I learned recently that my mom’s side of the family uses my dad’s name as an adjective to describe a woodworking project that will last forever. I had to laugh when I heard that. My family is full of woodworkers. My step-dad, uncle, grandfather, now my husband … But my dad is also an engineer, and if he’s tackling a woodworking project, its one criteria is that it will still be standing after Doomsday. Simple, sturdy, and it gets the job done.
My dad has been building backyard structures for as long as I can remember. I had some pretty amazing tree houses as a kid – ramps, trap doors, windows, built-in shelves for my magic potions and swords, you name it. But a year and a half ago I asked for a special backyard project.
The Internet provided a wealth of arbor photos from which to draw inspiration.
“You know, for the wedding, I was thinking,” I said over the phone. “It would be kind of cool to have an arbor, to stand in front of when we say our vows. Do you think that’s something you could build for me, Dad?”
“Sure, no problem. Do you have a picture of what you want?” he replied.
I scoured the Internet and found a few samples of simple structures that I thought would frame my groom and I nicely.
Early sketches showed dimensions for the soon-to-be arbor.
Dad pointed out that most of these structures were built into the ground, whereas I hoped to move the arbor from beside the pond after we used it for the wedding. “So it will need some kind of platform to hold it steady,” he explained of his reasoning. He shared with me a few sketches of what he had in mind. With a glance at the numbers indicating dimensions, I assured him that whatever he planned was fine with me.
The early frame for the arbor indicated its future size.
My little brother sent me a photo of the structure as construction got underway. It was maybe a little wider than I had imagined … but I had invitations to order and a baker to find and the arbor was the last thing on my mind at that point. I simply wished them luck with painting and thanked them both for tackling the project.
A few massive lag bolts assured this arbor wouldn’t budge once assembled.
About a week and a half before the wedding, the arbor arrived. It came in four pieces, in a trailer my dad’s friend towed behind his truck, and it took both of them to lift each slab and arrange it on my lawn. Once loosely assembled, and I’d given the official placement okay, my dad pulled out a handful of massive lag bolts and began screwing the sides together. “This thing isn’t going anywhere,” my dad assured me as he worked. My eyes might have widened a bit when I took in the scale and heft of this new addition. It was so big, so bold … all on its own, it transformed the yard. From the deck, where I watched the assembly, I felt that our backyard had suddenly become a destination. The arbor, with its clean, pure lines and crisp, white paint was something to admire from afar, yet someplace enchanting to sit and enjoy the sounds and views of the entire yard. It was more incredible than I ever could have imagined.
Once assembled, Dad stayed to repaint the wood, listening to the sound of the waterfall and occasionally chatting while the fiancé and I repainted the deck. Dad left me with a gallon of white paint that I had to wrench from his hand as he worried over whether he should come back and repaint it in a few days, to ensure the green wood wasn’t showing through three coats of paint. I couldn’t help smiling, appreciating that this was a responsibility he took so seriously.
A week and a half later, that arbor was very much the star of my backyard wedding.
I’m pretty sure Dad’s right; that arbor isn’t going anywhere. But I have designed what I consider my most genius backyard plan yet, which I hope to put in motion in a few weeks here; its ingredients include about a dozen men with strong backs, a box full of oriental lanterns and a dry creek bed. But more on that later…
…Now I just want to add that my earliest memory of creating a magical backyard space was helping my dad make one of these timeless structures. It was a swing set; the beam holding the swings attached to a raised platform that held aloft a homemade slide. I remember Dad had finished the platform for the slide first, before even the stairs, and I remember him lifting me over his head to sit up above the world while he worked on the steps. I felt like a princess trapped in the highest turret of her castle, but I was a princess with a hammer who got to bang each nail in the platform just a little bit further with all of my four-year-old strength. I remember being incredibly proud that I got to help my dad on such a special project.
It’s pretty comforting to know that old swing set, much like my new arbor, will be standing tall, strong, ever there, come any misadventure. Much like my dad.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.