My dad passed away on June 14th at the age of 90. He was a civil engineer and a building contractor. He was an engineer in the Air Force during the Korean War, building runways. His father, my granddad, was a talented jack-of-all-trades and a clever, whimsical inventor (he made himself a pair of convertible pants and a shirt several decades before the concept was patented). They both instilled in me, from the earliest age, the do-it-yourself ethos. When I was 5, I almost electrocuted myself when I tried to take the kitchen toaster apart with my Handy Andy tool set to find out how it worked – while it was still plugged in!
Here’s something I wrote in my first Tips book
(which was dedicated to dad and granddad) about watching my dad seemingly effortlessly build things when I was a kid:
One of my early memories was being with my dad while he worked. I remember riding in a Gradall Excavator with him when I was a wee one. I thought my dad was basically the coolest guy on Earth because he could confidently pilot such an impressive, intimidating machine. As a pre-teen, I remember watching him swing a hammer while he was adding some rooms to the basement of our home (which he’d also built) and realizing how regular and perfect he was with his swing. It usually took him the same number of strikes each time to drive and countersink a nail – one swing to set the nail, one to drive it most of the way in, and a final whack to counter-sink it. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but it was probably the first time that I instinctively understood the nobility (and the efficiency) of perfecting a trade. If you do something enough, you get impressively good at it.
Tools are an extension of our bodies, our intentions. Like specialized “end effectors” on a robot, they instantly give us special abilities; superpowers. Combine the right tools, the right materials, and the proper know-how, and human beings create worlds. Tools are the physical interface between our dreams, our imagination, and their real-world realization. But our tools are not only powerful extensions of ourselves, they also contain stories (see above).
My dad (and my granddad) taught me about both the power of tools and the power of storytelling. Little did they, or I, know when I was growing up that my job would end up combining these two powers.