Father’s Day is a slightly more relevant holiday than it used to be – these days, you have to earn it. You don’t get a pass for just showing up, farting, and blaming it on the dog; if you’re a vaguely-absentee dad, a holiday like this only serves to highlight your shortcomings. From the moment Lucy popped into our lives, I’ve been pretty determined to bypass PassiveDad on my way to CraftDad (without venturing into CreepyDad).
Lucy and I had discussed two things in particular for the farm, and I managed to complete them both, and a little surprise for her as well.
A Very Long Rope Swing – When we were in Santa Cruz for Jon and Michelle’s wedding, we stayed in a rental house on the beach that was, by most of my family’s definition, kind of a dream. It made Tessa wish our own place had that expansive beauty, but Lucy was obsessed with the details: a fireman’s pole from the attic (which I’d mentioned last year on caveman’s List of Stuff Rich Kids Had When We Were Growing Up) and a rope swing that connected to branches high in the stratosphere.
Here’s the thing about high tire swings: when the rope is that long, the swing ride itself is a endless, swooping, almost planetary experience. It beats a playground swing with a stick. So I determined where I could put one at the farm, but the branches were about an inch too small for comfort.
So I buttressed the swing branch in three directions, giving the swing the combined strength of four different parts of the tree. To do this, I had to go higher on a ladder than any writer ought, learn how to tie a clove knot with one hand, and get pestered by actual woodpeckers.
with cows onlooking in background
I fashioned the seat out of an old pressure-treated stair, used a rope clamp for adjustability, and voilà! A swing that rides longer than the Foucault Pendulum!
Do-It-Yourself Monkey Bars – Lucy was starting to read, starting to write legibly, doing painstaking artwork… and then she discovered the monkey bars. Kids often oscillate between intellect and the physical, and right now, she is all about conquering topography. It took her three months to get up the courage and upper body strength to take on the pre-school monkey bars, but by god who art shinin’ in heaven, she kicked its ass.
We have a play structure with “monkey bars” here at the farm, but the actual bars are about 20 feet in the air – shit, even I won’t do them without grappling hooks. So I decided to create an appendix to the jungle gym.
That’s two 4×4 posts ten feet long, with 24″ pipe from Lowe’s screwed into them. I painted them yellow, gave one side six-foot legs, and hoisted them aloft. After a few well-placed carriage bolts, my daughter glowed iridescent happiness and has barely left them alone.
The Fairy Fountain – So Lucy graduated from pre-school last week, and I wanted to get her something special. We have a running storyline about the fairies that take care of the farm when we’re away: a girl fairy named Pixley, and a “sparrow boy” named Foster (named after the original builders of the house back in the early 1800s). One of my daughter’s favorite things in the world is a scavenger hunt, something we’ve done since she was very little.
So I gave her a scavenger hunt at the farm for her graduation present, and the very last clue led to a place in a little patch of woods that she can call her own. There’s a little stone statue of Pixley, a tiny fountain with a spitting frog, and a Japanese Maple for constant shade.
I can’t say all these things were necessary altruistic. I love being in New York, so it’s also my own selfishness at work. I want to imbue the farm with as much fun and magic as I can, so that it retains its glow for the ladies in my family even after vast stretches spent in California. And now with little Marlena in the extended brood, there’s even more reason to make it a homestead worthy of frequent pilgrimage.
But I love a project, and a project that makes Lucy happy is frosting on frosting. On this Father’s Day, I can thank my own dad for teaching me carpentry and making me understand that there’s very little I can’t build myself. And I can thank my little Lucy, because she makes every day easy to be a good Daddo.
at her graduation last week