Last month I spent the long, dark Chicago winter evenings building a model airplane.
It was my first one since sometime in the 1990s, when I was in my twenties. Back then, my house was a combatant-agnostic World War II aircraft factory, out of which came miniature Messerschmitt 109s and Stukas, Supermarine Spitfires and B-17 Flying Fortresses.
I haven’t built a model in many years—certainly since before the birth of my daughter, who is now 18, and was astonished, seeing me with my little tweezers and little paint brushes.
“Dad, you don’t paint!”
Why did I do it? I think my wife wanted me to do it, thought it might be good for me.
She bought me a model for Christmas last year, but I put it off so long because the project just seemed so horribly daunting.
And once I started it? Daunting and tedious.
As I squinted through a magnifying glass, painting a tiny red button on the instrument panel, the question was: “For the love of God, why?”
I never asked that question when I used to make models—even though I was younger, and should have been less patient in general than I am now. Why was I asking it now?
I figured it out instantly: I used to build these to take to my World War II-veteran dad, in Ohio, where he would politely ooh-and-ahh at the level of detail and quality of construction, and display them proudly (until his clumsy cleaning woman, who he affectionately referred to as “Big Stoop,” inevitably destroyed them while dusting).
Dad died 13 years ago in January. So who was I trying to impress with this P-51 Mustang?
My daughter, I guess—if only by finishing what I started.
But as I worked on it—for, I don’t know, 50 hours!?—I was in constant, irritable conversation with my dad, who seemed to be looking over my shoulder as he had when I was little, and making my first models airplanes: Never congratulating me on a precisely painted part or a tight assembly—that was to be expected—but clucking his teeth over an over-application of glue, and looking the other way unsympathetically when I angrily blamed The Revelle Company for an ill-fitting joining of parts or illogical instructions. And don’t ask me what happened to the tailwheel, I’ll be damned if I know.
I guess it was kind of cool to have the old man around for a month, even in that capacity. But now, I’ve got no one to show the final product.
And it’s not as if I’m going to bore you with endless detail shots of the airplane, or ask you to notice the complexity of the paint scheme and to imagine all the masking I had to do to get all this right, or hope that you’ll care that I loved my dad so much that I spent my precious twenties making tiny little things to show him my devotion and win his approval.
Because that would be ridiculous.