Advice for My Kids
The dads of This Old House share some of their hard-won wisdom with the next generation
Paul Hope, TOH Associate Editor
Father of Suzie, 6 months
My dad wasn't a believer in play tools. He liked to give me pulleys, hinges, even a car jack. I was only 4 when a workbench magically appeared on my birthday. He had built it, in secret, in the basement of our apartment building. It had a vise, and the back was pegboard, so I could hang my tools. It was a great way to see them—and to understand which one was appropriate for a given task. He knew it was important for me to experiment, too. We'd go to the hardware store and pick through the scrap pile, taking the best pieces home. Sometimes I just hammered a bunch of shingles together. But gradually I learned for myself; I learned what tools to use when and how best to use them. That's what I'd like to pass on. I can't wait to tell my daughter, "My dad built this workbench for me, and now I'm giving it to you."
Shown: Paul Hope and Suzie prepare for a trip to the hardware store.
Roger Cook, TOH Landscape Contractor
Father of Jason, 31, and Molly, 27
I tell my kids that you can't grow good plants in bad soil. That means it's all about prep, whether you're rolling out sod, painting a room, or anything else you might do. Oh, and I tell them not to go into landscaping—it's too hard! But I do say, find something you're passionate about. I've never had a day when I woke up and didn't want to go to work.
Shown: If you're not having fun, don't do it, says Roger Cook, pictured here with Jason in 2003.
Tom Silva, TOH General Contractor
Father of Kate, 37, and TJ, 34
Both my daughter and my son own their own homes, and what I've taught them is to fix the small problems before they become big problems. I gave them a spring checklist to follow, and they do— weatherstripping, broken shingles, leaking gutters, the dryer vent. I encourage them to be methodical because it makes a difference. It has a lot to do with how you live your life. It's like people who hire a contractor without checking references. If you automatically do something without thinking about it, sure, once in a while you'll get lucky. But maybe not the next time.
Shown: New homeowner Kate, taking tips from her dad, Tom Silva, in 2006.
Thomas Baker, TOH Building Technology Editor
Father of Kai, 25, and Emma, 21
I like to tell my kids how important it is to preserve the original fabric of a vintage home—the windows, the trim, the plaster, the floors. Resist the urge to immediately "update" or "improve." Go slow, live in a place. Become aware of the details that make it special. When you respect what's original, it means you have to take care of it. But that's not a burden, it's a gift, because then you experience the joy of working with your hands, of acquiring new skills, of becoming confident in yourself.
Shown: Tom Baker had Kai, left, and Emma learning the ropes on the family boat in 1995.
Kevin O'Connor, TOH TV Host
Father of Luke, 9, and Liam and Kaitlin, 5
Here's what I know: Anything you don't fix isn't going to fix itself. The leak's gonna keep leaking, the rot's gonna keep rotting, and nothing's going to get better until you lay hands on it and do something. And so I'd encourage my kids to try to fix those things themselves first. You get a free swing! And if that swing is a miss and doesn't work, well, then you can call in a pro.
Shown: Kevin O'Connor confers with 5-year-old twins Liam and Kaitlin during a tree-house raising at their home last year while Luke, 9, labors off-camera.
Eric Hagerman, TOH Special Projects Editor
Father of Eloïse, 2
When my daughter gets old enough to be on her own, I'll tell her that the first step toward taking claim of a new home is painting. And then I'll spell out all the things I had to learn the hard way, like cutting in with a sash brush being easier and producing better results than taping off meandering corners in old houses. Or that you can bring a can of paint with you when you pick up a new roller cover and the nice folks behind the counter will give it a spin in the shaker for you—saves time and cleanup. Or that the curve on a 5-in-1 tool is there for a reason: to scrape paint out of that roller cover. Most things have a reason for being; you just need to figure out what it is.
Shown: Recently tasked with reviving the TV-room baseboards, Eloïse shows dad Eric Hagerman how it's done.
Mark Powers,TOH Senior Technical Editor
Father of Sophia, 11, and Boden, 6
I tell my kids to think it through so that they don't have to work so hard. There's a right way and a wrong way—even, or especially, with tools. Something as simple as demolition can be inefficient and dangerous if you don't know how to use your pry bar correctly. That goes for how you hold your hammer, too, or how you use an adjustable wrench. When you drop something down the sink and need to open the trap, remember that the small part of the jaw has to go in the right direction. And go easy, especially when you put it back together. A quarter-turn of the wrench is all you need—don't ever force things. Most things in life should not be forced. You can damage a whole lot, including yourself, that way.
Shown: Mark Powers, flanked by Boden (holding Snowball) and Sophia, has been known to demonstrate "righty-tighty, lefty-loosey" with a juice-bottle cap.
Richard Trethewey, TOH Plumbing and Heating Expert
Father of Ross, 29, and Evan, 27
My kids are now homeowners, and they do so much on their own. But that didn't come without learning first. When the boys were babies, we did a full-house renovation. Later on we built a house down at the beach, and that's when they really rolled up their sleeves, working right alongside me. I had infected them with the mechanical virus. And that's the thing: It's easier if you know how stuff works. When you do, no matter what the problem is, you can always break it down and work backward to find a solution. If you are methodical about that, there isn't much you can't figure out. I've always told them, "Just clear the decks and put some logic into it."
Shown: Richard Trethewey, with sons Ross and Evan in 2011, says they were born with a knack for understanding how things work. Now they help run the family business.
Doug Adams, TOH Deputy Art Director
Father of Chris, 14, and Katelyn, 8
I know exactly what I want to tell my kids: When you buy your first house, the last thing you'll want to spend on is the stuff you can't see, touch, or appreciate. But the important stuff isn't obvious. A few weeks after we bought our place, we had a bad rainstorm and puddles bubbled up through the basement floor. The solution was an expensive French drain, buried below the concrete. That taught me an important lesson: Take care of the basics first, or the wish-list items—that beautiful sofa you want, for example—are going to end up all wet.
Shown: Doug Adams advises Chris and Katelyn to do the unfun stuff first.
Norm Abram, TOH Master Carpenter
Father of two
In my first book I wrote, "I dedicate this book to my father, who taught me patience, persistence and the skills necessary for carpentry and woodworking. Now I share these rewarding skills with others." I would want my children and grandchildren to learn that same way: from someone who is willing to share knowledge, start with the basics, and allow you to make mistakes along the path to your goal. If they seek out that kind of mentor, they will surely succeed and have something they can enjoy forever.
Shown: Norm Abram and his dad, Louie, spending time together, doing what they enjoy, back in 1993.