``Where is my eight-inch crescent wrench?'' More than merely a touch of fatherly frustration crept into my tone. ``Eric borrowed it to work on his bike.'' Younger son put his older, and absent, brother on the spot.
``That was a week ago. I need the wrench now. Where is it?''
I was treated to a shrug. ``Ask Eric. He used it last.''
Naturally, I searched until I located the wrench. It was right where Eric left it. In his toolbox.
Later that evening I enlightened both boys with lecture No. 196 regarding the prompt return of borrowed items and replacement of all items to their proper locations. Both boys rewarded me with nods indicating full understanding.
A few days later it was Sean's turn. ``Dad, where is my skateboard?''
``Well,'' I pretended to give the matter my full attention. ``The last time I used it . . . .''
Aware he could expect no help from his loving father, my younger son began the search. After considerable time and almost as much effort he located the errant board. It was exactly where he left it after using it the last time.
``See,'' I was quick to press home my point, ``if you always return things to their proper locations, they're ready to use next time you need them.''
He nodded, waved, and skated away. So much for lecture No. 197.
As my sons grew older they became interested in and able to use a variety of implements, tools, and other helpful items. I resigned myself to discovering whichever item I needed among the missing. So accustomed was I to this that I automatically called for help when I did not instantly see the item I sought. This often saved me time but did leave me open to the droll humor boys save for their fathers.
``Where is the coping saw?''
``On the tool rack in front of your nose, Dad.''
``Oh, yes. Thanks.'' I pretended I did not hear the snicker.
Or, ``Where is the electrician's tape? I need it right this instant.''
With a great show of patience one of the boys would indicate the tape and remark, ``I think it's here in the drawer where it's usually kept.''
By peering into the drawer I could ignore the smirk.
But my persistence paid off. Gradually we made progress -- after more queries, more lectures, and additional snickers and smirks, the boys learned to be responsible.
Actually my younger son turned into a real stickler about replacing and returning. Only my clipboard remained a long-running problem. Once it left my desk there was no telling where it might turn up. Otherwise, we had smooth sailing with tools, books, clothes, and sports equipment.
Now my sons are adults. Except for occasional lapses, both are really great about returning borrowed items. Most of the time everything finds its way back to its regular niche.
Along the way to this happy state, I discovered a unique solution to borrowed tools. Any tool borrowed more than once goes on the gift list for that son. Come Christmas or birthday, the tool is likely to show up as a present.
The traveling-clipboard problem, however, was never solved. When Eric visits or Sean is home from college, the clipboard somehow has a way of leaving my desk. I suppose I must learn to live with this.
For my own part I have never completely overcome my habit of calling for help when the item I seek is not immediately visible.
Just a few days ago I bellowed, ``Where is my clipboard? It's gone again.''
From the living room came the calm response from one of my sons. ``I think I see it on the coffee table, Pops. Where you left it last night.''
``Oh. Right. Thanks.''
The snicker was deliberately loud enough for me to hear. Thank goodness I couldn't see the smirk I knew had to accompany it.