Dad and Home Improvement

Americans spend millions of dollars a year on home improvement projects — partly because they add value to a home, and partly because they appeal to the "do-it-yourself" instinct in many of us. Commentator Laura Lorson likes do-it-yourself projects because they remind her of the connection between family and home.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You only have to go as far as your cable TV or the local strip mall to see that home renovation is a popular American pastime. There are entire channels and gigantic stores devoted to the art and the science of home improvement.

Commentator Laura Lorson watches these shows avidly because when she was a child, her family ascribed to the adage: the family that hangs drywall together stays together. And when she gets in trouble, she knows that help is just a phone call away.

LAURA LORSON: I called my dad the other day, which is always kind of a crapshoot because he, unlike my mother, is a minimalist on the phone. He invariably asks me the same three questions: how's the car doing, how's the weather out there in Kansas, and did you have anything good to eat today. And once I answer with fine, fine, no, that's pretty much it.

So, I always take it as a happy excuse to call dad whenever I have some kind of tangible concrete problem. And in this case, it involved a home-improvement project that was going south in a hurry - I was coated in dust and paint and it was kind of upset, and I suddenly have this rush of homesickness and a fierce desire to talk to my father.

I got a hold of him and I said, Dad, I'm trying to paint a room that has semi-gloss paint on the walls. Do I need to sand and prime if I want to put latex eggshell up there?

Now, this is just the kind of things he lives for. My parents are die-hard do-it-yourselfers - making curtains, patching plaster, laying tile. Dad always believed that home improvement was the root to family improvement, and my youth was therefore an unending stream of familial wallpapering, patching, sanding and rewiring.

If we would ever get one of those family crests, I'm fairly certain the motto would be: It's always worth it to go ahead and pay for good paint. At any rate, he was all over my little renovation meltdown. Yes, I needed to sand. Yes, I needed to prime. And was I buying good paint? You know, remember that the paint always look darker than it did in the store, and be sure to put down the drop cloth and rags. Do you have enough rags? Make sure you keep a wet one handy.

I instantly felt better. I could see his hand over mine, showing me how to paint with a roller. He used the method where you paint a big W on the wall first then fill it in.

I could see him teaching me how to do the woodwork. Don't get too much paint on the brush and go in in an angle. The panic I had felt when nothing was going right faded under the sound of his pleasant, Southern voice.

Of course, you can do this, honey. You just have to know how. We've done this before. Everything's going to be just fine. I realized that these are words everyone needs to hear about anything and everything - not just home improvement projects.

He was right all those years ago, when we worked as a family to make things better in our home. He used those projects as an excuse to tell his daughters again and again, that, of course they could do this, that they were capable and smart and skilled. And it occurred to me, standing in this catastrophe of a room, listening to my dad on the phone, that sometimes, the dining room really does need a fresh coat of paint, and sometimes, what you really need is an excuse to hear your father tell you that everything's going to be just fine.

NORRIS: Laura Lorson is thinking about adding a screen porch to her house in Perry Kansas. Good luck with that.

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