The tradition with me and my folks is that, come Mother’s / Father’s Day, Xmas, and sometimes birthdays, I draw them something.
The themes vary… sometimes, it’s a drawing based on a meaningful photo. More often, it’s my own drawn response to something in our relationship, or something that’s been going on in their lives recently.
My Mom and I have many more “deep personal” conversations than my Dad and I, so when it comes time to make art for Dad, it sometimes takes a bit more feeling / teasing out, or just letting go and making something even I don’t have a good interpretation for.
For this Father’s Day, however, Dad unknowingly gave me some great, rich material to work from. It happened during a phone call about a week before, while I was driving home from Anderson, IN. My favorite talks with him are his stories, and this time what he ended up sharing was an especially rare kind of story involving his father.
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I never met my grandfather, Don Doner, but have heard many stories. (Neat fact: the men on my Dad’s side go “John, Don, John, Don, John” generationally.) He grew up humbly in Toledo, OH. All suggest that he was a man of high intellectual caliber, rogue independent spirit, great inventiveness and musical ability (he played 8 instruments). He gardened, knew electrical work, carpentry and general fix-it-try. People-wise, Don related better to his rooster, Blackie, than most human beings, and was a “doer” with a great many pursuits and projects going on at any one time.
Anyway, that day while we talked, Dad began telling me about the time in college that he got a super well-paying summer job that enabled him to get enough money (and courage) together to propose to my Mother. He was hired by his father’s friend who owned a roofing company to help with overflow repairs from a recent tornado’s wake. (“If it wasn’t for that tornado, you might not be alive!” he joked.)
Thanks to his father, my Dad was already handy enough to be open to learn roofing on-the-fly. Also thanks to his father, he had his own abundant supply of shingles in all shapes and sizes at his disposal, thanks to his dad’s habit of collecting any and all things that might one day be useful to someone. Today, I think we call these people “hoarders.”
We also talked about his Dad’s habit of collecting things — building stuff, electronics stuff, random stuff. I’ve always loved (in a jealous kind of way) Dad’s stories of accompanying his father on trips to the City dump, which in that day was open to anyone who wanted to come pick through what people threw away. Together they discovered treasures galore — the most darnedest things! — and took them home to give them new life (or to sit in waiting for the day they could be useful).
This tendency came in handy all the time, when you could just go down to the basement or out to the shed because Don had put that exact size screw or wire or piece of wood aside several months ago, “in case.” And of course, it came in especially handy for my Dad’s summer roofing job.
Dad also told me — and I think he got that little emotional frog in his throat at this point — about how his father, busy as he was, would never fail to drop whatever he was doing at the time if he saw my young Dad stuck in one of his own tinkerings. (My Dad, when little, loved to take things apart and reassemble them, play with chemicals, etc. etc.) He shared how much that means to him, thinking back now.
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My father’s father, of course, was of the generation that had lived through a war (or two?), and had come to appreciate the value of things through experiencing a scarcity of them. As an outgrowth of that, he held fast to that spirit I find so beautiful of hearty do-it-yourself-ism — of making and doing, (and always being ready to build the skills to do so) and of keeping.
Dad has carried on many of his father’s gifts (but, I am told, is much better at talking to humans than his Dad was) and absorbed his spirit. I grew up knowing the smell of sawdust from my Dad’s shed as he built things we needed around the house, and there was always some kind of invention (or four) in the works on one corner of his (hand-built) big workbench in the garage. And, Dad always invited me, if I showed interest, in the process of his creations and experiments.
These stories move me because I feel this spirit in my veins. Even as a kid, I found myself scavenging, like Dad and Granddad, though my source was the dumpster at my school and I had to be more covert in my lust for reclaiming rejected things than my predecessors. I now struggle to fit that kind of lifestyle into this day and age, pushed as we are to see buying something new as better than renewing something old, or making something yourself… or, if you’re making it yourself, gargantuan companies like Home Depot have created the perfect way to get you spending, rather than saving, lots of money consuming their version of DIY.
Knowing my father’s stories and spirit, and having climbed down into my father’s father’s basement — packed with needful things in ordered stacks, shelves, drawers of all sizes — I long to revive a culture of keeping, building, sharing, making as a way of life, not just a trend or fad.
Mixing this in with the also much-forgotten (but re-birthing) art of neighboring, what are the possibilities if we switched our lens on those people we now label “hoarders” and make sad TV Shows about… what if the neighborhood hoarder were our neighborhood collector, and we new and valued them enough to know we could stop by if we’re in need of that random thing they very well may have, like my father’s father, stowed away for that “what if” day?
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So, for Dad and his Dad, I made this drawing. And following is the interpretation I shared with him about the stories contained within…
One of my favorite pieces of writing is this speech, entitled “Community Capacities and Community Necessities,” from one of my first community-building mentors, John McKnight — who helped found a movement to revitalize our forgotten ways of neighboring, DIY’ing and creating now known as Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD).
“Ours is the movement of abundance. There is no limit to our gifts, our associations, and our hospitality.
We have a calling. We are the people who know what we need. What we need surrounds us. What we need is each other. And when, we act together, we will find Our Way. The citizen’s way. The community way. The democratic way. We are called to nothing less. And it is not so wild a dream.”