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Joseph E. Perry

Father's Day

I am among the fortunate folks who, with the help of the bank and a Yankee work ethic, have a house on Nantucket.  Actually, I have two. Both are co-owned; one by myself and the bank, one by myself and my Dad, Joe.

One man's trash and all that aside, we have too much stuff.  Now, I don't consider myself a pack rat (although others may have a warped sense of that reality) but, with two houses comes, well, stuff.

My Dad is now 88 and still living in his own home, to an extent under his own steam. The goal is to keep him in his own home for as long as possible and as long as he is safe and healthy enough.

So far, so good.

Dad is a mechanic. He's been a mechanic his whole life. He moves more slowly these days, more gingerly. Bad knees don't allow him to step sideways so we make sure paths are clear. Fear of falls doesn’t allow him to go into his much beloved garage by himself, so my husband goes over every day to spend time, fix a mower, or work on a car. A bit of COPD impacts his ability to drive his ride on mower as often as he'd like so we have masks that he can wear to cut down on dust and pollen. 

The toughest adjustment has been (after noticing more and more mystery dents on the minivan) losing his independence. I took the keys. Didn't make me the most popular that particular week, but parenting and being responsible for your parents are both fraught with tough decisions sometimes, and are not always made easier by knowing we're doing the right thing. We drive him where he needs and wants to go, and the Elder Services bus does the rest. A weekly trip to the dump with Jacob, his grandson and housemate, is truly the highlight of his week.

Still, he is in his own home.  We all work together to keep him there, to boost his spirits (no easy task as he is the original Eyore) and to keep him moving and motivated.

His house is full of stuff. Not hoarder stuff, but the stuff that dreams and memories are made of. There are bite marks on chairs from when my kids were small, tea cups and saucers that my mother collected for so many years, my grandfather's childhood rocking chair. Some of these things are more beautiful, more pleasing to the eye than others. Yet the most treasured possessions for Dad are his tools.

As I said, Dad is a mechanic. He is a very humble man and self-deprecating to a fault. My Yankee work ethic came from both sides of the family, and he would still put in 40 hours every week now if his knees allowed it. I try to convince him that his home and staying well are his jobs now.

That flies like a lead balloon. 

Work to Dad is putting on his work clothes, loading up his pockets with his knife, small pliers and change, and going somewhere to do something. That is, to him, where his value is, or was. So we cajole and encourage and sign him up for things that he grumbles about. Anything to get him up and out of the house and keep him going.

I don't think that Dad has ever had a full understanding of his own self-worth. It's easy for me to tell him to reflect on all of the good things he's done and all of the people that he helped, when he sees his current lack of activity as failure. I don't believe that he will ever fully understand what he has done in his own life that has affected other people’s lives.

He taught them to fix things.

Sounds pretty simplistic. Fixing things is good, sure. What Dad never can quite wrap his head around is that, every time he worked with a young man as he picked up his first wrench, he was giving that young man a skill. He was enabling him to not only repair a car or a lawn mower, but to put food on his table and make a living; to buy his own house and make his own memories...maybe to become a Dad who will in turn pass along this gift.

I've been to a couple of great mechanics on the island. When I put out my hand to introduce myself, inevitably the response is, "I know who you are. You're Joe's daughter. You're a Perry girl. I worked with him at Al Silva's or Outdoor Power. He taught me how to...."

Yes, I'm a Perry girl. At fifty three, to be called a girl is pretty great in itself, but to be known as Joe's daughter will never lose its impact.

I'm proud of the men in my life. My husband is a good man who loves his daughters fiercely, is so very proud of my own children, and does his best every day to keep my father moving and safe.

My sons are amazing, kind, spirited, good men, well on their own paths. My son in law loves my daughter and my grandchildren unabashedly.

And my Dad. I am proud to be his daughter. Even if he never realizes what his gift has been, what he has given to people. I know, and those who have worked with him know as well.

As we go through stuff in both houses, piece by piece, and move through this maze of memories and teacups, there are some things that just won't be going anywhere. The memories are all still there, whether the chair or teacup is or not.

But the tools; they have more than memories. They have history and a legacy.  With Dad's help they created Mechanics. The tools have made a difference, as did the man who wielded them and showed others how fix, and how to make a living.