My dad and I haven’t always had a great relationship. I’ve done some dumb shit, and so has he, and we mostly dealt with our respective difficulties with each other by making our visits sparing and short. Over the last few years, I’ve tried to change that by asking both of my parents, separately, to do things I think they’ll enjoy. About two years ago, when asked what I wanted for my birthday, I asked my dad to paint the living room of the very crappy, falling-apart farmhouse I was renting. Sure, the living room needed painted for my own sanity — it was a disgusting institutional olive dingy green color — but I really wanted to spend the time with my dad, learning the trade he’s spent the last 43 years of his life doing.
So when my dad offered — on his birthday this time — to paint my kitchen and bathroom for me as I continue to update my house, I happily agreed. Not only am I getting a very professional paint job, but it’s a good way for us to spend time together, without the need to fill every silence with words.
“I am here. I do care. Yes, I do want to spend time with you, dad.”
After I moved into my house, the entire thing needed repainted and the floors needed done. I lacked most of the basic tools for either one of these things, but because of the farmhouse experience, I had the skills to paint the house myself. My dad set me up with some tools: rollers, brushes, roller extender, rags, screens, a small bucket, and this ladder. I set to work and did a perfectionist’s job of painting the entire house, except the kitchen and bathroom.
This ladder has been around as long as I can remember. It was the ladder that accompanied my dad to every side-work project he used to work to fund my private school education and riding lessons and swim team fees, as he stayed up far later than our bedtimes and was nearly always gone by the time we woke up for school. Between work and side-work, he’d pick my sister and I up from school, exactly on time every day at 3:15, dropping us off at sports as needed.
This was the ladder I used to climb so high up when I was little, perching on top, closing my eyes, and pretending I was atop a racehorse. I loved it when the breeze flowed through the garage, and hated when my mother caught me and made me get down. In her mind, that six-foot ladder may as well have been dangling me off of a cliff.
It was the ladder my dad used to fix anything we needed on or inside of the house. While I grew up in a fairly nice house in good repair, he was always painting something, or retrieving something from high up in the garage attic. This ladder was an ever-present part of my life.
I was so surprised when my dad told me I could keep “this old ladder.” He doesn’t know that I remember or care about these things, but this ladder will be the thing I remember my dad by, always. I left his initials on the side, the rags tied around it, and the blue electric tape holding together part of the bucket holder because I love that every bit of it was something he sweat over and spent his life on top of, for me and my family. Maybe to him it’s some old ladder, but to me, it’s an heirloom part of my family.
This ladder is a really, really cool thing to me. I haven’t decided whether I’ll take it out to my own garage, now, and set it up with a rope for reins (nevermind I own a real ex-racehorse, now!), or whether I’ll put it in my dining room and cover wooden shelves with fabric and display some of my favorite things that way.