My Dad is an incredible artist. Incredible. Whenever I comment on his artistic greatness however, he tends to grumble and blow me off. So typically I resort to whispering my praises quietly to my uncle or mom or Josh in the other room to avoid his eye rolling.
He’s always built things, for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory is a beautiful blue and white playhouse he built for Christmas one year when I was tiny, complete with pint-sized furniture just for me. My mom, an artist and writer in her own right, made curtains, painted burners on the tiny stove, details on the tiny table and chairs, etc. A decade or two later they repeated the feat with a real-life, blue and white country cottage they now call home. Board by board, year by year he built it, until finally it sat complete down a dirt road on a few acres of land. Home.
He also writes poetry and stories and songs, picks a few chords on the guitar, and plants an annual vegetable garden and melon patch worthy of a spread in Southern Living, complete with a line of peach trees down the center, muscadine grapevines draped across one corner, and endless cucumber vines crawling across the back fence.
A year or so ago he decided he wanted a saw mill. I honesty wasn’t even sure what a ‘saw mill’ was at the time, so I gave his grand new venture little thought or concern. (Artistic types always have some grand project in the works, you know, it can get old.) Over the next few weeks and months however, I watched in amazement as he spent hours scouting out the perfect cedar or pecan tree in the woods, dragging it home with his tractor, and converting it into the most rich, exquisite looking lumber.
If that weren’t enough, he then took the lumber and started transforming it into gorgeous pieces of furniture! Dining room tables, benches, cutting boards, end tables, custom pieces as requested, etc.
(an almost finished bench in the workshop)
I’d be lying to pretend I wasn’t utterly amazed. Considering that I watched him build an entire house from the ground up, you wouldn’t think it would come as such a surprise to me. But it hasn’t been so much about the end result, remarkable at it may be, as it has his process, his artistic process more specifically.
It’s irritated me my entire life, how we would go out to ‘work’ and spend hours upon hours late into the night just sitting in silence and staring. Infuriated me! He would sit. And think. And sit. And think. And DO…nothing. Or so it seemed.
Eventually he’d pull out the hammer and go to work, and the end result was nothing less than astonishing. He built the most quintessential tin-roof Texas barn when we first moved to Ben Franklin, an ingenious brick furnace one really cold winter (did I mention he also did masonry for years??), a beautiful dock out over the pond in the back yard, the perfect back sitting/dining room for my mom complete with rounded brick steps spilling down from the kitchen, tons of windows, built-in bookcases and an entire wall of pantry for her canning. He built a shop building for all his tools and still-unfinished projects (there will always be those), a ‘bunk house’ for my uncle who lives next door, shelves, decks, fences, he also did landscaping and taxidermy at one point…the list goes on.
(working on the dock, the top view of a finished cedar table, pickin' and grinnin' with buddies)
Over the last decade as I’ve come to understand who I am as an artist myself, it’s all become ever so clear, like an energy efficient light bulb slowly but surely coming to glow. My craft is different, but my process is eerily similar to his, like it’s built into my DNA.
He’ll make me sit and stare at a piece of smooth cedar, the color, the lines, the beauty, as if he nor I have ever seen the rings inside a tree stump before. (And knowing him, I’d venture to bet he’d argue that in fact we haven’t seen this particular one before, and how can I counter that?) One time he made me examine a wall he’d painted, infusing the paint with sand to give it texture. He put his arm around me and made me stand back and admire how pretty it was. Funny thing is I do the same exact thing to Josh, my friends…but with quotes and excerpts from books, flowers, red berries, cobblestone streets in foreign places, changing Autumn leaves, “Look at that! Isn’t it stunning?! The color--I mean, how rich and vivid! Let’s just stare awhile, relish in its beauty, okay??”
He’ll sit and think for hours on end doing the bulk of the work in his mind before he picks up a saw or drill…I lay awake at night and write sentences and poems and chapters in my head before I even consider picking up pen and paper. He’ll vanish into the woods for days hunting or fishing, totally withdraw until he’s good and ready to come back…I lock myself away for weeks in my reading room or hide out in quiet bookstore corners, refusing to even return phone calls or texts. He plays chords, builds fences, plants gardens, trying his hand at just about everything…I write, cook, take photos, redecorate rooms time and again, dabbling in any and every form of artistry that interests me.
I am my father made over.
This past week my parents tore down my little blue and white playhouse, now dilapidated, the first thing I remember him ever creating for me. My mom sent me pictures of the demolition. I wasn’t too sad about it though. I just smiled thinking back, realizing that it took me the 25 years that little playhouse stood there to finally get it. I’m just like him, my Daddy, my heavenly Father, too. Fathers build things, create things for their kids…homes, lives, sanctuaries of hope and bliss and imagination, both with their hands and their hearts. They want more than anything for their children to be happy, to enjoy this beautiful creation all around them. It’s for us, after all. The fact that I finally realize I’m just like them with this constant impulse and obsession to create…only makes them that much prouder. I do it for a lot of reasons: the simple thrill of it, to encourage the people around me, as an act of worship, and yes, to make them proud...because what child doesn’t want to make her Daddy smile?
We all relish in creating something. We’re all artists. Whether we realize it or not, we are. Because He is. It doesn’t really matter if we're aware of it, or even like it. It's in us. We have His DNA. He created us. In so, so many ways we’re just like Him… there’s simply no escaping it.
Do you see yourself in your Dad? Heavenly or earthly? Do you reject it or embrace it?
And I mean, c'mon, how stinkin' cute is he in his camouflage t-shirts and overalls?!