Stories told

It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke

Bonus Garrett story #2, from four years ago, a moment that in retrospect was a turning point in our relationship.

I have a complicated relationship with the futon in my family room. My wife and I bought it while we were still married. The day we brought it home, I regretted the bright blue mattress cover that we chose. Later, as my marriage splintered apart, I spent a year exiled to it at night. I couldn’t resent the situation, for it would acknowledge that our marriage was over, so I resented the futon instead. And then it was the one major piece of furniture I got in the divorce, the only thing I owned on which I could sit. I made myself feel glad to have it. Then bouts of mournful insomnia expelled me from my new bed back to the futon, as there I could always eventually find sleep. Now I start my nights on the futon, but wake later and stagger off to bed. More than a dozen years in, I’m no longer happy with its style, springs are starting to poke out on the sides of the mattress, and I still hate its cover. But I fall asleep on it so reliably that I’m reluctant to replace it. A new couch might not carry that nocturnal magic.

Futon1

My relationship with my futon is not as complex as the relationships with those I love, of course. I’m thinking specifically of my youngest son, a teenager. He broke the futon the other day.

My boy lives fully in the moment. He makes no plan and weighs no consequences. Once at motion, he tends to stay there; Newton would be proud. If you spent a day with him you might call him absentminded, but that would be an injustice. He becomes consumed by his activity and the world falls away. His inner world is his best friend. He lives there.

In that state, he has damaged or broken many things. I used to think he was careless or, worse, deliberate, and so I meted out consequences of loud and harsh words, limitations of his freedom, or both. But slowly, thankfully, I’ve come to see the truth: The boy means no harm. He is usually very surprised when he damages or breaks something.

Even though these things are just things, they do belong to somebody, usually me. They have an important purpose or some sentimental or emotional value, and I feel the loss.

My son matters more than these things, and so I absorb those losses. But it’s also my job to help shape the child. Trying to help him to be more self-aware was a losing game that frustrated both of us, and so I gave up. Perhaps time and life will bring this growth naturally. Meanwhile, I intend to teach him to repair the things he’s damaged – both physical objects and relationships. All of us sometimes damage our relationships through our quirks and limitations. All of us need to know how to make amends.

He was deep inside a video game when he leaped exuberantly backward and landed on the futon. I am sure he’s done this many times. But he was much smaller and lighter before a major growth spurt this summer, and the poor futon could no longer bear him. The main beam supporting the mattress split wide, and the futon collapsed.

I called my dad, who made custom furniture for a living for many years, and described the damage. “Easy,” he said. “Get some wood glue and some long wood screws. Glue the board together along the break and then drive the screws in every inch or two. It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke.”

I assembled the materials and the tools and called my son. I showed him what to do and had him do it. As he worked, I spoke gently about repairing damaged relationships. He is my son, and I love him, and he will always receive grace from me. He should accept no less from those who are in his life. But when he causes damage, he needs to try his best to fix it, if he can. I hope my words connected with him.

Futon2

The repair is ugly; we couldn’t quite get the halves of the board to line up on one side of the break. My son didn’t have enough strength to drive the screws all the way into the hard wood, so I finished them all. As we put the frame back together, I could feel our relationship coming back together, too. I hope he felt the same way. After we finished the repair we turned the futon back over and sat down on it. It supported us as before the break, and I could see the satisfaction of accomplishment in him. Here’s hoping this creates a connection in him that he can mend things broken, including relationships. That he should. That it’s satisfying to do it.

“It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke.” Was Dad really talking about my relationship with my son?

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9 thoughts on “It’ll be stronger than it was before it broke

  1. Walter says:

    If you’re worried about it breaking again, I’d screw in a piece of wood along the side of the break as well, similar to a cast. As far as the color? Simple, just dye it to any color you’d like for a couple dollars. Dye can be found in the laundry aisle of any grocery store.

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  2. Great story!
    I used to call one of my baby brothers “Destructo” always busting something…and always something expensive or irreplaceable.
    I’m talking about in his adulthood.
    I knew he didn’t do it on purpose, just carelessness, and I knew he felt bad, so I never took more than an apology.

    I like the part about your Father too.
    My Father and older brother were carpenter/cabinet makers, and I was amazed more than a few times by their solutions in mending broken or unserviceable woodcraft.
    Don’t get me started again.
    This time about the lack of craftsmanship nowadays.

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    • Thanks!

      I think there’s still craftsmanship. But only the wealthy can afford it. My dad’s furniture was affordable only by the wealthy, for example. I’m happy to have one of his tables. I couldn’t have afforded it were it not a gift.

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      • You’re welcome.
        I meant lack of craft, more than craftsmanship.
        In many cases today, your bed frame, shoes, clothes, radio, TV would just be heading to the dumps instead of repaired.
        In my neighbourhood, their were two shoe repair shops, two leather craft shops (remember me mentioning what the hippies brought to enrich the neighbourhood) and three Television/electronics repair shops.
        Most are gone, priced out by the rent increases on commercial real estate at the most recent turn of the century.
        As far as opportunities, I know that the local carpenter’s, plumber’s, electrician and nurse’s unions had drives to bring in new blood (dues paying members) and most of the apprenticeships went begging.
        Let’s take something dear to me and all three of my brothers, that’s spanning sixty years ago to present; the hobby shop industry.
        We have one, of what used to be half a dozen around the city, remaining.
        Over the last several visits for paint and supplies, I saw one nine year old boy, with eyes as big as saucers, I suppose it was his first time in a hobby store, I was able to recognise that look, when you’ve seen something that you never knew about.
        All the other times, just old geezers like me, and middle aged women buying beads and glitter.
        I was so ashamed that I missed the opportunity to speak to him and hopefully encourage him, by asking what he was working on or building. I’ve shown a few kids to paint and build kits back in the ’90s, and most had that built in desire to build and customise, with their own hands, they could hardly wait to see it finished. I’m not saying the skills are not around, I’m just seeing that the means to create or mend things are being replaced too.

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  3. Heide says:

    What a beautiful post you’ve written, Jim. I think your dad was speaking both about futon frames and about relationships: Things are stronger where we mend them, because that’s where we focus our energy and positive intent. And how wonderful, too, that you invited your son to join you in making the repair! I think you’ve taught him a valuable lesson not just in woodworking, but in life.

    Liked by 1 person

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