toh editor Scott Omelianuk and his son, Luca, working together to assemble a toy catapult.
The editor and his son working on an early morning project.
June 2014

Last month This Old House did it for the moms, running a story on the DIY lessons many of you learned from those who selflessly labored to birth you, tenderly made your boo-boos better with a kiss, and lovingly taught you how to really bear down and crank the ever-living daylights out of a Stillson wrench.

Given the response to that story, it seemed only fair to let dads have a turn. So for this issue I asked articles editor Debby Baldwin to get a bunch of This Old House fathers, the men who work on our television shows and magazine and website, to tell us what advice they'd give to their children. And as she toiled to make their thoughts into the story "Advice For My Kids", I began to wonder what I'd say to Luca, my own son, who just turned 3.

What do you say when there's so much to know? How do you decide what's important? What should I tell you, my little man?

Truth be told, I'm not sure just yet, buddy, but you already seem to have the hands-on impulse, and that's been the case since you could first run around on your own.

When you were maybe a month or so shy of 2, I left you standing in the open doorway of the house and asked you to wait there for me while I walked to the curb to put my tool bag in the back of the car. We were going to Nana and Poppy's to do a few little handyman things. It only took me a minute to make room for my stuff, but in that time you had zipped back inside on tiny bowed legs and returned to the same spot. When I looked up, there you were, all 29 inches and 23 pounds of you, holding your little blue toolbox with its plastic saw and hammer and screwdrivers, just waiting to help your dad.

Richard Trethewey's sons, Evan and Ross, help run the family plumbing and heating business.
Richard Trethewey's sons, Evan and Ross, help run the family plumbing and heating business.
One day later on, while I carried you the few blocks to your preschool, we heard the whine of a saw from inside one of the houses we passed. You said, in your still-learning-to-talk way, "Daddy, what dat noise?" I explained that someone inside was cutting lumber, and then you asked, "A boy and his daddy working maybe?"

And there's now, when we get up on Saturdays at what you call "early good morning," which for me usually isn't so good, because your "early" means well before dawn. With us two at the kitchen table, me with my coffee and you with your apple juice, you knowing there's no school because Mom's still sleeping, you ask, "Is there a project today, Daddy?"

Those times, Luca, well, it makes me realize that you may already know something valuable—that doing it yourself is always done better with someone else by your side, even, or maybe especially, when that someone's chubby little hands can't do much more than repeatedly drop the screw they're supposed to hold tight or direct the flashlight to not exactly where it's needed.

But back to the subject of advice, even though you're at a stage where you don't take much at all, be it how you shouldn't use that plastic hammer on the windows or hang spaghetti from your ears and nose—even if it does make Mom and Dad laugh:

Let the saw do the work.

Always keep one hand on the ladder.

A weekend project is never done by Sunday night.

Good sharp screwdrivers are a necessity, but a Manhattan, made 2 to 1 with rye and vermouth, is far more dignified to drink.

Associate editor Paul Hope and daughter Suzie, prepped for a day of DIYing.
Associate editor Paul Hope and daughter Suzie, prepped for a day of DIYing.
I guess that last tip is for when you're older. And I think it means maybe I should stop. Clearly, I don't have all the answers

Not having them, though, makes me realize that the more complicated the things around us become, the more ordinary life matters. Regular life. Simple life. Work is part of that—enjoyable work, whether it's the kind you do for yourself around the house or the kind that gives you a paycheck. And, of course, there's people. Above all, what matters is a connection to people.

Friends and family, naturally, but also all the others you come in contact with. Those who are here with you now, those long gone. Imagine the men who, 145 years ago, built the house that you came home to after you were born what seems like just yesterday. Think about the guy driving the bus you always get excited to see, the police officers and firefighters whose sirens you love to mimic, the pharmacist who never gets tired of you rearranging his shelves, and the guy behind the counter at the Korean grocery who always asks for a smile.

The editor's son, looking for something to fix.
The editor's son, looking for something to fix.
The traces they leave can fill in where your dad falls short. In fact, maybe that's the best piece of advice I can pass along—that everyone around you has at least one valuable thing to teach you. And if you can recognize that, seek it out, your life will be richer and more textured for it.

And I think you'll realize, too, that most people you meet are good people. They might live in another place, do different work, belong to a different religion, vote the other way, but it doesn't matter. That's something important I've learned in my years at This Old House. Talking to so many good folks who read this magazine or watch our TV shows or go to our website, I know they all want the same thing in the end. A place for home and family, a roof overhead and a solid floor underfoot, and maybe the opportunity to chase after a little one who is banging a plastic hammer where he or she shouldn't.

Like I said, bud, I don't know if what I have to say makes a whole lot of sense, but I hope it helps you some. Maybe one day when you're older we can discuss it more over a drink. I'll have a Manhattan, and I'll order you an apple juice. Sure, you might be old enough to drink by then, but you'll also always be my little boy.
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