Words & Photos by Taylor Reese. Art by Becki Petersen.
I built a fort in the yard for our kids last summer. Every time I went out to work on it, my wife said I was out talking with my father.
I grew up building things with my Dad, who was a carpenter by trade. We worked on everything, from class projects I had in school all the way up to big free-standing structures. Dad and I built a lot of kitchens together.
We lost Dad last year.
My father fought off cancer and bought almost a year after all the chemo. But we learned that the cancer was back at Thanksgiving 2019, and Dad died in February 2020.
Suddenly all of the conversations I anticipated having while I'm solving problems during a build are gone. Or they happen in my head, but I don't get the real input of his wisdom and experience. Still, I couldn't stop. I was probably even a bit addicted to it, if I'm honest. And why not? Having conversations in my head with Dad while building something for my kids felt like building a bridge between the generations. Is that too lofty a statement for a backyard fort?
So I drew the fort up. My wife and I talked ourselves into and out of certain details, like the climbing wall or the pop-up roof. We wanted it to make sense behind our modern house. We had some material left over from when the house was built, but we still had to manage the cost.
I remember how elated I felt when the lumber arrived. I remember the hard days, and the easy ones. It definitely took longer than I thought it would. But it turned out. Dad's guidance slowed me down at times, talking through details that would make the fort better, but would slow down my progress. Dad raised me to build things well, once. To make a good plan, and then stick to it as much as possible.
Sticking to the plan can be the hard part, a lot of the time. Make two quick cuts and wrap it up before dinner, or pull it apart and rebuild it in a better way. Oh, and if you pull it apart you also have to go back and clean up after the kids are in bed. A much longer day. But many of the things Dad and I built over the years are still around even though he's gone, and it's pretty common that the things one generation of humans build have to last long after they're around to care for them.
I know Dad would be proud of the fort. I'm sure we would talk through how I decided to build the roof. Whether I should add those supports for a bit more stability. I imagine us talking every time I am working out in the shop, and that was maybe the most important thing I learned while building the fort. Carpentry is one of the ways I keep Dad around, using and sharing all of the things he taught me over the years.
What's in a hobby? Time to focus. Details without deadlines. A tactile experience in an increasingly virtual world. Problem solving. Continually learning a craft. Processing grief.
Oh, and I like to think my kids got a pretty nice fort out of the deal.
About the author
Taylor Reeseis our Principal Innovator based in Edmonton, Alberta. His background is in design and facilitation, but he also loves drawing, cycling, and craft beer. He believes the things we build must improve the lives of those who use them. You can follow some of his adventures on instagram @sketchnote.love.
About the artist
Becki Petersen is an artist currently living in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Her work is primarily in acrylic but she has recently moved into a more multi-media practice. She is inspired by nature and our personal awareness of it. With her recent focus on abstract art she challenges and encourages a very emotional response to her artwork by focusing more on how you feel when you see the works instead of simply what you see.
For this piece, her inspiration was searching for a connection to a lost father.