When I was a little boy I was in the Boy Scouts. For most the Boy Scouts is a patriarchal activity. Fathers hang out with their sons and help them complete some of the harder tasks in order to win their merit badges. While my father was a Forest Ranger, and frankly spent the majority of his days surrounded by, if not participating in, activities that would have easily garnered me merit badge after merit badge, he was not available to me. He worked incredibly long hours, was called out on searches or fires over night; he was absent. And so, it was my mother who played Den Mother, my mother who (learned after some rigorous trial and error) and taught me knots, and my mother who took me to Boy Scout events.
The most exciting moment of Boy Scouts, for the majority of the participants in my home town, was the pine box derby car race. Each little boy was to design and build a pine box derby car and then compete on the pine box drag strip.
I was so very excited. I came home and asked my Dad if he would help. He said that he would allow me to use his workbench, with table vise and chisels to finish my project. I was elated. My father was going to help me with a project. But I would prove to be wrong in that determination.
My mom and I went to the library, pouring through books on drag racing and the designs of different racing cars. Frankly, ours was a family of military history and gun enthusiasts, or at least my father was, and we had little time set aside for fast cars. After some sleuthing and drooling I found a design that I wanted to re-create and I brought it home to my father.
He showed me where his chisels were, how to tighten his table vise and then released upon me all of the teaching that he intended to grant me on the project. "Cut away from you and take off only a little bit at a time. You can always take off more, but you can't put it back on once it's gone."
That was it?! I toiled away for days trying to create my car design and finally finished it the day before the Derby. My mother took me to the event and I fell witness to a slew of designs that were clearly exercised by my fellow Boy Scouts fathers. I was crushed, and I soon left the Boy Scouts afterwords. At the time, I thought to myself that my Dad was absent, that I hadn't learned anything from him at all, that he didn't care, but I was wrong about this too.
Yesterday as I was sitting in class, a student came up to my desk and asked me to help him with his cross hatching. As I looked at his mark making, I found myself saying, "Alex, go slow, be methodical, you can always add more more marks to your hatching but you cannot take them away once they are there." It dawned on me, that I so very often think of my Dad's words, when carving, you cannot add anything back in, and when hatching you cannot take it out.
So, go slow in life, cut away from you, and you can't add back to what you've already taken away.