a thirteen foot purple tinted acid trip disguised as a camping trailer. With no back end. Yeah, it was a wreck. However, I saw the potential my dad saw and was exstactic. My wife has recently, these four years past, come around. My son was neither impressed nor dissapointed. Being six months old at the time he likely thought it was a giant blueberry. He has also since come around.

I love him.

So for the next few years one or two days a month, when I coul steal the time, I would make the hour long drive to my parent's place outside the city and I would work on this project. I've always been surprisingly good with my hands (if you saw me you'd know why that was surprising) but I'd never undertaken a project like this before. A few times a month I would drive out, have a coffee with my mom and dad, chit chat a bit and then set to work. Building this. Sanding that. Starting again and eventually listening to my dad when he told me why things weren't square.

I love him.

It was about the building but it wasn't ya know? Those were some hard years for me for various reasons and I needed to be doing something but I think I needed connection more. I mean, my dad doesn't talk much about substantial things. We've never had a heart to heart but he sees my life. He knows my soul without talking directly to it and he is someone who I can never imagine I was once so alienated from. We talk, sometimes I'd stay over and we'd sit up until late in the night drinking and chatting. If it wasn't for that trailer, that project that seemed like a pearl ready to be polished and should in reality have ended up as a chicken coop in an off grid instagram farm, hashtag sustainable, I never would have got that time. The project wasn't the project it was a task I shared with my father so we could have a common goal and work in each other's company. I wanted to build something with my father for my son.

I love him.

Over the years progress was slow. My son has grown enough that now he helps too. He's only four but he can get me things, has ideas about what we should put where and tells my dad just how we're going to do things. What started as a project that I could use to reach out to my father has turned into something that connects the generations. My son adores my father and to see them interact you would think I was writing about my childhood throught a welder's mask. But I wasn't. It's true. However now, now my dad is the man I think he wanted to before he got drowned in duty. My dad is as a grandad as I imagine he was as a father to me before I can remember.

I love him.

The trailer isn't a trailer. It isn't just a h0bby or a project it's a bridge. It's a connection. I thought it went from me to my dad but it goes from me to him and him to me and both of us to my son. These times will never come back. My son is growing, my father is fading, I am realizing the tomorrows wane. Right now, at this moment though, when I swing a hammer and my dad wires things together. When my son hands me stuff or goes to see what his grandpa is up to and then reports back. These moments, they are everything I had ever wanted them to be. I can't say it to him. He just isn't wired like that. He never will be. So we build. We work. He shows me again and again how selfless and kind he is. I am a beneficiary of who he is in so many ways. If only I had known then but at least now I do.

I love him.

Sadly we are almost done. This trailer will be finished soon and although I beam with pride when he tells me "you've learned so much and you're doing so well" it will be good to finally cross the finish line. I'm sure my son and I will have many other projects over time. In fact, I will make that a certainty. As for my father. He's in his mid seventies now and however much I lie to myself about living to nintey or a hundred I have to accept that even if those years come the sun creeps closer to the horizon. So go these days never to return. This time is amazing and it's heartbreaking. I wish I had known this guy when we were both so much younger. Oh the things we could have built. The talks we could have had. This project, this camping trailer has taught me something very important though. I may not be any closer to being a master carpenter. Hell, the thing may even fall apart on its first outing but I now know his language better than I ever had. I'm fluent. I understand and although we will likely never say the words to each other I have written them here again and again. Because I have to tell someone. Because I love him. He's my dad. We made something amazing together and it has become so much more than the sum of its parts. As have I. As has he.

I love him.

Oh and for the record, I tell my son I love him so much he finds it downright irritating but I'll keep saying it just in case he never has a pearl he wants to polish.

family
Simon King
Simon King
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Simon King

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