Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

It’s Dad to the rescue

June 12, 2014

I think fathers deserve an honorary degree in engineering. At elementary and middle-school “graduation” ceremonies, they would get right in line with the girls in their pretty dresses and the boys in their too-big pants and neckties, and walk up on stage to shake hands with the principal. Because even though the students are proud of their science and math grades, all the moms in the audience know who really did the heavy lifting.

We have the proof stored in the basement somewhere – all the projects assigned to students but, let’s not delude ourselves here, built by fathers. Our two “earthquake houses” are gathering dust in my basement, proof all it really takes to get a B-plus is a $50 trip to Home Depot and a father willing to give up a weekend to help.

OK, not help with it. Do it.

My father deserves an honorary doctorate. Over the years, he completed all manner of school projects, bending over his basement workbench to hammer, saw and glue together whatever scraps he could find to bring some teacher’s wildest mandate to life.

Exhibit 1: In sixth grade, I had to do a scrapbook about Colombia, the South American country. Not content with your normal cardboard cover, I imposed upon my dad to come up with something better. He found a square carpet sample, drilled holes in the sides and bound it with three rings. Voila! Mine was the only scrapbook with a red berber cover.

Exhibit 2 (this one is legendary in the family): In third grade, I came home insisting I had to take an abacus to school the next day.

“Where does someone get an abacus in one night?” asked my incredulous parents.

“I don’t know, but I will be in trouble if I don’t have one,” I said.

And so, my sainted father descended the stairs to his workshop and, with the radio hockey broadcast keeping him company, built an abacus. It was a block of wood with five coat hangers bent into loops, each of which had ten plastic beads from a toy necklace. It was genius.

Exhibit 3: My niece’s elementary school class was learning about aerodynamics and gravity this spring; they had to build little go-carts. Good ol’ Poppy went to his workbench and came up with a spiffy roadster made of a cardboard box, a set of old headphones for wheels and a magnet. Poppy and his granddaughter spiffed it up with some paint and stickers and, as with the abacus and the scrapbook, aced the project.

So here’s to Dear Old Dad, a musician and teacher by profession, but through the years, by necessity, also a master tinkerer, carpenter and inventor. After all these years, he’s still got it – not just the cleverness to take on a silly school project, but also the willingness and energy to do it.

Even if he knows the request is nonsense. The abacus? I was the only student who took an abacus to school the next day. I imagined or just plain made up the thing about every student having to bring one to school. My dad’s a smart man: He knew I didn’t need an abacus, but he made one anyway. It was awesome, and so is he.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



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