We lost my lovely dad 8 years ago today and not a day goes by when I don’t think about him. I miss him a lot.
My dad was a very clever, kind and creative man and was able to turn his hand to pretty much anything. He was particularly good at woodwork and our house was full of the things he made as I was growing up. From full Welsh dressers and cupboards to elaborate hand-carved love spoons for my mum and even small rocking chairs he made from wooden clothes pegs (I particularly remember those from my childhood). He also had an incredible work ethic and I’ve never met anybody who worked as hard. Yet he went about his work and his life with little fuss and I can honestly say I never heard him moan. Even during the 2 years when he was suffering with the pain and indignity from the awful disease that would eventually take his life, he never complained once. I know I would have.
In the couple of years immediately after my dad died I started to develop a very strong and increasing desire to get into woodwork again, something I hadn’t done since I used to help him with when I was a kid. It’s obvious to me now that this was something within me trying to make me feel closer to him, but I didn’t really make the connection at the time. My life revolved very much around my corporate role. I was simply too busy to think about making things. I was working very long hours, was constantly on trains and in airports and had a significant amount of responsibility and pressure. I was also permanently exhausted.
Since I play the guitar I decided that maybe building electric guitars as a hobby might help to scratch this itch that I had suddenly developed. It wasn't pure woodwork as such but it’s a fairly clean hobby and doesn’t need a lot of special equipment, which helped as I didn’t have a workshop at the time. I’d buy the original necks and bodies, all the electrics, pickups, tuners etc. and build my own custom Fender strats on the kitchen table. I made a few and they came out fairly well.
However even though I enjoyed building them, it wasn’t quite the immersive experience I was craving. So I decided I was going to make an acoustic guitar from scratch. I duly enrolled on a four week guitar making course and packed myself off to the middle of Wales. I rented a pretty little cottage with the River Severn running through the back garden, although it’s really only a stream at that stage of its journey.
I had no Wi-fi and very little phone signal. I admit I wasn’t sure I’d done the right thing at first, as I’d never just “tuned-out” of my life in this way before. Not for a single day, never mind four weeks.
But I just felt it was something I had to do and it turned out to be the best decision I could have made. The guitar making was surprisingly physical (back-breaking at times), emotional and incredibly fulfilling. The best thing about it was that my dad was with me every day. In fact I think he really made that guitar.
It was the smells that really did it. The scent of fresh wood plane shavings, the waxes, oils and polishes and especially the wood glue. It was like I was back with him as a child, and going back to the cottage every night decorated in wood chips and sawdust meant the smells of cedar, maple and rosewood stayed with me through the evening and were the first thing I noticed in the mornings. I loved it.
I made the guitar and christened it “Gloria” after my mum (her middle name). There is also a dedication to my dad written inside. You can’t see it, but it’s there. I play it every day.
When I returned home from the course I set about building a small workshop in my garden and when I realised I didn’t have room for the equipment needed to make guitars I bought a lathe after my carpenter friend advised me to. I started learning how to turn. Bowls, vases, door handles, tools, candlesticks and just about any other round things you can think of. It didn’t matter what it was, it was really about the process and the feeling that comes with it. Asking my dad questions in my head as I worked, and answering myself on his behalf. It was very reassuring. It still is.
One day I decided to make a pen. It’s just something that everybody who owns a lathe does at some point. I was quite dismissive of it really, and it was definitely going to be a one-off just to tick it off the list. What I hadn’t counted on was how much fun it was and, probably more importantly, just how many of my friends and family needed pens made out of wood. This was quite a revelation to me.
So that is how it started. I moved from making pens from kits to the complete creations that you see today. It’s a wonderful thing to do. I love the idea that my creative output is something that another person can use to be creative in a different way through writing or drawing.
Of course they are just pens, and to many they may not hugely important or particularly life changing, (although whose life isn’t improved by writing a letter with a beautiful pen?), but they have certainly changed my life. Significantly and for the better. Not only does it continue to give me a connection to my dad but I have no doubt that making things, anything, is a real boost to our mental wellbeing. It also helps my family because they see my dad in the things I make, which makes me feel good. He’s a big part of who I am after all so it’s only natural that he comes through in what I do.
So as I remember my dad today, here’s to any of you who may have lost somebody close, or may be going through tough times. Perhaps this story will resonate with you or inspire you in some small way.
Me? I’ll be in my workshop making something. It may or may not be a pen but whatever it is I’ll enjoy doing it. One thing is for sure, I won’t sit down on the chair, somebody else will already be sat there, helping me through it like he always does.