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A Story About Strength

First, there is no strength. Strength is earned.

My dad was a mechanic and a fairly decent carpenter. He could build most things and was always working on one project or another.

I was fortunate that he included me on many of his projects, even if it was just grabbing tools for him or watching him build or fix something.

Every now and again he’d let me wrench on something, tighten a screw, or pound a nail. I was probably 7 or 8 at the time, so I really wasn’t much help. I wasn’t concerned about that too much. I was just happy to be there and be included when it made sense.

Dad was an old school guy, Midwest born and raised, hard worker, Navy veteran, and had disdain for laziness and excuses.   

He’d been working hard his entire life and never complained, at least that my ears ever heard. I’d be surprised if he ever complained. It’s just not how he was built.

Dad wanted my brother and I to grow up to be the version of a “man” that was popular at the time: strong, tough, hard-working, no excuses, no bs. Dad was definitely that version and, although he was a kindhearted, good human being, he also had a very tough side that we didn’t like to see too often. I’m glad we didn’t.

I am happy to report that I am my father’s son, and very proud to be that. I grew up in a time and in a place where it was probably easier to go in that direction than any other.

I am grateful for that as well.

I vividly remember using a hand saw from time to time, not really having the strength to push and pull it through the piece of wood that needed to be cut. But I tried, and that was what my dad cared about.

“Let the saw do the work,” he’d say as he saw me struggle. “You don’t have to push it into the wood, that makes it more difficult.”

“Give yourself a better angle. That will make it easier.”

I’d look up at him as I fought the saw and fought that 2x4, and nod my head, trying to smile as I struggled.

Sometimes I’d get the saw hung up in the 2x4, unable to budge it. I wasn’t strong enough yet. Dad would let me off the hook, sometimes, and I’d go back to watching, fetching tools, or grab a push broom and sweep up around our work area.

Every once in a while, as my dad was using a drill or a circular saw, I’d ask if I could try it. It looked so easy for him, putting the necessary hole in a piece of wood or metal, or squaring off the end of a length of wood.

Dad would say yes from time to time.

He knew I needed to grow some strength, and also knew that the only way I was going to do that was to try things I wasn’t strong enough to do yet.

“Both hands on that drill. If it gets hung up it’s going to twist and you could break your wrist,”


“If that circular saw kicks, you gotta hang onto it, and keep your fingers away from the blade.”

Those warnings scared me, but I knew, and dad knew, I asked for the opportunity.

He didn’t want me to be nervous or scared, but he also knew that a healthy respect for trying things I may or may not have been strong enough to do, would help me.  

Above all, he didn’t want me to succumb to the fear and not try.

He handed me the drill and I latched onto that thing with all I had, as I pressed the trigger and that bit started to spin. I was nervous as I looked back at my dad for reassurance that I was doing this new thing correctly.

He nodded his approval, as I pressed the trigger harder.

All of the sudden, the drill bit got hung up and stopped. Unfortunately, my arms and hands started to twist around instead. I instinctively let go of the trigger and as I looked up at my dad, uninjured, he smiled and said,

“See? You gotta respect these tools. They’re powerful. Someday this’ll be easy for you as you get stronger.”

50 years later and a myriad of experiences, failures, successes, winning sometimes and losing sometimes …

not having the strength I needed before starting but starting anyway …

not having anyone reassuringly looking over my shoulder but moving forward anyway …

not knowing whether I could hang onto the “drill” but latching onto it anyway …

and trying …

This is how we garner the strength we need for life.

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