Category Archives: Fatherhood

Wood Lamp: Dolphin

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Dolphin by Hyrum Baker

Hyrum (14) and I have worked on Dolphin for the better part of a year.  This lamp began as an unassuming piece of weathered drift wood, distinguished by its beaver chew marks at both ends.

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Not owning an air compressor (yet), Hyrum devised an ingenious, low-cost method of cleaning the wood of sand and dust: a bicycle pump fitted with a ball needle.  Quite effective.

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Drilling this piece of wood, 48 inches from nose-tip to tail, was a challenge, due both to the length and the twisting curves of the wood.  We bored several holes with a long 5/16″ bit, then enlarged the holes with a 3/8″ bit.  Having the end of one bore meet the beginning of the next bore was indeed a challenge, but we made it work.

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For convenience, we decided to stain the lamp wood laying flat before mounting it to its base.

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With the lamp stained once, we were prepared to mount it to its base.  I learned the hard way on another tall lamp that a single bolt leaves the lamp wobbly, no matter how tight.  So we used two bolts, ratcheting the nuts down hard, with large washers on both ends, and with a little lock nut to keep them tight.  Black caulk filled the holes and covered the bolt heads.  We drilled and routed the base to accommodate the electrical chord.

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The next challenge was to thread the lamp wire through the several angled drill holes.  We first used a coat hangar to thread a length of electrician’s tape through the lamp, then used the tape to pull the wire through the lamp.

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With all the hardware work complete, we now applied more coats of Provincial WiniWax stain, then three coats of gloss polyurethane.  We often use different color stains for the base and the lamp in way that highlights the lamp (see Waves, Smoke, and Reach), but for Dolphin, a floor lamp, we thought using the same color stain for both was more effective.

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(Dolphin, in the final stages, is pictured in the background, with Grace in the foreground, and Smoke looking on from the sidelines.)

With black felt on the bottom and a simple but pretty shade on top, Dolphin is ready to swim into someone’s home.  We suggest a value of $850 for Dolphin (though we are confident that it would fetch more in many boutiques).  As a reminder, Hyrum is making these exotic wood lamps to fund his way to the 2017 Boy Scout National Jamboree, and then to college.

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Making these lamps together, while each one poses its own unique challenges, has been a true father-and-son joy.  I hope to continue our hobby into the future and Hyrum and his brothers become fathers themselves.

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Climbing Wall

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For my son John’s 17th birthday he asked me to help him engineer and construct a climbing wall in our garage.  That was the gift he wanted from me, his father.  I let out a heavy sigh, knowing, as a lawyer, my engineering limitations.  I write contracts and ordinances.  I don’t build things.  But I couldn’t disappoint him.  Testing his commitment to project, I promised I would help him if he did all the research.  He spent hours on the internet compiling a book of various designs and techniques.  He had done his part, so now it was time to do mine.

We carefully drew out our plans, bought the materials, and got to work.  The first step was to assemble a kick plate and wall foundation to attach to and cover the garage footing.

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The most difficult step was designing two wall sections, the first at 20-degrees and the second at 40-degrees.  We began this process by cutting angled joists, the climbing wall’s ribs, if you will.

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The angled joists rest firmly on the kick plate/foundation wall, bearing much of the climbing wall’s weight.  This low wall is also where the climbing starts, with the climber in a sitting position.

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The angled joists were also secured to ceiling braces, screwed into the garage roof trusses.

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My good friend Paul (who is an engineer) instructed me that roof trusses are designed to withstand snow loads bearing down from above, not weight pulling down from below.  So I climbed up into the garage attic, crawled through fiberglass, and braced the roof trusses with 2x4s.  We also insert a portable vertical 4×4 post whenever anyone climbers, just to be sure the roof won’t fall in on the climbers.

Next came assembling the climbing wall surface.  Before we mounted the 3/4-inch plywood, John drilled numerous holes and inserted threaded T-nuts, into which the climbing hold would later be secured.

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With the holes drilled and the T-nuts set, we attached the wall to the angled joists.

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(Note the antiques with which I decorated my garage, several made by or belonging to my great-grandfather Nelson Baker.)

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With the most difficult work done, it was time for John to have fun planning his bouldering “problems” and setting the holds.  The climber completes the “problem” by touching the top of the climbing wall.

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In this photograph, John is hanging from holds on a box he built on his own to add to the climbing’s wall’s challenge.  He also built the pyramid.

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Note the crash pads underneath the climber.  Crash pads are mandatory.  These are surplus martial arts mats, to which we add several foam sleeping pads.  (John is a third-degree taekwondo blackbelt.)

Weeks later, John removed all the holds and painted his climbing wall, adding sand to the paint to add texture to the wall.  He used paint scraps left over from previous house painting projects.  Tapes of various colors mark the different bouldering “problems” or routes.

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Building this climbing wall with my son John, though intimidating to me at first, turned out to be a most meaningful experience for us both.  We enjoyed working through the design and construction challenges together.  John learned that he can dream and make his dreams come true.  He, his brothers Caleb and Hyrum, and his friends spend hours in my garage bouldering through the various “problems” John has set.  Just one year after completing his climbing wall, John off on a month-long NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) course learning real-life leadership and climbing skills.  He dreams of following in the footsteps of climbing heroes Alex Honnold and Chris Sharma.  John is pictured with Chris here.

John and Chris Sharma

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The week before Christmas 2015, Caleb (16, also a taekwondo blackbelt and climbing enthusiast) whispered to me that he wanted to add to John’s climbing wall by building a “campus board” as a Christmas present for his brother John (now 18).  (Another sigh from dad.)  A campus board is an angleled wall with horizontal rungs cut for hanging and climbing, to strengthen the fingers, hands, and indeed the whole upper body.  Caleb designed it, and we set to work.

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Caleb used his great-great-grandfather Baker’s plane to shave off one corner of the 2×4 rungs so that they would be parallel with the ground, or angled slightly inward, making it possible to grasp with the fingertips.  I felt proud of Caleb for working so hard to bring his holiday plan to fruition, but mostly for wanting to make a meaningful Christmas gift for his brother.

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These are experiences and memories that we will always share as father and sons.

Shoe Shine Boxes

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When I was a boy, my father scrounged scraps of oak plank and made himself a beautiful shoe shine box, of his own design, with his initials “ONB” carved on one end and chiseled greenery on the other.  He made a similar box for me, bearing my initials “REB”.

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As boys, my four sons often watched me shine my shoes, asking me if I would please shine theirs.  Then they began asking if they could use my shoe shine stuff to shine their own shoes. They have enjoyed using my shoe shine box during their boyhood years.

This Christmas I presented to each of my sons their own shoe shine box.  It was time for them to have their own, to carry on the tradition.  For lack of tools, time, and skill, I simplified the design.  But I still find their shoe shine boxes elegant.

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I had planned to make the shoe shine boxes over the Thanksgiving weekend while staying with my parents.  Caleb (16) asked if he could stay one night with me, so I decided to let him in on the secret and help.

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After Caleb left, Grandpa, the original shoe shine box carpenter, helped me finish the boys’ boxes.

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My sons may be the only living boys to have such shoe shine boxes, in a three-generation genealogy of shoe shine boxes, made by their father and grandfather.

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I hope my sons find years of enjoyment and pride in shining their shoes with their shoe shine boxes.  And who knows: perhaps they will make such boxes for their own children someday.

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I hope you will find a unique and meaningful way to connect with your sons and daughters, and to carry on the traditions of your generations.

Violin

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On summer evenings as the desert heat dissipated, we would open all the windows in the house to let in the fresh, cool air.  As I sat on the porch, or weeded in the garden, or fed the hens, the sounds of Erin’s violin would pour gently from her window, hovering above the quiet countryside.   Her music was like the smell of perfume from a Purple Robe Locust, or the flash of blue from a Western Bluebird, or the taste of ripe mango.  I haven’t heard Erin play her violin for several years due to her being away at university and missionary service.  But I can still hear the music in my memory and feel the soothing sensation of my mind and body loosening their many knots.  I miss her playing.  I miss her.  This poem brings Erin and her music back to me.

VIOLIN

Notes dance through the window:
cheerful young notes
tip-toeing prettily upon the air,
swirling soft, slow pirouettes above
Fall sunset’s deep-green grass;
a blanketing balm
come to rest upon
a tired brow,
a twitching muscle,
an anxious heart.

Youthful hand and hopeful heart
send the bow searching the strings,
like a songbird upon the breeze,
like a breeze along the tree branch,
like tree roots through the earth.

Cleanse me.
Lift me.
Bring me through.

Not Today

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More than any other child, Caleb’s bicycle tires always seems to go flat.  I would patch an inner tube one hour and have it be flat the next.  Those awful three-pronged “goat-head” stickers were his bane.  Caleb was too young to patch his own inner tubes, so he was constantly asking me to do so.  “Dad,” he would ask, “can you fix my bike?”  I grew weary of his frequent requests, and often put him off.  Each time I avoided the task, however, I could see the disappointment in his eyes and hear it in his voice: “OK, Dad.”  I would come around eventually, but my delinquency deprived him of many days of happy riding.  When I began to realize what I was doing to him, and to our father-son relationship, I started patching his tires more quickly, began to teach him to patch his own tires, and wrote this poem as a reminder to myself to exercise patience and love with my children.  (Note: each stanza diminishes by one line in length, symbolizing Caleb’s diminished faith in his father.)

NOT TODAY

On Saturday Caleb said, “Hey, Dad!
I ran over a sticker,
and my bike tire’s flat,
so I can’t ride my bike.
Can you patch it for me today?”
Dad sighed and then replied,
“Not today, son, can’t you see?
I’ve far too much work to do.
Maybe tomorrow.”
And Caleb said, “Thanks, Dad.”

On Sunday Caleb said, “Hey, Dad!
My tire’s still flat,
so I can’t ride my bike.
Can you fix it for me today, please?”
Dad sighed and then replied,
“Not today, son, don’t you know?
On the Sabbath day I cannot do such work.
Tomorrow would be a much better day.”
And Caleb said, “Thanks, Dad.”

On Monday Caleb said, “Hey, Dad.
I still can’t ride my bike at all.
Please, can you fix it, maybe, today?”
Dad sighed and then replied,
“Not today, son, I’m all tuckered out;
I’ve worked so hard all day.
Maybe tomorrow, or next week, sometime.”
And Caleb said, “OK, Dad.”

On Tuesday Caleb said, “Hey, Dad.
I’d really like to ride my bike.
Could you help me, sometime, fix my tire?”
Dad sighed and then replied,
“Goodness gracious, son, how you pester me so.
I told you I’d do it sometime. Not today.”
And Caleb said, “OK, Dad.”

On Wednesday Caleb said, “Hey, Dad.
Today’s probably not a good day, huh?”
Dad sighed and then replied,
“I’m afraid you are right, son, not today.
Today is definitely not a good day.”
And Caleb said, “OK Dad.”

On Thursday Caleb said, “Hey, Dad.
Do you think, maybe, tomorrow?”
Dad sighed and then replied,
“Sure thing, son—maybe tomorrow.”
And Caleb said, “OK, Dad.”

On Friday Caleb said, “Hey, Dad.
Tomorrow’s Saturday, right?”
Dad replied, “Last time I checked.”
And Caleb said, “OK.”

On Saturday Caleb said, “Hey, Dad.”
And Dad replied, “Hey, Son.”
And Caleb walked away.

Wood Lamp: Smoke

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Smoke, a lamp by Hyrum Baker

My son, Hyrum, and I made this lamp together.  For his first lamp project, in 2014, he chose a difficult piece of wood, which required drilling with long bits at awkward angles.  We rescued this Russian Olive root, standing about 36 inches tall, on a firewood cutting expedition.  Encrusted with mud, Hyrum worked for weeks to clean and sand the wood, filling the cracks with putty, and staining: he chose Sedona Red.  The putty didn’t stain well, so we used a matching barn-red paint to cover the still-pale putty, then stained over the dried paint, all for a rich rusty red result.  I am particularly proud of Hyrum, aged 12 at the time, for this excellent piece of artwork that happens to also be a lamp.  (I helped a little, of course.)  He named the lamp Smoke.  We suggest the value of this lamp to be $650 or more, depending on the market.  It is waiting to be taken to the perfect home.

Here is Hyrum pictured recently sitting at the bench of a federal district court judge during a recent scouting expedition for the Citizenship in the Nation merit badge.

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After visiting the courthouse and other state and federal buildings, we enjoyed sandwiches at the Boston Deli, a downtown Salt Lake City lunch spot featuring jazz vinyl records, instruments, and music.

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Chapter 46: Of Boys, Pigeons, and an Evil Rooster

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— You’re my big, bald buddy-boo.–
(John-3 to Dad)

As I readied to leave for my Rabbit Lane walk, I noticed a pungent odor from the little boy that hugged my leg.

“I’ll change him,” Angie offered.  “You go ahead.”

Little John (2) responded, “NO—Dadda,” and I felt the dubious honor of being chosen by my son for this special duty. Continue reading