My Dad’s shop broom may have been the greatest teaching tool ever invented. It had a long wooden handle that screwed into a wooden brush and it probably cost about $3.99 at Canadian Tire when my dad bought it a couple of years after dust was invented.
That thing had splintered and cracked in a dozen places over the years and Dad patched it up and put it back together countless times. A well-placed screw here, a dollop of Elmer’s Glue-All there, aluminum strapping, a couple of nails, duct tape, bailing twine… you name it, Dad employed it to keep his beloved broom together. As a smart-assed teenager I remember teasing him about it. Although he was not rich by any means, he certainly could have afforded to pay for a new one. I could not understand why he didn’t just go and spend the 10 bucks to replace it.
Now that my Dad is gone, I find myself reflecting on all the things I learned from him, intentionally and unintentionally. And I come back to the broom.
The broom, as often as it broke, was a challenge. Dad could have bought a new one, but that would deprive him of the challenge of finding a way to fix it. There was, for him (and now for me) no greater satisfaction than taking something broken and useless and making it useful and whole again. Oh the satisfaction he must have enjoyed, modifying a discarded piece of aluminum eavestrough, hammering it into shape, and affixing it to the broom to hold the two splintered parts back together! I had to admit it was an ingenious solution to a problem most others would have solved with a visit to the hardware store.
Over the years, I watched my father at least attempt to fix everything… and most often he did. It was a skill handed down to him by his father, my Opa, Max. We joked about it many times: “Max would have appreciated this.” or “That’s a job that would make Max proud” or “WWMD” (What Would Max Do?) The washer, the dryer, the electric lawn mower, the cars, the van, the humidifier, the bikes. With 4 children in the house, there was always something to fix and Dad’s toolbox was never far away.
This is especially impressive when you realize my Dad had no formal training in any of the trades. At all. He was a salesman. His whole life he sold things. In fact one of his favourite quotes used to be “Nothing happens until somebody sells something to somebody”. It used to drive my way-left-leaning brother nuts as Dad defended capitalism and free-market economics. How ironic he would never allow anyone to sell him a new broom.
What I learned from my father through all of this is that every problem has a solution if you just think on it awhile. Patience provides the answer to a lot of problems. There are many lessons I learned from my Dad over my lifetime and his. How to fish, for instance. He taught me the value in doing so isn’t actually in the catching of the fish, but in the enjoyment and relaxation of trying to catch the fish. Again, patience. He taught me how to turn a wrench and keep the car running when a trip to the mechanic was too expensive, or inconvenient. After all, why pay a guy to do it when you can do it yourself?
The DIY ethos was surely in his blood because in his final years, he worked at Home Depot. Windows and Doors. His poor health related to Type 2 diabetes made it difficult to stand for long periods, but I have no doubt he would occasionally wander over to the broom aisle, marvel at all those shiny new composite-handled sweepers with polyurethane bristles, built-in dustpans and sneeze guards (no, not really) and harrumph that they’re all a waste of money. God bless him.
I’ve spent the past 5 days agonizing over losing him, as anyone does when a parent dies. But in recounting all of the experiences we shared, and all of the lessons I learned from him, I’m comforted knowing he lives on in me. And he died knowing how much we all loved an adored him.
And I know he was damn proud of my patched-up wooden broom too.