Character is What You Make With It

Uncategorized Nov 06, 2018

Yesterday was my father's birthday.  Richard Nash Mosher.  He passed away 14 years ago on Christmas Day. 

My fondest and most frustrating memory of my Dad is around Pinewood Derbies.  Cub Scouts used to shape cars out of a block of wood and then race them down a track on the Pinewood Derby Night.  Each Cub Scout was given a block of wood, four plastic tires and precise specifications for car weight.  There were two types of prizes on Derby Night:  Fastest Car and Best in Show.

Cub Scouts typically age between 7 and 10.  As a new Cub Scout, I remember receiving that block of wood and tires … and telling my Dad I didn't care much about winning the race, but I wanted to win Best in Show.  Goal set.  My Dad and I set to work.

What I know now is my Dad was kind of a frustrated engineer.  He was a credit manager at a large department store, but his knack for engineering and fixing stuff was extraordinary.  To this day, I envy his skills.

But as a 7 year old, I wasn't aware of my Dad's skills or desires.  I just knew he was demanding with a capital D!   His standards for excellence were oh-so high.  Much higher than my 7-year old skills.  You see where this story is going, right?

My Dad began with Stage 1:  Design.  "Son, what do you want your car to look like?"  We sketched design drawings.  I would talk.  He would sketch.  Refining and refining and refining.  WHEN would we start cutting?  Let's GO!  Impatience set in. 

Stage 2:  Cutting.  I remember distinctly drawing cut lines on the block of wood.  Dad would show me how to use the tools and supervise my work.  He was a FANTASTIC coach!  The big cuts were great…. nerve-wracking because one wrong cut and it's all over.  And because I was going to win Best in Show, my cars were sleek and low-slung!  Don't cut too deep or the block of wood cracks!

With cutting complete, we moved to Stage 3:  Sanding.  This is where everything fell apart!  You see, this 7-year old just didn't have the patience for what seemed like HOURS and HOURS of sanding.  To complete the project, my Dad would hound me to get into the basement and sand – taking away VALUABLE after-dinner playtime.  Frustration mounted.   I burst and pouted at my Dad, "Is this YOUR car or MY car?"  He looked at me and handed me the sandpaper.

As Derby Night crept closer, the project just wasn't getting done.  Sending an unfinished car down the track was certainly a possibility for me, but NOT for Dad.  One day, I went downstairs and found that he had done some sanding on my car.  Instead of expressing gratitude, I burst into tears and pouted at my Dad again, "Is this YOUR car or MY car?"  He couldn't win either way!  (As a father I now know all too well the pickle I put him in!!!).

With the car cut and sanded, we kicked into the last stage:  Painting and Finishing.  We painted that car.  Shellacked it.  Applied decals.  We carved a weight slot on the bottom of the car so we could screw in just enough metal weights right up to the weight limit.  Best In Show may as well run FAST too, right? 

With the car complete, Derby night arrived.  I see the other boys' cars.  Nice, but they look NOTHING like my cool car.  Races begin.  My car fares well in the races but doesn't take 1st 2nd or 3rd.  No sweat.  Then comes Best in Show.  Judges peruse the cars with their scoresheets.  Finally, they announce the third place winner.  Not mine.  They announce the second place winner.  Not mine.  I start sweating.  What if they KNOW that Dad sanded part of the car.  Maybe they disqualified me.  OH NO!  They KNOW!!  First place….and I WIN!!   My car WINS!!

Yes, all of a sudden it's 100% my car!  I'm so proud. 

But I didn’t' thank my Dad…..until 30 years later.

In the two years that followed, I came in second and first in Best in Show with my two other Pinewood Derby entries.  My Dad and I were a Best In Show Pinewood Derby machine! 

I remember those Pinewood Derby days as incredibly formative.  I can't adequately express the depth of those lessons.  I learned what it takes to finish a high quality project.  I learned the effort it takes to achieve a goal.  I learned how to dream big and WORK for it.  But most importantly, I learned about CHARACTER.  My Character.  My Dad wasn't my friend.  He shaped a boy into a young man into a successful professional.  I am the man I am today because of him.  And I am eternally grateful for that.

30 years later, I pulled those three Pinewood Derbies out of a Save box.  I blew off the dust and tears welled up.  Gratitude overflowed as I appreciated Dad's gift to me.   So I wrote him a letter.  I told him how much I appreciated what he taught me as we built those Pinewood Derbies.  I cried as I wrote.  What a great Dad he was!

I sent the letter and never heard anything about it.  That was my Dad's way.  After he passed and we were going through his things, I found the letter.  It was stashed neatly in the night stand by his bed.  I couldn't hold back the tears as I can't now as I write this.  My Dad was not a man of many words or outward emotions, but he felt deeply.

Thank you Dad, for giving me the greatest gift a father can give a son, Character.

I pray I continue to earn your respect as I wear our family name proudly!


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