How My Dad and I Are Reconnecting Through Home Repairs

published Nov 19, 2021
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

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My dad likes to be needed, and I like to do things on my own, and that is the crux of our problem. As an old fashioned Slavic man with old-fashioned views, when he looks at the house, he sees it broken into two traditional sections: the men are in the garage, and the women are in the kitchen. That’s why it frustrated him to no end when I realized I had no real skill with a skillet but had a pretty good hand with a power drill. At first, I didn’t think my interests would put a wall between us. The first time I asked him how to hold a power drill, I thought it would bring us closer together. The man is a master contractor that can build a house from the ground up with all the bells and whistles, and I was so excited to learn how to do the same. Here was a hobby we could share and an excuse to spend hours together as he taught me everything he knew. That’s why I was floored when he looked me straight in the eye and informed me my “delicate” hands would never touch a tool while he was around. 

I have two brothers, but I’m the only one interested in woodworking and home repairs, which irks him to no end. I love to build furniture, flip Goodwill finds, and want to eventually buy a fixer-upper that I can restore with my own hands. Even though I’m the only one in our family that’s interested in learning his craft, he continuously blocks me from picking up any skills. I have to resort to YouTube and TikTok tutorials to figure out how to cut miters or find studs because he laughs — or worse, heavily sighs — every time I ask him for guidance. 

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This has been going on for years, but I’m hard-headed and know that persistence will eventually wear him down. I finally had the opportunity to really chip away at him when I moved into my kind-of-run-down apartment in Chicago that needed some finessing to feel livable. I started inviting him over to fix small things and build furniture, and instead of plopping down on the couch like he wanted me to, I would just stand there quietly and watch him work so I could learn by observing. Tense silence was the soundtrack to his work, punctuated by hammering or drilling, and I’d stand on my tiptoes to see over his shoulder as he tried his best to block me. Project after project, we’d go through this dance, and eventually, he begrudgingly began to narrate what he was doing. I learned how to patch drywall, DIY radiator covers, and build a kitchen island from scratch as he rattled off instructions. None of this information was given freely, per se, and he still underestimates what I’m capable of. Every now and then though, I catch him smiling as I’m sanding down wood or drilling pocket holes. 

There’s also nothing better than finishing a DIY, showing him a photo of the finished result, and seeing his shocked face. “You made this?” he would ask every time, putting on his glasses and zooming in on the picture, as if he would find a store receipt in the background proving otherwise. These interactions always make me equal parts smug, pleased, and thoroughly insulted. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

We still don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, and he would still prefer me to be more interested in needlepoint than home repairs, but we’re starting to slowly turn a corner. He still pinches the bridge of his nose if I bring up anything more involved than Command stripping a frame to the wall, but I think deep down inside, he’s proud that someone in his family loves building the same way he does. 

For my 32nd birthday this year, he handed me a sparkly pink bag with purple tissue paper. When I opened it, a DeWalt cordless drill kit was inside. We looked at each other and smiled, him defeatedly and me with a lump in my throat. “So, I have an idea…” I told him, patting the bag. He did what he always does, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I can be over Monday,” he said while shaking his head — but this time with a half-smile. I am, after all, my father’s daughter.