One of the things I’ve always struggled with was receiving compliments. If I were to try to pinpoint what was the cause or where it comes from as an experienced adult, son, husband, father, and counselor, I’d say it’s my parent’s fault. All joking aside, I’ve always been attuned to people’s nonverbal communication. I think early on if someone was trying to be supportive but were not completely genuine with their words, my radar would go off and I’d believe the doubt or hesitation in their voice over the support in their words. I truly believe this is part the era in which I was raised, perhaps influenced by my reading comprehension learning disability, and fortified by the black and white developmental stage I was in. That said, I was very fortunate that when my parents said “you can do anything you set your mind to,” I believed them. This promoted an “I can” attitude.
The “I can” attitude is as much about opportunity as anything else. When my parent’s 25th anniversary was coming up and the family was getting together for a family reunion to celebrate, it fortified what a big deal 25 years of marriage is for me. I wanted to be a part of showing my gratitude for their unity and our family. My parents spent a great deal of time together visiting on the porch and I wanted to give them something that symbolized this togetherness.
Now, one of the ways we showed affection while living off of a restricted budget was to make gifts for each other. I grew up with the idea that you made the gift to magnify the meaning and love behind it, I didn’t know at the time that this tradition was fueled by the necessity of maneuvering a budget that had been destroyed every month by astronomical medical bills, but, my parents didn’t want that idea to be part of our childhood. With that said, the symbol of togetherness for the porch had to be a porch swing.
At the point of the decision I began drawing up what it could be and guessing at how many boards I would need, and what tools my father had that would allow this to happen. I was not old enough to drive and the cat was going to be out of the bag the second I began moving lumber to the back yard and started up the circular saw. I decided to share the secret with my father and asked him to help me at the lumber store. I had saved my money from lawn jobs to fund this project and was committed to do it with my “I can” attitude in hand.
As I stood in the lumber store, material list in hand totaling up the pricing of all the lumber and hardware, I came to the total before tax. When I looked up from my haphazard sheet of scribble, I saw the sign I had passed earlier with a display of a porch swing on clearance. A saddened sensation came over me as I realize the price is going to be nearly the same to simply buy the clearance oak porch swing versus building my own out of Douglas fir.
My father, basically a mathematical wizard, probably had already done the calculations and was simply patiently waiting for me to come to the same conclusion. I leaned over to show him my scribbled over bid with the total circled and began to share my struggle with the logic, mathematics, and the minimal skills I possessed at this point in my life. I’m not sure of the exact words my father used, but it was more over the feeling he conveyed that reinforced the “I can” attitude he and my mother had nurtured within me. He confirmed my calculations and told me, “yes, you could just buy that porch swing, and it would be a great gift.” He then shifted his stance and leaned in closer I believe putting his hands on my shoulders and said, “but, I know you can build this and it would be better quality than what this swing has to offer.” Seeing the pressured look on my face he then followed up to say, “if it doesn’t work out you can always come back and get this one, but I know you’d do a great job.”
Sitting on my parent’s back porch today it is a common occurrence to see my youngest of four sitting and swinging as she reads her book from school. This, the starting point of a thousand projects that have come to fruition has seen my parent’s 50th anniversary come and go along with a move across country to it’s third back yard where it is still loved today.