Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Father’s Workbench

On my 50th birthday in April, I spent the day taking both my parents to two doctor appointments, an exhausting time for them and me. At the end of the day, I went into the basement of their home, the Washington, D.C. house where I grew up, to find a quiet moment. Finding myself standing in front of Dad’s workbench. I got out my cell phone and took a picture.

Later when I looked at that photo, I knew why I had choked up a few weeks before when I stood in my just-built garage in Raleigh, when I was deciding where my new workbench would go. Looking at Dad’s old bench made me realize just how deeply I have always wanted a place to have a home-made workbench like his, one where I could work on household repairs and make things. Most of all I wanted a big sturdy bench where I could properly mount my red vice that I have carried with me from three places I have lived.

I realized, too, that creating my own workbench is connecting me back to the time as a kid when I worked with my father at his workbench. It was where Dad always started house jobs from, and where we ended house jobs by putting away the tools. It was part of connecting with my Dad, who worked a lot but still had time for us to do things. It was not the cleanest workbench and that is part of what made it great. The bench was a piece of heavy plywood that he cut and laid across the top of two unfinished dressers that he found on sale. It could hold all our tools on the pegboard wall or in the dresser drawers. My favorite drawer was the one with the soldering iron and electrical stuff in it.

That bench had history. Each cut in the surface, outline of spray paint, glob of epoxy that had stuck to the paper and the bench, and the drill hole that went too far through the wood, were all important. It was the evidence that represented my father and I working with our hands to figure something out, reminding me how he would share when he did not have it all worked out, but would in time. We did minor plumbing that sometimes lead to major plumbing, requiring a plumber to finish the job. We did simple wiring and electrical projects, like rewiring a lamp on the bench or gluing a broken cup after mixing the gray two-part epoxy on the workbench.

It was on that bench where I cut out the aluminum holes for the knobs, meter and connector of my lie detector science project-- modeled after one in Popular Science Magazine--that won first place. My father let me do as much of it as possible, right down to misspelling the word Calibration on the front. All this hands-on experience made me a hero in college because I had a small tool chest (which was a portable workbench to me) and could fix things that the other guys in the dorm could not.

From the “men’s work” that I have been involved in, to my work with The Triangle Men’s Center as their Vice President, I have learned a lot in the past decade or so about the mental wounds that can occur in men’s lives due to an absent or abusive father. I have met so many men who never had this element in their life, who never had a Dad who included them in house jobs, or experienced a family workbench that held the tools they used together. And I have learned that often men who do receive from their father the importance of having a work space (or their own space) will later give it up to please their family or someone else.

I believe these spaces are part of us. They are more important than many of us realize. The guys who give up their own space, who don’t create their workbench area , may not realize the cost until much later in life. Maybe you have a memory of a workbench. Maybe you need to go futz with something on your workbench. Or maybe you need to create a space for a workbench. Think about it.

Even though my father is on dialysis and much weaker now, I know he will be glad to see a picture of the workbench I am going to build in my garage. It will be ready to photograph when I attach the red vice that mounts with 4 big bolts on its right-hand corner. Over time, it will collect its own holes and nicks from the projects I imagine happening on it. I’ll have to remember to take a picture years from now.

Thanks Dad, for introducing me to the workbench. You weren’t just teaching me handyman skills, you were modeling patience and confidence, and how to carve out a small space for peaceful enjoyment . I hope to keep sharing this valuable message with other men who might be missing the importance of a workbench in their life.

Also see my upcoming talk ( Just-For-Women Fundraiser Highlights “What’s New About Men” ): http://bit.ly/KRl9e

For additional related information:
Martin Brossman’s Book & Audio: www.FindingOurFire.com
The Men’s Inquiry website: www.TheMensInquiry.com
The Women’s Inquiry website: www.TheWomensInquiry.com
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