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about every father eventually does, especially after becoming a home owner; I went down to the hardware store and bought a hammer. For the first time in my tool buying experience, I was looking for something of quality. Shovels come and they go, rakes fall apart, riding lawn mowers become inextricably overturned in muddy ditches, but a hammer, that’s a long term commitment. The choice made in the purchase of a hammer is indicative of its owner. Purchasing the right hammer foreshadows a man’s do-it-yourself success, and its selection cannot be taken lightly. As I stood before the wall of variety at the Home Depot, I felt like Harry Potter in Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Somehow I knew that my imminent choice in hammer would somehow mean so much more to me than hammering in stakes and clawing out old nails. I wanted something durable with a smooth head and clawed end. I passed over the newer style Eastwing framing hammers. The new style comes with a long handle, almost like a club for heavy leverage when hammering. I liked the feel of them, but they were too bulky. I needed something for everyday hammering on all sorts of different terrain. I was looking for the Subaru of hammers. I passed over a couple of mid-sized hammers—the claws were too angled. They wouldn’t be good for digging, if it came to that, and more importantly, they just didn’t feel right in my hand. Finally, to my surprise, I settled on a larger fiberglass Husky claw head. The curve of the claw was subtle and the balance of the tool in my hand was faultless. It felt like it was made for me. I never saw myself as a fiberglass man, but the idea of its durability, the rigidity of the head as it was affixed to the hammer’s shaft and the tool’s ability to withstand being left out in a rainstorm without rust, compelled me to drop the tool in my basket and keep searching for duct tape. I’ve had the hammer for about three years now and it’s been good. I feel like it’s worked-in, relatively well. It’s held up to some stiff abuse, as I’d hoped, and all around, I’ve been happy with my choice. After all it’s only a hammer. But then, especially recently, my dad’s been coming over a lot. Along with my dad’s help on any project comes an army of tools. He’s got the right tool to carry off just about any job you can think of around the house or around the car. His motto is, “Yeah, I got that, as long as I can find it.” But it’s amazing, the man almost always finds the tool he needs. You step into his garage and think, “No way, this guy doesn’t even know what he’s got”. Tools and engines and racing paraphernalia are scattered everywhere. But just ask him for something, and in minutes he’s rooted around in some dark corner and come up with exactly what you were looking for. I think of it as a kind of sprawling three dimensional tool Dewey Decimal System, and my dad’s the only librarian in the world who’s received enough training to be able to actually help you find anything. One of the tools my dad indefinitely brings to my many doit-yourself projects is his hammer.
I’ve always thought of my dad’s hammer as legendary. Of course, just like almost every other tool you can think of, my dad has many hammers, but he has one that he’s always labeled as his favorite. It was the one that, as a kid, if I ever dared to borrow it to hammer away on a tree or nail up some planks to form a fort, I was always sure to put it back where I found it before the sun went down, and especially before a rainstorm. It’s a mid-sized number, with a long and thin (by today’s standards) shaft and a straight claw. The steel that makes up the head is of the highest quality, and even now, after all these years, looks impeccable. The striking surface is still smooth and perfect, speaking to its quality. The malleable nature of the wood shaft denotes use and maybe abuse, showing nicks here and there and spackles of paint of nearly every exterior and interior color you can think of, but the malleable nature of the wood has allowed for a comfortable grip over time. You grab a hold of the hammer, move it into position, poised to strike, and you actually feel your hands settle into an understated groove where my father’s mit of a hand has often trod. The balance in that groove is inexplicable. The tool actually feels like it propels itself forward with each blow. The differences between this, my father’s favorite veteran hammer, with its already dozens of summer hitting seasons under its belt, and my untested and unproven hammer, were starkly different. It was no wonder that my dad always insisted on bringing his own tools when he came out to help me finish up a project. We were doing some finish carpentry not long ago and the difference between the tools was amazing. Every strike from my dad’s hammer fell square and true on the panel nails. The head of the hammer seemed to grip against the head of the nails and bounce straight back, prepped and ready for another round. As I worked, the old hammer felt like an extension of my arm, like it was actually part of me. The work shifted, requiring both dad and me to hold up the cross member piece and hammer it from both ends. With reluctance, I gave up my dad’s hammer and grabbed my Husky. It immediately felt bulky and awkward in my hands. The balance was off and the swing of it felt unnatural. Striking the untempered metal head against the nails resulted in a kind of annoying slipping as it made contact with the panel nails, and it recoiled off wildly in unanticipated trajectories. I mentioned my observations to my dad and the superiority that I noticed of his old wood handled hammer. In response my dad said something to the effect of, “That old hammer’s a sweety. Ain’t never let me down.” I’ve been hearing stuff like that from my dad my whole life, little statements of confidence that he had in his old tools. And, believe it or not, the tools seemed to respond to my dad. The more confidence he had in them the less likely they were to let him down. It was as if they didn’t want to somehow be measured and come up short in his estimation of them. As a teenager, whenever we found a hiccup in one of our vehicles, or found a ping in the motor or some other problem, we’d let dad have a look at it. As if the machines were too proud to sputter in front of him, they’d run like a top while he
was watching. My mom always said that all of our family cars were afraid of my dad. I think that there’s something to that. Later that day, when the work was done and the tools were all cleaned up and put away, I got to thinking about my dad’s hammer. I thought that it was a lot like Brother Uchtdorf’s favorite pen. The hammer, like the pen, didn’t complain when the work was hard. It didn’t call off sick, or pick the types of jobs it did or didn’t want to work on. It didn’t rile against you when you abused it all day in a rush to finish the job for an impending wedding or backyard get-together. It didn’t choose favorites and work harder when one man was using it as opposed to another. On the contrary, it doggedly made blow after perfect blow. Strike after strike it bounced back ready and willing to serve again. That’s what old hammers are for, after all. Then, I got to thinking about my old dad, and how he, perhaps more than any man I know, is a lot like his old hammer. Just like his hammer, day or night, if you call on him, my dad comes, ready to serve. He doesn’t complain when the work gets hard or if the project is menial. He comes anyway, like a tool that lays unused for a while, my dad comes, just happy to be put work. Like his hammer, my dad’s got some roughness to him that’s come from years of hard work, but his balance is perfect and his strike is true. Like his hammer that serves young and old hands alike, my dad serves whoever needs service. I can’t tell you how many old houses he’s crawled under, dodging black widows and rat nests. “Where were you dad?” I’d ask after he’d been gone all day on a Saturday. “Oh, just out doing some plumbing for a friend.” I’ve been on some of those plumbing jobs. Some of those folks weren’t friends at all, but almost complete strangers. Nevertheless, when the work comes to a close almost without fail, those folks would be grateful, (I’ve learned that almost no one’s more grateful than someone with recently fixed plumbing), but when they’d try to pay my dad to express their gratitude, he’d nearly always turn them down. My dad knew how to serve. Like his good hammer, my dad is always there, always. And unfortunately, like a good tool, I think that I, more often than not, take him for granted. It’s easy to overlook him and his service, because, his dependability just has gone without saying for so long. You only notice all that your favorite tool does, when suddenly, you don’t have it anymore and you have to pick up that awkward Husky claw head. Growing up, my dad was gone a lot. He’s always been a plumber and anyone who works construction knows, that means some unreliable work at times. He found stability in Phoenix, mostly, working during the week and coming home on the weekends. The man had five growing mouths to feed and if you know my brothers and I, and the stature involved in our family, you know that five Kleinman mouths are no easy task to keep fed. But, he ultimately made the sacrifice that he needed to make for his family. We never lacked, never. As a father myself now, I know that being away from his family must have been very difficult, but that desire to provide for the family runs even deeper, and my dad did what he had to do. As a result, growing up, I don’t think I ever truly understood my father. But as a kid, that makes
sense. Kids love to play, even older ones. I see it in my kids. They think that life is about play and little else. It’s only later that they learn that for those who know how to work, it can be even better than play. My dad was always and still is, about work. He works and he serves others who can’t work for themselves. In my dad’s retirement, and in my maturity, we’ve had the chance to finally get to know each other better and it’s been a sweet experience. Our medium, as you might have guessed, is work. We talk to each other as we work together. He tells me what projects he has going on and I involve him in mine. We talk about other things too, though. I love to hear his old stories from racing, or his early days growing up in Prescott. I love my dad. I can say it now. We’ve never been a family that says that kind of stuff much and especially not my dad. He’s like his hammer, inconspicuously coming off the shelf to quietly do its work, and then, just as quietly, fading to the background, but ever ready to be used again when needed. My dad’s just like that, he shows his love to those he loves most by quietly providing the things that they need, and then, just like a thankless old hammer, without any interest in reward or in gathering gratitude, he slips off into the quiet night. Silently, he loads up his old Chevy truck, careful not to wake his grandkids that just drifted off. He masterfully packs the bed to the brim with the tools that he’ll have cleaned and ready for the next time he’s called to serve again. When an ungrateful son, does happen to chance a “Thank you” his way, he looks uncomfortable, almost out of place, like if someone was ostentatiously and clumsily thanking an old battered hammer for driving in nails, clean and true. At those times my dad always says the same thing, “That’s just what old dads are for.” Maybe so, but not every hammer’s around when you need it, and neither is every dad. I’ve learned enough about the world to know that God created just as much variety in dads as Home Depot carries in hammers. I’m glad that I have one that’s always ready to serve. Not long ago, I grabbed my dad’s hammer in my right hand. I felt the keen balance and conformity that it rendered as I hefted it up and down. I took in the scuffs and pondered every nick in the cool metal of the head and the soft wood of the shaft. I pondered its many seasons of tireless service and its impeccable track record. I lifted it and let it fall over and over, and I thought about my dad. In my left hand, I curled my fingers around the fiberglass shaft of my hammer. I inspected the newness of the shaft and the troubling feel of the untried handle, which still had not known my grip well enough to conform and respond to my hand as I hoisted it. The head looked relatively new, with almost no pits nor scrapes denoting misplaced blows or unexpected recoils. I thought of my few years of service as a dad, and my father’s many. I was as new and unproven as my hammer itself. At times I catch my dad muffling a little laugh as I complain about my boys or as I grow frustrated over their actions, or as I sometimes lose my temper. That’s when he reminds me, “Oh, you think that’s bad, trying having five.” It’s then that I well up in pride over my dad. The man raised some pretty good tools of his own.
Now, as I raise my boys, I take my dad with me. I take the lessons of service that I learned from him. I teach them things that my dad taught me. I let them know about my favorite hammer and about how they should always be careful to put it back where they got it before the sun goes down. My dad probably doesn’t even know about everything that he taught me, but I let my kids know. “You know who taught me that Nathan?” I’ll say. “That was grandpa Kleinman”. Then he’ll say, “Grandpa Kleinman knows lots of stuff” and then the tears come to my eyes, kind of like right now, and I’ll say, “Natey, you don’t even know the half of it.” I hope that I’m like my dad, at least a little bit. I know I’ll never fix things like he can, and that I’ll never be able to recognize, just by listening, what’s wrong with a car. Those kinds of dispositions just never flowed through the gene pool into the veins that get my long old body blood. “Too much Haymore in me,” I think my dad would say. But at least, I hope, I have inherited my dad’s love of work and of service. And most of all, I hope I pass that love on to my kids. Because, even though right now it seems like a long way off, there will come a day when Nathan and Bracken and whomever else the good Lord sees fit to send our way, will be standing there in a hardware store looking for a good hammer. If I’ve done my job, they’ll be wanting one that conforms to the hand’s sturdy grip, one that will stand up to years and years of thankless service, and as they buy it they’ll be thinking to themselves, “This’ll be a good hammer for me. Just like my dad’s”.
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