My dad is one of those rare people.
I know we all say that about our dads.
I know everybody thinks their parents are rare and unique.
But to me, my dad is.
A unique kind of man.
A very quiet man of many talents but mostly understated in his nature, hardly noticed it seems.
Early on I came to recognize and admired his abilities. By far the most outstanding quality about him, that I don’t think even he totally recognized in himself, was the sense of calm and peace he brought to me when I was around him. He has this natural aura of serenity about him that makes others feel totally at ease around him. You somehow felt, as a kid, that nothing can go wrong in the world or hurt you. He exudes this vibration of strength and tranquility.
When I was a kid, he had a way of seeing when I was getting flustered about something in my life and somehow conveyed to me consciously or unconsciously that I just needed to take a breath, step back, size it all up once more, realize my abilities and then patiently begin again. And this I've done in my life since.
He had asthma as a child (and even into his adult years).
It’s a hereditary condition that makes a person short of breath and for a child makes it very difficult to participate in strenuous sports and youthful activities.
I suppose, because of that, when he was a boy in the 1940s, his private activities turned to more scholarly, academic things and hobbies. He became more involved in things that worked his mind more than his body I guess. He read piles of books throughout his life and his off-the-cuff knowledge of so many things would always impress me. He seemed to be a walking repository of knowledge that is surprisingly deep and impressive, and no "google" to help.
Once, so long ago, he bought me a model airplane kit.
It wasn’t one of those snap together plastic ones that were so common in the 70s but a strange wooden one. We opened the box and inside were layers and layers of sheets of thin balsa wood and many strips of uniform 16” or 17” ribs of various thicknesses of the wood. There was a bundle of three or four huge sheets of tissue paper, little bottles of some kind of liquid and a simple instruction sheet.
I looked up at him, puzzled.
‘It’s a kit,’ he said enthusiastically.
‘It’s a plane… but you have to make most of the pieces yourself… it’s very challenging and fun.'
He sat down with me and we went over the design and instructions and he showed me how it flowed and explained the methodology of the process. The actual building I would have to do myself.
Then he said, quickly and almost without notice, ‘When I was your age I wasn’t able to play a lot of sports like you, so I had other things I did with my free time. These kind of models were popular during my time and they’re very satisfying to create.’
I had never seen my dad as anything but a fortress within my existence before. To hear him mention, quietly, that he had a time in his life when something had forced him into other avenues than he maybe wanted, was a strange realization to me.
Over the next weeks and months I slowly built the little bi-plane model. Carefully gluing things together on a big piece of cardboard, pinning the pieces together. Meticulously carving the many pieces that weren’t included in the balsa sheets but had to be carved from instruction sheet patterns with a sharp blade. The delicate skin of the plane was slowly pieced together from the big sheets of tissue, shrunk to fit and then coated with the ‘dope’ liquid that hardened them to an almost plastic, hard consistency like a miniature aluminum skin.
I finally finished it.
To me it was beautiful.
My dad told me I had done a good job and that meant alot to me.
I don’t have that model anymore.
I don’t know what happened to it.
A while ago I had the notion to revisit that experience.
I went to a hobby store and found a bi-plane model in balsa
They aren’t as rudimentary as they once were but many of the parts still need to be carved none-the-less.
From time to time, over the course of the past year, I’ve spent
a little time here and there building it.
Recently I finally finished it.
It’s a simple design and not very spectacular.
A plain WWI fighter bi-plane.
Memories of my childhood had flooded my mind every time I had sat down to work on it for a little while.
When I got to the stage of applying the skin I suddenly sat back and stopped.
I looked at the completed model and was struck by the simple, intrinsic beauty in
its skeletal appearance.
I suddenly thought it would be a shame to cover all that 'lace-work' with a smothering tissue coat.
Instead, I took a can of green spray paint and shot the whole wood-work frame in a uniform darkgreen color.
I haven’t covered it.
I've decided not to put a skin on it.
I like the bare skeleton, the many ribs, joists, beams, cables and supports and all the little errors I made along the way in building it or the time I accidentally dropped it and had to repair the fuselage body with short, spliced in pieces.
And the more I looked at it, something suddenly dawned on me...
To me it kind of speaks of life and is sort of an analogy to being alive.
How we all share a common, dynamic, mostly identical skeleton under our vastly different skins and our put-on personas.
How we seem to try to cover up what we really are with so much overhead and fluff that eventually we even fool our own selves into thinking we’re all that and not what we really are underneath.
And most of all it reminds me of my dad.
A man who never tried to hide what he was and always tried both professionally and personally to help people see what they really had of value within themselves, at the fundamental level. How we just need to step back sometimes, to a more basic place inside ourselves, breathe, then begin again and not give up.
I think I’ll just leave it uncovered, open and unpresumptuous.
It looks far more real that way and reminds me of my dad's spirit...