Walsh’s Wonderings — Father’s Day

Robert F. Walsh

The bathroom door won’t shut again, so I go downstairs to grab my tools. My father’s ancient toolbox lurks in the basement like a tomb, the screwdrivers and pliers I used to hold for him as a child now buried in the shallow graves of this three-drawer chest.

Every June his memory comes alive in this motley collection of tools with wooden handles. For years, I’d used them to create crude wooden ships out of scrap wood for his Father’s Day present. My limited creativity was hampered by the even more limited selection of tools in that box. I spent most of my childhood fretting that my gift was never good enough.

This year, there’ll be no flowers, no cards, no cake. No Old Spice, no neck ties, no macaroni necklace. Time dampens the ache of his absence without removing it, like a fading scar from a forgotten wound.

I often find myself shuffling through our history as I rifle through that toolbox. Someone once accused me of kneeling at the altar of his memory, but it’s more complicated than that. It’s part of the gift fathers pass on to their sons, this ability to reconfigure our memories like Legos. The adult me laments that he never pulled me aside and talked about those moments of indecision and doubt he must have felt. Because he projected strength, his sons came to judge themselves by that standard without the tools to secure it when things went wrong. Those we had to acquire ourselves.

His distance came to be viewed as allowing us our independence, his reluctance to share as protecting us from his pain. In the end, he gave us many tools but never showed us how to use them.

With each passing year, I compare where I am with where I remembered my father being at this age. Would we have been friends? Would he approve of my growing tool collection, or laugh at how little I use them?

That perfect gift I can no longer give him no longer haunts me. With each passing year, I see how we both have struggled using these tools, even if others never saw it. His old toolbox is not a tomb; it’s the ice cave where Jor-El still speaks to his son. These tools still serve a purpose, especially the ones buried deep. It’s not a shrine, either; it’s simply a meeting place where we both learned how to use what we’d collected.

I slowly whittle away at the bathroom door jamb until the mechanism falls firmly into the strike plate. I smile, a silent gift to and from my dad. Here’s wishing all the fathers out there a wonderful Father’s Day. May the tools you pass down be as well-explained as they are well-used.

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