My Father's Bench
He was often out in the barn. Our 40’ pole barn anchored an eight acre farm where dad parked his truck, organized his tools, and lived out the things he was passionate about. If that barn could talk, it would tell stories of tractors, sawdust, blood, break-ins, parties and games of kick the can under the mercury light. Growing up, this was my dad’s space. He built things there.
As I went to college, our family moved, leaving the farm, the barn and all the stories behind. My dad would die suddenly they year after I finished college, and then years later, I learned that our farm was sold, leveled, and turned into an auto parts store and a pizza place. Not only did I lose him, but his space, the barn, was gone too.
For Christmas a few years ago, I received a special gift from my mom. Wrapped clunkily in a big plastic bag, she and her knowing smile placed a what seemed to be a large box in the center of the room. Baffled, I stepped forward and picked it up.
Instantly, I was “back in the barn.” The weight… the balance… I knew it from touch. It was a wooden bench built by my dad. I unwrapped it and saw again dad’s specked greens and browns, along with years of “work” that had scarred the surface.
This gift became my close companion during the past year while I’ve finished our home’s basement. The 18 inch bench was tall enough to reach the ceiling, and the sturdy legs and wide top made for a handy seat. I sat on that bench many times wanting my dad’s help with the basement, because unlike my dad, I am NOT an expert in construction and would rather guess than measure. While that combination stressed us out when we worked together growing up, having him with me now would be a blessing.
Dad’s absence hit me with my 13 year-old son. During a break from work last summer, he sat down on the bench with his phone. And there he was… no longer in my basement, but “back in the barn” sitting on my dad’s lap. My dad’s bench, grateful to be present, linked the two most important men in my life--my father and my son--creating a relationship that has never been. I was in awe of this “new space.”
The little green bench, now marked with new scars and splattered with “Agreeable Gray,” has become an unexpected friend for a challenging season. It reminds me that my story and my dad’s story continues, even after he is gone. It provides safety and quiet--fathers offer a lap to sit on for a moment of rest. But it also embodies resolve and grit--fathers inspire strength to keep going when it gets tough.
Sitting on the bench a few days ago, I longed for his wisdom, perspective and help with the challenges of my world. I wanted to ask him how to fix the mess I was making in the basement. I wanted to ask him about this dangerous construction zone of parenting teens.
If he were here today, it’s likely that he would not be the “super-dad” that I hope for or imagine that he could be. In fact, we probably would continue to clash on everything from plumbing to parenting, or from work to whiskey. Questions that I might ask would likely be unanswered. I would probably be left longing for more.
But recently, I have re-seen him in his barn, silently making a durable, plywood bench that would patiently span my lifetime to remind me that dads provide both tenderness and strength. And, so very unexpectedly, out of his space and by the work of his hands, I am blessed and awakened to be a more aware father. I gathered strength from my dad’s passion and work as a craftsman.
God has kindly allowed this weathered artifact to carry an amazing message: “Offer rest. Offer strength.” This bench is a glimpse into my story, and reminds me how my dad offered both of those to me as a son, even though I was, and am, often too blind to see it.
The story I’m writing with my son continues. The ink, usually smudged, is far from dry. I have a space, just like my dad did. And I too am building “something” that will someday surprise my son. Most days, I’m totally unaware of what that “something” actually is. But regardless, I want to offer rest and offer strength, knowing that my son (or daughter/wife/friend) needs it and will use it, even if it goes unnoticed. For me, these are my rhythms for the current season.
At Restoration Project, we believe men “father” (yes, a verb). We believe men come alive in a space of our own, and from that, offer something good to the world. I don’t know what your facing in your current season, but we want to help you find your space and create what only you can offer. That is one way we father the world. We also believe you can find that buried in a story or an artifact from the past.
Take a moment to look around your world. What object do you have that is holding a part of your story? What message does it hold for you?
I have a humble, little stool from the 1970’s born in a barn from the hand of my dad, and it has led me to a new understanding of where to go next as a father. Or, maybe it was waiting for me to come and take a seat. And from that seat, offer rest and strength of my own.
Bart Lillie is the Chief Catalyst at Restoration Project. If you want to share a whisky, or help with plumbing, he would be thrilled if you reached out. And, of course, his dad’s bench will offer a place of rest and strength.