Posted on



On old screwdrivers and the dads we gave 'em to

Thirty-some years ago -- I'd be more specific but my memory hasn't been all that sharp since I smacked my forehead on an iron basement ceiling beam sometime in the 1990s (or was it last week?) -- I bought my dad a blue-handled screwdriver for Father's Day. It only set me back a few bucks, I'm guessing (I'd have kept the receipt if I'd have known you'd care), but I wish now I'd have splurged a little bit because it would be one of the last Father's Day presents I'd ever have to buy. I mean, geez, I could have went with a screwdriver/pliers 2-pack, or maybe even something fancy like a metric socket set. Metric was a big thing back then, even if my generosity wasn't.

A few weeks after Father's Day in 1984, my dad departed this existence for whatever comes next (reincarnation as a garden slug would be my best guess). I was only 21 at the time, an adult by law, sure, but still a twerp in such areas as maturity, wisdom, self-reliance, courage, integrity, and inner strength, although I could play a mean game of Yahtzee. But, you know, you survive, you go on, you build strength from adversity, blah, blah, blah, and before long, despite all odds against it, I became a dad myself at the age of 23. Me? Prepared? Yeah, sure, like an ISIS militant recruit at his first suicide bombing class (Lesson 1: Don't Wear Good Clothes).

In a short time span, Father's Day took on a whole new perspective for me. After two decades of being the son, I was now the dad, in charge of a household (well, sort of), responsible for major decisions (allegedly), and the one who my boys could turn to in times of need (although I never barred them from approaching complete strangers, either). It was now me getting hand-made cards on the third Sundays in June, and with each passing year I became more aware of the importance of being appreciated for what one does, even if every once in a while you forget to pick up your kid at school. What? The wind chill wasn't that far below zero.

I don't recall specifically being appreciative of my dad when I was young. I knew he worked hard at his job every day, and we were always well-fed and properly clothed, the house was warm, and as far as I know from researching family documents, no attempt was ever made to trade me for a case of orange drink mix to the weird salesman that used to stop by our rural Willard house. Although I could have understood; that orange drink mix was delicious.

As I aged from a selfish, care-free brat to a selfish, care-free teenager, I began to help my dad more with the work he did. He was the neighborhood go-to guy when things needed fixin,' and I spent many an hour bleeding brake lines, holding flashlights while Dad stuck his hands is some greasy engine crevice, and cleaning grimy engine parts with straight gasoline (and my dermatologist wonders why I got problems). We spent numerous autumn weekend afternoons making firewood together, and we'd have man to someone-who-wasmaybe- thinking-about-someday-becomingsomething- resembling-a-man conversations while sitting on a log while taking a lunch break.

Dad did his darnedest to teach me about the things he knew, to little avail. A top-notch mechanic he was, yet I couldn't tell the difference between a carburetor and a transmission and had no interest in finding out. I helped Dad with some home carpentry projects, but would invariably cut a board too short or nail it in place so crookedly he couldn't tell if I was just inept or possibly completely blind. He never asked for my assistance on electrical jobs, you know, that old hate-to-see-your-son-fry-his-brains-because-he-stuck-his-tongue-in-alight- socket fear.

For whatever reasons, I don't remember any specific things I did for my dad for Father's Day, but I was aware that helping him out whenever he needed a hand was a form of payback, just not on the one day set aside for it. Call it increasing maturity if you will (even if all other evidence points against it ), but I did realize before he passed away just how many things my dad had done for me, without ever expecting anything in return, I'd suspect. One time stands out in particular. I was flat broke and about to go on a date, and Dad handed me a $20 bill and said, 'I found this in your pocket, must be yours.'

I'm not sure how old I was when I bought the blue-handled screwdriver, but I do remember picking it out at the hardware store and paying for it with my own money. Even though I got few of his tools after he passed, I do still have the screwdriver, nicked up and somewhat rusty, and I chuckle every time I use it, as I have to stop and think which way is tight and which way is loose. How many times Dad told me, how many times I didn't listen. It seems like every year lately I miss a little more the chance to do something for my dad on Father's Day. As the stores send out their flyers with 'Dad's Day Sale' in bold letters across the front, I page through and see the modern gadgets that did not even exist when I last bought something for my dad. That screwdriver I bought thirty-some years ago, well, they make that with a battery-powered variable speed ratchet action now, with 37 different heads, and an attachment to brush your teeth. Knowing Dad, though, he'd still use the old one with the blue handle.

With age comes sentimentality, I'm figuring, because quite a few years passed by after Dad died when I didn't think much about Father's Day, except for what my sons did for me. I was on the receiving end then, and soon forgot that Father's Day is not just about receiving some acknowledgment for what you may have done for your kids, but showing appreciation for what someone else did to get you ready for that day when you're the one with the wisdom. Too bad, maybe, that it took me a few decades without a dad to understand what mine did for me while he was here.

Anyway, I hope you got your dad a bluehandled screwdriver for Father's Day. Wish I

could have.