(This post is dedicated to my father. Much love Dad, always, and thanks for passing along that half-full glass)
I was 14 years old, and growing up in Wisconsin. During this particular summer my dad, who on his days off from the county sheriff’s department was a very good carpenter, asked me to help him build a garage, basically from scratch.
Truth be told, I was much more interested in playing baseball and hanging out with my friends, but I said yes anyway (although I’m quite sure I would have still helped him if I said no!).
It was a two week project, and it was one of the longest two weeks of my life. I have absolutely no aptitude for carpentry. In my hands, a hammer was a dangerous tool capable of putting holes where holes shouldn’t be, and bashing fingers into submission. A drill was a mysterious electric implement that was incapable of creating a straight hole.
Although I was of very little help to my dad, he kept on trying to teach me what he knew (which was plenty). He was well versed in the “measure twice, cut once” school of carpentry, and it was actually fun to watch him work. Unfortunately, that’s what I preferred to do – watch.
His patience with me, in looking back at these two weeks, was actually quite remarkable. He tolerated my mistakes, always spent time with me in trying to correct them and never really got mad at me.
I think what happened eventually is the lesson in this piece – that sometimes, you really can’t teach somebody something, and the lesson is in knowing when it is a lost cause. My dad probably realized early on that I just wasn’t going to catch on, and didn’t push me as hard as he could have.
I just wasn’t going to be “Mr. Handyman”. And my dad accepted that.
As you would guess, he never asked me again to help him on any of his carpentry jobs. Luckily, he knew I had other talents that would eventually help me make a living, and encouraged and supported me as I finished high school and got an accounting degree in college.
Because numbers I could work with. I didn’t need a hammer! Just a 10-key (at least then).
As I’ve developed as a manager and teacher these past 26 years after graduation I’ve always remembered that garage, and the lesson it passed along – part of being a good teacher is figuring out right at the outset the student’s capacity to learn the material.
By the way, miraculously that garage is still standing, 34 years later. I bet my dad straightened out a bunch of those nails when I wasn’t looking! 🙂