Measuring successes

My father passed away this week, Wednesday 23rd May 2012. I will sadly miss seeing him and being with him. I will always be grateful for what my father gave to me and the way of life I chose because of him. It’s hard to measure success in a world that seldom offers standards by which true success can be measured unless it’s linked to status or money or power. Are we made successful by how much money we have, how much money we’ve made or are making or have the potential to make? To be successful in recognised and therefore accepted value systems is often a way we validate our success and we are then made successful by how much we are accepted by the surrounding society, peer group and so on. The world is made up of millions of exclusive groups. Exclusive groups by their method or standard of inclusion become exclusive in that they exclude those they deem not to fit. My dad never entered successful circles, sought personal wealth or ever seemed discontented, ever. He was a fine workman who worked hard all of his life.

My father passing clouded my day on Wednesday, but he was behind my success. When I was 14 years old he asked me what I wanted to be when I left school. I told him I wanted to be a woodworker. He said look through the phone book and apply for an apprenticeship. That was the best thing I ever did. I apprenticed with Hugh Owen and Son in Stockport, England. I became a woodworker and never regretted one day of my work. I found my vocational calling and ended up designing pieces of furniture for the White House Permanent Collection, built canoes, a cello for my son Joseph and a silverware chest for my wife from mesquite. I have made thousands of pieces throughout my lifetime of 48 years working wood. I wrote books, made films about my work and started three woodworking schools, all of which are successful. I have trained nearly 4,000 woodworkers and yet been a real woodworker all of my life. This all began with my dad asking me what I wanted to be.

Parents, guardians, why not find out what your sons want to be. I mean really, really want to do with their lives. Sometimes their future can rely on the simplest questions you ask and how you ask them. They may find a way of life off of the corporate ladder and share their lives with other people in ways no man can measure their successes by. I will miss my dad but he will always be in my heart.

Other than the sadness of my dad passing, this has been a wonderful week and we have gained a great deal confidence and competency in the class. The challenges have been great, but I have seen nothing but perseverance and determination in adversity. Nine days in a workshop like this will change anyone’s life for the better.

Table legs in oak are now mortised on most benches and the aprons are being worked with new tenons. We turn no machines on and everyone is content to see their work and the work of others around them come from a few pieces of red oak. One person’s blow out is another’s check from doing the same. They learn from me, one another and get revelation for themselves as they go. Their work is saleable and would be acknowledged as well made in most circles. I check them periodically but now they are developing real woodworking skills that will last a lifetime. The tools at last are doing what they want them to do. Saws cut, planes shave, shape and smooth and soon tenons will fit well their mortise holes. With the Foundational course completed they all qualify for more advanced workshops. Many will soon be making their Craftsman-style rocking chair.

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