A lot of things changed after July 29th. I found myself caught somewhere in the middle of being a boy and a man; not old enough to buy a beer – while feeling too young to navigate the world void of a father.
I thought back to all of the memories I had shared with Dad; the good, bad, and ugly. After he passed, the bad moments seemed to fade into the background. They weren’t important anymore.
One day, I was sorting through his tools in the family garage. The garage reminded me of him with its distinct smell of tools, machine oil, and piles of lumber.
I lovingly held his Craftsman tools and tried to go back to the moments we’d use them together. The memories felt closer when I gripped the cold steel and closed my eyes.
It really sunk in to me that life doesn’t provide you with a manual for growing up. Now, I found myself among many children who lived in a world without their father.
Dad wasn’t the type of person who gave a lot of anecdotal advice. Most of his lessons were taught through observation.
In one of our garage adventures, Dad once told me:
“Aaron, always use the right tool for the right job.”
He lovingly scolded me with these instructions after I stripped a delicate screw while using the wrong size of screwdriver head in my haste to complete our task.
The stripped screw made both of our lives more difficult and it required a trip to the store to find a replacement part from the damage I caused.
As a teenager, I longed to find approval from Dad in the garage. I wanted him to see me as a capable man who could fix things with the same confidence he carried.
In the garage, I saw his sweaty clothes and greasy hands as a badge of honor I hoped to someday wear. He’d complete the day with a trip to the shower, where he kept a gallon-size pump-bottle of Gojo soap; used to remove grease.
I remember the first time I, too, took a shower and needed to use the soap. Reaching down, I pumped big gobs of the soap into my hand and was surprised at how well it removed the grime and oil I was covered in after an afternoon working on the Volvo.
Even as a teen, I felt like a man who had completed a hard day of work. I’ll never forget that moment. Or the way Gojo smelled…
These times encouraged me to work more with my hands. When I was younger, I started cutting grass for a neighbor to make extra money. Before long, I was cutting the grass for half a dozen of our neighbors.
The hard work felt good and I enjoyed having an excuse to take my shirt off while I worked outside. Dad often did the same while he worked. My scrawny 165lb. frame didn’t’ come close to the giant of a man that he was…but I hoped that someday I’d be like the big man I called Dad.
One afternoon, I decided that I would go the ‘extra mile’ to make our yard look nice. Firing up our Craftsman lawn mower, I cut the grass. Twice, which resulted in a checkerboard pattern that ensured no spots were missed.
After several hours of hard work, generated from trimming the grass, cutting our hedges, and organizing the garage, I returned to the garage. There, I removed the blade from our lawn mower and sharpened it using the angle grinder in the garage. Glowing orange sparks flew from the grinder as I followed the instructions Dad gave me to ensure the blade was sharp.
With the smell of hot steel still in the air, Dad walked into the garage. He had just returned from his afternoon errands and was pleasantly surprised to return home to an impeccable yard, and a proud son, covered in grime.
He smiled at me and said:
“Aaron, this is the one time I wish I could offer you a beer.”
Dad didn’t offer me a beer because we never had any alcohol in the house. Yet, that was one moment I wish – and I mean really wish he had told me to hop in the car so we could buy our first and only 6-pack to share.
A young man will grow up and forget many of his beers. But he’ll never forget the first beer he had with his father.
Perhaps life does give you a manual for figuring things out. In my case, it looked a lot more like manual labor than a manual.
We never got a chance to have that beer together. It didn’t matter. What mattered to me was that my Dad saw me using the right tools (for the right job) and working hard until the job was complete.