A father’s toolbox
On the day The Boy was born and the nurse placed him in my arms for the very first time, I took a deep breath and held him ever so gently. I didn’t want to break him. After all, how would that look? He wasn’t even a day old.
As he gazed up and grabbed my finger with his entire hand, I knew. It was time to put away childish things. It was time to become a father. But just how to make the transformation from husband into a father overnight? Well, that’s what this story is all about.
Now, the Boy didn’t come with a manual explaining how to accomplish such a feat. I know. I looked. Lucky for me, I’d brought my toolbox to the hospital that day. In it was everything I needed to know about being a dad. Or at least I’d hoped so.
The Father Toolbox wasn’t your ordinary toolbox. In it there were no hammers, pliers, or screwdrivers. No, my toolbox carried all the tools I needed to help raise The Boy into a man, tools I’d been collecting since the day we moved into 110 Flamingo Street.
That was the first time I can remember Dad getting mad and yelling at my brothers and me for no reason. (Yes, we had broken two lamps, a mirror, and put a fairly large dent in the new refrigerator with Older Brother Richard’s head, but to us those were not reasons to yell.)
I made a promise, if ever I had children, never would I raise my voice at them. And if I did, I would make certain they knew the reason why. Fairness was the first tool in my toolbox.
Later that same year, I witnessed my Dad give a job to Mr. Sims, a homeless man. Sims worked with Dad for the next 10 years, even when Dad didn’t really have work for him to do. The kindness Dad showed I never forgot, and I put being kind to the less fortunate in my toolbox.
One dreadful day I saw the strongest man I knew brought to his knees, crying inconsolably. Later that night we were told Older Brother Richard was gone forever. I witnessed the strength of a marriage, the comfort of prayer, and just how fleeting life can be. All were tools placed in my toolbox.
Throughout childhood, I watched not only how my parents, but also how other parents raised their children. When I saw something I thought was right or wrong, it went into my toolbox. I hoped one day I would have enough tools so I could start a family of my own.
Someone once said, “If you want to know what kind of job you did as a father, just spend some time with your grandchildren.” Such a statement really meant nothing to me on that day in the hospital when I held The Boy for the first time. To be honest, I was simply overwhelmed with the new responsibility of fatherhood. Time has now afforded me the wisdom to understand that statement. There’s a lot more to being a father than just being a provider – a whole lot more.
For all you fathers out there, I leave you with a few thoughts on your special day. Raise your children using the tools in the Father Toolbox you’ve collected over your lifetime, and if you ever run out of tools, ask advice from your parents. After you moved out, they kept their toolbox for just such an occasion.
Most importantly, spend time with your grandchildren. Don’t move away and see them only a few times a year. They lose out on time spent with you, and you lose out on time spent with them.
When you visit, don’t be surprised if you see the very things about life you tried to explain to your children being passed on. You’ll hear those same lessons repeated, and those words you thought were unheard will be spoken once again. Except this time those words will be spoken by your children.
When you do hear and see those things, you can finally close your father’s toolbox and put it away. At least until your children call or come over asking for advice.
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. His books are available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]