Finding the Right Gift

Mark - 65203, Missouri
Entered on April 30, 2009

My Saturday ritual begins as I enter my workshop. I’m a weekend woodcarver. I chop chair seats, shape spindles, and smooth arms and legs. The act of constructing something from a log is my therapy. The whack of the blade against wood connects me to a world of sweat and muscle that go unused during the week. The sweet smell of oak transports me from my identity as professor to my alter ego of woodcarver. Shaping a block into something of use and something that cries “touch me” is my goal.

When I was 14, I started carving with a set of tools given to me by my mother. The figures were crude, but my mother was very supportive, so I continued and in time, my wooden figures became chess pieces, pendants, Christmas ornaments, and trivets. I still have some of those early carvings. They represent an unlikely beginning to a life-long love affair in wood.

Now, my Saturday Ritual provides a balance. While my academic life is rewarding, it is stingy with praise and I’m never very sure what has been accomplished. Wood responds to each movement of the knife and the application of effort has instantaneous results. These two aspects of me – the weekday academic and the weekend carpenter – serve each other and benefit those around me.

What began with a gift from my mother has changed me. Carving brings me confidence and peace. I believe in this balance. And, this balance permeates what I value in me and strangely, what I value for my four children. My oldest teaches English to high school students, but evenings and weekends, she goes to the studio and practices modern dance. My second child is an athletic trainer during the day and at night she creates designs for garments and sells them from her website. My third child attends college, and on weekends he plays guitar and sings contemporary music at local restaurants. None selected wood, but all three have a fundamental need to find a balance through fabrication and creativity.

My youngest, a teenager, is not interested in wood or dance or sewing or playing music. He does not enjoy fabrication, but loves anything to do with computers. I tried to tempt him to follow my path or the path of his siblings, but he refused. I backed off and reflected — “what can I give him that will last a life time?” I’m not sure that I made the right choice, but I invited him to build his own computer. We worked together to construct a list of parts. We ordered all the parts and when they arrived, he laid them out on a sheet on the floor. I encouraged him to put it together. With no book of instructions to guide him, he managed to place each part into its proper place. When he pushed the on-button, the computer came to life.

Since building his computer, he has learned how to install different operating systems, games, music, and software. He seems to know the answer to any technology question his mother or I might ask. I don’t know if this is the gift of a life time, but I hope to plant more seeds that I can nurture—seeds that might thrive in the future of his life.

I believe in wood, and dance, and sewing, and music, and now I believe in computers. But more importantly, I believe in the fundamental responsibility of being a dad – to look beyond myself and to find the right gifts, ones that connect heart and soul – gifts for the future of my children.