He’s never said, but I rather think my dad would have liked a son to share his macho interests, but being the man he is, decided to make the best of a bad job. From an early age I could be found sat beside him passing and learning the names of tools while he did odd (some very odd) jobs around the home.
He could never pass a charity shop or pile of discarded junk outside someone’s house without finding something useful to repair or ‘do up’. Not because he needed it, but just in case. He was always coming home with some new treasure someone had given him or he’d come across by accident; there was always a project of some description on the go.
As I grew up I was taught everything I would need to know to look after myself. At first it was simple things like changing the fuse in an electric plug, progressing to electrical wiring, installing light fittings, wiring in electric ovens, dishwashers, washing machines and getting to grips with basic plumbing.
As I got older I was taught how to check the oil in a car, replace spark plugs, change a battery, jump start a car and change a wheel without help. There was no way I was being allowed to go out into the world reliant on anybody for anything.
I was also taught to use firearms although mom had to step in at one point after a lesson at the firing range. This was not the USA where firearms are given as christening gifts in some states, but leafy safe suburban England.
During a practice session with a friend of my fathers I’d fired the rounds at the target and was being shown how to dismantle a .22 pistol. We’d taken the soundproof headphones off and the gun was lying in G’s hand. He was showing me the safety catch mechanism, pulled the trigger and the darn gun went off, bullet flying sideways out of the barrel.
Fortunately no one was injured, but it was a heart stopping moment for everyone, particularly G. To his credit he pulled himself together and turned it into a lesson about how easy it is to think you’ve fired off all the rounds, even when you count them as you shoot. I thought he’d done it deliberately to prove a point until I saw father’s face.
Mom was furious for quite a time; the words irresponsible and total idiot were bandied about for several days. We hadn’t planned to mention it to her (obviously) but father’s fragile state when we arrived home gave the game away.
I’ve had a healthy regard for guns ever since, and was allowed, as an adult when there could be no maternal comeback on my father, to try my hand with a shot gun and clay pigeons, but I never found a gun I could use where I could successfully brace myself against the kick-back.
The last time I handled one was 2005, returning to our home after Hurricane Katrina. We’d travelled back from our refuge in Houston armed and dangerous not knowing what we’d find. According to coverage on Fox News 8 there were looters and rapists roaming the streets so our friend Dave, with whom we were staying, insisted we pack arms and ammo just in case. It seems he had a personal arsenal.
The gun ended up in my hands rather than the Captains; he had his right arm strapped up after an injury boarding up the house before the storm, and has always been apprehensive around guns.
I have to say, in those circumstances, it felt rather good to feel the weight of a gun again and it was with a great deal of reluctance I handed it back to Dave when we got back to Houston. Probably a wise decision given the number of times I would have used it over the next ten months.
When life has thrown difficult situations our way, they have been eased by having basic skills taught by a practical man. Wherever and whenever we’ve moved the issues of connecting major electrical appliances or undertaking minor plumbing repairs have not been an issue. Re-decorating? Paper and paints? Not a problem. Unblocking septic tanks and killing snakes? All in a days work in the life of an ordinary expat housewife.
The gift given me by my father has been the best a father could give his daughter. Faith and trust that she is equal to anyone and is capable of doing anything she needs to do. It’s a gift I’ve tried to pass on to my own children; if a DIY related call comes in from Bruce or Missy, I hear the Captain say cheerfully,
“Drill bits? No good talking to me, you’ll have to ask your mother about that.”
The Captain will happily admit his myriad skills do not cover the DIY department. His areas of expertise lie in technology and should anything ever happen to him you’ll find me living in a cave with no TV, computer or similar technical gadgets. The landline phone is currently driving me up the wall with a glitch I can’t figure out. It’s also rather wonderful to have sons who will ask mom advice on ‘manly’ matters.
I am incredibly lucky to have such wonderful men in my life who are or will be wonderful fathers; my own dad, my husband who is an awesome caring man and my two sons who will be incredible dads when their time comes.
In times when men are regarded by much of the media as incidental to family life, I’d like to honour the unsung heroes in mine and thank them for being the strong, caring and capable people they are.
I love each of you more than you’ll ever know.