The Dad Checklist: To Teach Your Kids Practical Skills
Before my neighbor Jeff renovated his house, I used to see him outside in his breezeway working with saw horses and power tools. I think he was crafting fine furniture which is an unusual skill for a Harvard man (though there is a deluxe and highly underutilized wood shop in the basement of the Science Center at Harvard).
With two boys and a busy schedule, Jeff, an attorney, has penned a guidebook on teaching kids handyman skills that typically get passed down from father to son. Or these days, father or mother to daughter.
I asked Jeff a few questions to get the low down on his book:
1) Jeff, you’re an attorney but also a handy guy! How did you learn your stuff?
I’ve been fortunate to have chances through the years to pick up some things along the way. I wanted to be able to pass along those practical tips and skills to my children, and I wanted The Dad Checklist to be for fathers and mothers to pass along to their children.
So, these are just fun things to do or know, like tying knots, patching drywall (just did that at home this past week where we had some water damage), finding the North Star, and cooking chili. Between trying different things over the years and having some good teachers, I was able to learn a few things.
For example, we needed some furniture after we got married, and I decided that I could do that. So I taught myself how to build furniture. During some summers when I was young, I was lucky that my parents sent me to a camp where I went on a lot of canoeing and hiking trips. Another example, I saw a local blacksmithing class and just said, hey, why not. What I’ve tried to do is to put myself out there and learn.
2) If you are like me (ahem, not handy!), what are the three or five things I should focus on teaching my kids?
You know, the first thing I’d say is that everyone can learn some basics, some practical skills. To me, saying you’re not handy is like saying you can’t do math. You can do both – you may not like it all the time, and it may not be easy, but you can do it. So, what I focus on in the book are the basics, like a few strokes to paddle a canoe. If you’re local, you can go down to the Charles River and rent a canoe and paddle around – read up on the basic canoe strokes and then just go.
Same with tying a bowline, a really handy knot, where you can follow a few simple drawings in the book and will be able to tie one in no time. The main thing is not only can you, the parent, talk about why the sky is blue and why Gehrig was the best first baseman of all time, make a soap-powered boat, build an outdoor fire, and jumpstart a car, but your son or daughter can learn with you.
3) What made you decide to write this book?
I would bet a lot of your readers, parents like me, spend a lot of time thinking about what we need to teach our children. That idea really hit me one summer day standing in my backyard teaching my young sons how to throw and hit a baseball. I had been thinking about it before, and had been jotting down some notes since my first son was born, but that day I thought about pulling it all together, putting down on paper the practical things I wanted to teach my children.
(I can concur that I saw Jeff outside a LOT in his backyard throwing a baseball with his boys!)
4) Be honest now, what have you taught both your boys so far?
Well, . . . .
(By the way, the person who gets the credit for pitching batting practice to the boys nearly every day after school for years is my wife.)
(I can also concur that I see his wife Lisa driving the kids around constantly! We wave to each other and I think we see each other more through car windows than face to face!)
5) And what handy skills are you still working on teaching your kids?
We’re always working on something. When they were young, we learned a lot of baseball skills, for example. I’ve taken them camping so that they get a sense of how to live outdoors. We talk about science at the dinner table. We found a woodworking project to make a chair out of a sheet of plywood, so we did that. I have no idea what sticks, though.
Thanks Jeff … and this was the inspiration for this post:
It struck me when I went to a Harvey blogger event in Boston where the Boston Globe’s Handyman on Call was the featured speaker that Peter Hotten learned his hand skills at the side of his grandfather. His skills were further honed when he purchased a dilapidated old house. With his grandfather as his guide, Peter was able to tackle almost everything himself though he says he is terrified of electricity (smart man) and does not claim to know plumbing.
But what if you are not handy?!! And you don’t have a relative to mentor you? Fear not, Jeff’s book is just like having a Handy Dad at your side.
Case in point: I am not handy at all. Nor was my father. This is why I skipped to the middle of the book on How to Fix Things to see if this was over my head.
- To Fix a Running Toilet. I only know how to jiggle the toilet handle but Jeff patiently goes through the (easy) steps of how to replace the “flapper valve.”
- To Clear Up a Stopped Drain. I only know how to pick out the hair sticking of the drain. Jeff describes “an auger” which is a much less expensive fix than calling a plumber.
- To Patch Drywall. My son seems to punch a hole in our walls at least once a quarter. I wait patiently for my husband to patch it with Spackle. Jeff also has advice for holes that are too large for the Spackle fix.
- To Stop a Faucet from Dripping. I try tightening the handle to the point I have to avoid using the sink. Our basement laundry sink is one such unruly faucet. He talks o-rings and washers and it really does not sound that tough to do.
The Dad Checklist: Practical Skills to Teach Your Children by Jeff Levinson.p.s. If you buy his book and get confused as to how to tie a bowline knot or your facet is still leaking even though you followed his instructions to the letter, I know where he lives if you have questions. I’m kidding. I think …
To view more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.
Congrats to Lorraine L, Jessie F, and Kim C. You each won a signed copy of The Dad Checklist!