My name is Travis and I build things sometimes. It’s not my job to build things, I just like to do it occasionally. My job is actually to talk for extended periods of time, so building things is an opportunity to not talk for extended periods of time. Additionally, I am a dad. I have a 2 year old son and a daughter who is not born yet (she wasn’t born when I wrote this but now she is). I am telling you all of these interesting personal facts because I want to tell you a story. It’s a story about building a bed. It’s a story that will teach you how to build a bed. It’s also a story that taught me a lot about being a dad.
It was no ordinary bed. It was my son’s very first bed that didn’t resemble a cage. Parents call it a “big boy” bed but that is just a cute way of saying “normal person” bed or “not a cage” bed. I was very excited about this endeavor, and I wanted this to be the greatest bed that anyone had ever slept on in the entire history of sleep. So I began to plan.
Planning is the most important part of any project. When you spend an adequate amount of time planning you tend to make fewer mistakes and be more prepared. Planning doesn’t eliminate mistakes but it certainly helps you maintain a clearer picture of what you are doing and what you need to do next. I spent a lot of time planning this bed. I read about other people that built beds. I asked questions and I drew a lot of “specs” (that is a word I hear a lot of building shows and I am almost certain it fits this situation). The whole time I was planning I thought about being a dad. I hadn’t ever really planned to be a dad. I always figured eventually it would happen but I could never really picture myself as one. I’m a big guy who never shaves and never feels sorry for people who get injured. Dad’s are almost always the exact opposite of that. However one day I learned that I would be a dad in spite of all my disqualifications. My wife got pregnant after we had been married for a mere 5 months. We did not intend for this to happen… I am simply unstoppable. Needless to say not a lot of planning went into this development so we had to do a lot of planning from that point on to compensate. Most of the planning was based on buying strollers and other boring stuff. However, I also learned that there needed to be a lot of mental planning. I needed to think about what kind of dad I was going to be. I needed to draw a mental picture of what it would look like. I needed a plan that wouldn’t eliminate all my future mistakes but would hold me accountable to what I was supposed to be doing and what I needed to do next. I needed to look at other people’s pictures and ask questions. Planning a bed was a lot like becoming a dad. I knew this was a serious project and it would take serious planning.
Eventually I stopped planning and started working. Just like with being a dad you can’t plan forever, eventually you have to actually do something. So I bought a bunch of wood and cut it up and stuff. I wanted the bed to be strong however I also didn’t want it to be too heavy in case we ever had to move it. I also wanted to be able to move it without having to knock down walls so the bed had to be able to be disassembled and reassembled with ease. Taking all of these things into consideration (as well as my wallet) I decided to use primarily 2×4′s for the head board and foot board. This would allow me to get a little creative when it came to joining all the pieces together.
Using 2×4′s meant I could create a 4×4 by attaching two boards together, but then I could leave spaces where other boards had to attach. This may sound confusing so let me explain what it really did: it made everything interlocking and required zero fancy cutting tools to make that happen. It was basically just a large scale lincoln log design.
The initial build was pretty easy and uneventful. However, the next phase was one I was less comfortable with… the sanding and staining portion. I hate sanding and staining because I am terrified of messing it up. It requires patience and attention to detail and those are things that I am not good at. The whole time I was sanding and staining I thought about being a dad again. I thought about how much being a dad is like sanding and staining… because you have to pay attention and be intentional. I don’t mean pay attention in the sense that you have to watch your kids (you do have to watch your kids though, they will climb on and fall off of most anything) I mean it in the sense that you have to be present. I have this tendency to zone out thus why sanding and staining becomes an issue. I zone out and I make mistakes. If you zone out with kids you quickly start to miss stuff. They change so much and do it so quickly that they are basically different people every day. The thing about sanding and staining is that it’s almost 100% about preparation. The final stain is what everybody sees but the thing that makes that look good is all the preparatory stuff you do before it. If the wood isn’t smooth you get a rough stain. If you don’t go with the grain things look unnatural. If you try to go too fast it shows. If you go too slow that shows up too. You have to be present and intentional at all times. The same happens with your kids. You have to be present as a dad because you have a job to do and that’s to prepare that kid to be a grown-up. When he’s a grown-up people will expect things of him and they’ll be watching to see how he does. He’ll have a lot of pressure and his ability to do the stuff he needs to do hinges on how well you did preparing him. If you weren’t around… that will show. If you were always rushed and too busy… that will show. If you were slow to love… that will show. If you were quick to anger… that will show. Sanding and staining takes a lot of focus, a lot of care and a lot of intentionality and so does being a dad. You have to maximize every second and see every little moment as an opportunity to invest in not only who your kid is… but who he will be.
Thankfully I made it through the sanding and staining phase without too much stress. All that was left was the final assembly. This is simultaneously the most exciting part and the most nerve racking. You are so glad to be done but at the same time you are being faced with all of your mistakes. Every time you measured incorrectly or cut a corner comes back to haunt you in the end. I had several places where bolts didn’t quite line up with their holes or things weren’t exactly square. At one point I got really frustrated but then I realized I only had two options… quit or make it work.
It’s funny, in the end I think the greatest lesson I learned about being a dad is that I won’t always be a good one. I will make mistakes. There will be times when things don’t completely line up. I’ll miss my mark sometimes but the real measure of a dad is which way you go when you do make a mistake. Will I quit? Will I grow callused and throw in the towel? Or will I fight on? Will I make it work because I love my son and he is worth it? I think a big piece in preparing my son to be the best man he can be is modeling what to do when you mess up, because I have… and he will. It’s about accepting your mistakes, remembering what you are supposed to be doing and being intentional about getting back on track. That bed has to get finished and this race has to be run… there’s no quitting life.
Building my son his first bed was one of the best experiences of my life. I will always cherish those long nights on my sun porch cutting, sanding and staining. I will always remember those little life lessons that God taught me when I was not talking. Most of all I will always be proud that I could give my son something but more importantly I am thankful that it had a greater purpose. It made me a better dad and one day that will make him a better man.
*If you’d like a step-by step guide to how I built the bed and what materials were used I’d be happy to share all that with you. Just email me at email@example.com. I am not a bed expert… but I can assure you it is still standing and making all of my son’s dreams come true.
Travis Whalen is a good friend of the four administrators here at TTAF. He also may or may not be a Viking. Travis used to live in Central Kentucky where he was the premier BB gun safari expedition leader in the area. He can drink a two liter of soda faster than any man alive. His legends rival those of Aesop himself. A few years ago Travis left all of this fame and fortune behind, packed up his wife, son, and earthly possessions, and set out for Oregon Cincinnati at a grueling pace in a Conestoga wagon. Travis is there to this day with his two (one was born on the wagon) children and wife and he works as a pastor at Eastside Christian Church.