Pirate ship attack
Vail, CO, Colorado
At first glance, it looked impossible. For the 6-year-old’s birthday, Mom bought a model of a wooden boat that contained 170 pieces. All of them had to be painstakingly numbered according to the complex diagram, then punched out and fitted together with nothing but a picture of the finished product to go by.
Having just arrived home from a trying day at work, my desire to launch into such a project was limited, at best. But no amount of procrastination or excuse would be tolerated by Andy, who had determined before I’d arrived home that this wooden ship had to be assembled as soon as humanly possible.
It was a beautiful evening outside, the sun hovering over the mountains against a perfect blue sky, the rec paths beckoning to the stable of bicycles poised in the garage. The wooden ship, on the other hand, was clearly a rainy-day sort of activity, the kind of thing you turn to when all movies have been watched, all puzzle books filled in and every last Pez has been ejected and consumed.
All of which is not to say I was philosophically opposed to the ship model. I’d done my share of model building as a kid myself, from a whole series of Star Trek ships and vehicles to a Spanish galleon to an endless supply of funny cars based on dubious American classics like the AMC Gremlin and Ford Pinto. Plus, Mom had done her due diligence before purchasing the wooden ship, checking with me first to ascertain whether it was within my acceptable parameters of skill and tolerance.
I assured her it was. I just didn’t think it was going to rocket to the top of the to-do list ” and on such a fine evening.
It was clear from the outset that the makers of this “Pirateology” wooden ship puzzle were sadists ” dad-hating tormentors who’d been abandoned at a nunnery as young children and who had dedicated the rest of their lives to creating things that would make fathers the world over completely insane. The aforementioned 170 pieces were all arranged on sheets of balsa wood, and once they were numbered and popped out, we were left with a pile of perfectly good tinder which, nonetheless, had to be assembled into a ship.
Andy got bored with the whole thing about 17 seconds into the popping-the-pieces-out-of-the-sheets phase, and retreated to the living room for the less-challenging activity of watching Spongebob. That left me and Max, the 13-year-old, to contemplate the tinder to see if we could make sense of it all. Before long, Max was lapping me in the assembly department, doggedly figuring out what went where and translating the pile of balsa wood into a pirate ship in no time. It was one of those moments when a number of elements conspired to add up to something wonderful.
For starters, it’s always amazing to realize when kids step up their game. It may have seemed like only yesterday that Max couldn’t tie his own shoes, but here he was, putting this thing together in record time. For another, the notion of having a family comprised of various members growing up with different sets of skills to add to the team is incredibly gratifying and fun to watch. And finally, for a dad, it’s an honor little ones bestow on us when they simply assume we can do anything ” be it assemble (or at least oversee assembly of) an impossible wooden model or build a robot out of a downed aspen tree (another recent project) or I dunno, build a perpetual motion machine to launch at Jupiter.
I held the same assumptions about my own father’s abilities, and I still do in many ways. Somehow, I think that’s the way it ought to be.
Alex Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.