I think this Memorial Day of my father. It’s not only because of his Navy service during World War II, though that is the usual reason. He survived the war and came back home to have me and my sister, and to bind his life with ours. Many of the most memorable times I had with my dad involved one form of building or another. An engineer during the war, he stayed in that field after he left the service.
His favorite part of engineering wasn’t the math of stresses and loads and materials (though he did love that), or the thoughtful application of engineering to make everyday products for retail or industry, but the sheet delight of building stuff. He had an intuitive sense of how the materials behaved, how the physics applied, how things interacted, and he just used the math and experimentation when he needed them to confirm his own suspicions. And when something didn’t behave the way he expected, he didn’t get mad or frustrated, or spend any energy in dead-end solutions or kick-me-I’m-stupid recriminations.
The secret? When something didn’t coincide with his expectations, that was actually the very very most funnest part! When the system broke or wouldn’t start, he would apply his math and his science and his intuition to figure out exactly why the furschliginner thing was misbehaving. He kept at it doggedly until it yielded up its reasons. And once he found them, that solution, and the deeper understandings that it led to, were what truly lit his fire.
I know he he passed much of this on to me, before he passed on himself. In my shop, I’m lucky enough to a have a bench with tools that he used, and I use it every day myself. Sometimes when I do, I feel as if I’m placing my hand on his, and letting him help me, with his childlike wonder and his fascination and his impatience to go have some fun, figure the furschliginner thing out.