“I want it to be like a tank,” he said, face alight with eight year-old glee. “And I want to paint it with camo.”
My son, Mini-Me, held a rectangular block of pine in his hands, undoubtedly envisioning his combat-ready pinewood derby racer as it screamed down the track, blasting opponents out of its way.
And somehow I had to figure out how to make that happen.
At first I suggested that perhaps a tank wasn’t the best possible design for something that was, you know, intended to race. “It’ll be big and blocky,” I told him, “and that might slow it down compared to the other race cars.”
“I don’t care,” he replied, demonstrating the kind of resolve I’d like to see in just one elected official these days.
There was no putting him off, a tank it would be. I had to decide, then, how best to turn a block of wood into a heavy assault vehicle, complete with camouflage and a big honking cannon.
Of course, when it comes to design and planning this sort of thing, I’m about as useful as a frightened box turtle in the middle of a busy intersection. And I only hope my building skill with tools will someday be nearly equivalent to the turtle’s. But I’m the Cub Scout Dad. This was my responsibility. No one was going to do it for me.
Don’t think I didn’t consider it. But that would have been cheating.
So I stared at the block. And stared. And scratched my beard. And poured myself a nice pale ale. And stared some more.
Somehow, slowly, light began to burn away the dimness in the soft, grey, atrophied building stuff portion of my brain.
Slice off a wedge here.
Another wedge over here.
Maybe it could work after all. And really, do aerodynamics mean anything when it comes to a 5 oz wooden car? It’s not like the thing had to be able to escape Earth’s gravity or would undergo wind tunnel testing or anything.
And so the lad and I went to work with my drill and my multi-tool. We lopped off chunks here and there, we sanded it to his satisfaction, we mounted the turret, and we added a drinking-straw cannon. I stopped at the local hobby store and bought three tiny, squarish bottles of paint that took me back to my model-building youth. When we cracked them open and Mini-Me started to apply them, the smell had me reminiscing about the A-4 Skyhawk and the F-14 Tomcat that used to hang above my bed from monofilament fishing line.
More importantly, just like that, the impossible block of wood had become a tank.
But the question still lingered: would its complete lack of aerodynamics doom it to failure?
The second heat, though, showed some promise: 2nd place, and a close finish.
In the third heat, on its last chance, our blocky tank crossed the finish line in first place, to cheers and grins (and a great sigh of relief from someone’s old man).
In the end, Mini-Me’s tank didn’t win a den trophy or place in the big pack race. But it was a winning racer, nonetheless, if only in my heart.
My eight year-old knew what he wanted. He dreamed of a wooden tank that raced like a car. When I tried to talk him out of it, to suggest he go for something sleeker or, well, faster-looking, at least, he stuck to his guns and would not be dissuaded.
A tank, he said, with camo.
Lo and behold, by the end of the day, he’d gotten exactly what he wanted.
Perhaps there’s a lesson here for all of us.
Do you know what your dream is? Whatever it is, stick to it, no matter what they tell you.
And, hey, maybe paint it camouflaged, just for good measure.