I Did a Home Improvement Project for Father’s Day—And I Think It Was My Best Gift Yet

published Jun 21, 2020
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Credit: Terri Pous

My dad is hard to buy gifts for. After a lifetime of Hanukkahs, birthdays, and Father’s Days, I’m starting to feel like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel of potential presents that satisfy his interests in games, nifty tools and gadgets, “Seinfeld” humor, travel, and other various dorky pursuits.

But this year, Father’s Day presented a whole new challenge. I’ve been living with my parents since mid-March, meaning this is the longest we’ve spent under one roof together since I was a senior in high school. How could I possibly express my gratitude for being allowed to return home for an indefinite period of time, and for being ferried to said home by my dad?

The answer came to me, as it often does, through the concept of love languages. I’m not sure my dad has even heard of love languages, but if he had, he’d figure out pretty quickly that his is Acts of Service. Whenever I would call home from New York, he’d ask, “Anything in the apartment that needs fixing?” And sure enough, when he and my mom would visit, he’d spend a portion of his time cleaning my air conditioner vents or trying yet again to screw in the cabinet knob that always seems to come loose. These acts of service were projects, a way to physically demonstrate his love; to show and not tell. As an engineer by education, the process of doing and fixing also innately appeals to his senses; he often frames his free time around little things to improve or install. Even my two-year-old nephew knows—one of his earliest full sentences was “Bapa fix it!”

So for this Father’s Day, I decided to do an act of service for him and help out with a home project. I know, I know; home improvement projects are always coded “male” or “for dads,” so I initially balked at the idea. But seeing his face light up when I suggested it confirmed that I was correct in thinking that this would excite him as much as a Vandelay Industries novelty coffee mug.

The project I took on? Power washing the deck. Because come on, what is more satisfying than watching a previously grimy surface get blasted clean? Plus, because I live in a studio apartment with zero outdoor space, I’ve never used a power washer before—so I got to learn something new!

Credit: Terri Pous
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It's a very large deck! My dad said usually it takes two days for him to do it by himself, what with the size and moving around all of the furniture and toys for my nieces and nephews.

After my dad did a few power washing demonstrations and gave me a tutorial on how to hook up the device to the hose and the electricity (including an explanation of why I shouldn’t worry about electrocuting myself), the entire back deck was mine for the power washing.

It was hot out and my back and hand immediately cramped up from the sustained, repetitive motion, but overall, it was a joy of a project and extremely straightforward.

“It’s one of my favorite home projects,” my dad said as he relaxed in a deck chair, watching his youngest daughter carefully hydroblast some wood planks. “It’s a lot of fun, and the before and after is very noticeable.” Over the course of three hours, we marveled as the formerly drab, gray 25-year-old planks got a burnished mahogany sheen.

Credit: Terri Pous

Truth be told, I did not power wash the entire deck by myself. My dad and I split it 50/50, but I don’t see it as an incomplete gift. If anything, sharing the responsibility made it more meaningful for him. We’d hand off the device once we got tired, and sit and watch as the other worked away, occasionally barking snarky commentary over the din of the motor. (And in case the “after” photos look too similar to the before photos, my dad would like it to be known that the planks are 25 years old, and he’d planned to replace them this year before COVID-19 made it impossible to do so.)

I remember my three sisters and I shrieking with delight watching my dad change lightbulbs with a long pole with a suction cup at the end when we were little. When I started living by myself for the first time, my dad and I put together IKEA chairs and a table together. “There,” he’d said when we were finished. “Isn’t it satisfying knowing you built these and now you get to use them every day?”

He’s always been willing to teach the four of us how to do any project we expressed interest in. In his words, “I would always suggest that it was going to be fun; it was a project. You’d get to see the result.” But I think for us, it was as much about getting to do something with our dad as it was about whatever cool project he was tackling.

Credit: Terri Pous
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After! My dad would like it be known that these planks are 25 years old, so they difference isn't as stunning now that they're dry.

While I was methodically power washing, making sure to go with the grain, keeping the nozzle about six inches above the plank, I realized it’d been a long time since we’d done a project together. When we finally finished, we reveled in the transformation, at our joint undertaking. “It definitely goes faster with two people,” he said. “Usually, this’d be a two-day project for me.” I love knowing I’d helped him with something he values, and spoken his love language. One of my love languages is giving gifts, and I delighted in the fact that I’d picked a good one, especially as I heard him tell each of his siblings over the phone that “Terri’s Father’s Day gift to me was power washing the deck.”

I know I’ll never love doing home improvement projects as much as my dad does, and I definitely don’t know as much about snaking a drain as I probably should after seeing him doing it zillions of times, but maybe it’s because deep down, I know he likes getting a frantic call from me, asking him what, exactly, to do if a fuse blew. And that’s the gift that keeps on giving, at least between my dad and me. Or at least… I hope. I have a lot of stuff that’ll need to be fixed when I eventually go back to New York. Thanks in advance, Dad, and happy Father’s Day!

Credit: Terri Pous
The artists with their completed masterpiece (and me in a new shirt, because power washing is MESSY).