There’s nothing funny about watching helplessly as your father falls off the roof of your childhood home. Or, is there?
When I was maybe six or seven years old, I borrowed-without-asking (which is technically stealing) my father’s hammer to build a tree fort in the woods behind our house. I wasn’t always careful about where I put the hammer when I wasn’t using it, so of course I eventually lost it. My father was not an angry person, but I knew that I was in for the lengthy soap-box style of preaching tirade, “Everyone always takes my things and loses them. Why don’t you lose your own things?” Curiously, this now happens to be the exact same speech I frequently give my kids. Turn-turn-turn. Back to the story.
Hoping to avoid getting in trouble, I secretly acquired a replacement hammer the next day, which I bought at the nearby thrift store for the grand sum of $3. It wasn’t an exact replacement, and I’m sure the one I lost cost a lot more, but it was just a hammer—a weight on the end of a hollow metal tube—why would I have to get an expensive one? I snuck the changeling hammer into my father’s toolbox and held crossed-fingers that there wouldn’t be dire consequences for what I had done.
One warm, sunny day of the following week, I was watching my father working up on the roof of our house using his new hammer. For me, it was a proud and somewhat satisfying moment, for although I knew that he knew it wasn’t the same hammer, I felt my father appreciated the responsibility I had shown by my mature action of replacing that which I had lost, for he never said a word about it.
While I was thoughtfully reflecting on my own brilliance, he was trying to remove a stubborn nail from an errant shingle. As he pulled hard, the handle on the hammer first bent, and then abruptly broke, while a combination of Newton’s 3rd law and gravity did the rest. My father perilously recoiled towards the edge of the roof.
Acrobatic and graceful are words that could never be used to describe my father. He stumbled forward, flailing and flapping his arms as he clumsily tried to regain his balance. After several seconds of suspense, and with his face clearly expressing his realization and fear of the inevitable, Dad fell to the ground. He landed with a heavy thump and a moan of agony in my mother’s flower garden two stories directly beneath the point where he once stood only moments earlier. I laughed, because my dad made a funny face.
I learned a lot that day about the hidden costs of inexpensive things. Mostly, though, I think the most valuable lesson to be gained from this story is that in these tumultuous economic times, it just isn’t possible for one to buy so much entertainment for only $3.