"Mark, do you want to go to the hardware store with me?" asked Ray, my future father-in-law. "I have a couple of saws that need to be sharpened."
"Sure," I agreed, getting up from the couch where I was watching a ballgame while my fiancée and her mom were shopping. I tried to sound pleased by Ray's invitation, but it wasn't easy. The man scared me a little. He never talked much, and the few conversations we'd had since I'd started dating his daughter had been brief and superficial.
But maybe it was a good idea to try and change the somewhat strained air between the two of us. After all, in a few weeks Ray would be my official father-in-law for the rest of our lives. Going on this errand with him was an opportunity to get to know him better.
But another part of me wondered if that was really going to happen. Ray was one of the quietest people I'd ever met. What would we talk about as we drove to the hardware store? Probably nothing, I surmised as I climbed into the cab of his truck. Just about the only thing the two of us seemed to have in common was that we both loved his daughter.
As I'd guessed, silence filled the truck as Ray drove toward his favorite hardware store a few towns away. I was reaching for the radio knob so we could listen to the rest of the ballgame when Ray surprised me by speaking.
"You know, Mark, I've been thinking."
My hand dropped away from the radio. "Yes, sir?"
"I've been thinking that marriage is a lot like a house."
Glancing over at him, I saw a thoughtful expression on Ray's weathered features.
"Oh?" I asked, not having a clue as to where he was going with this train of thought.
"You buy a house and before you actually move in you think you've got it made," he said. "You think that maybe you'll have to paint a few walls, plant a couple of trees, and maybe change a furnace filter or two, and you'll be done. But then you're living there for a while and you realize that your journey as a homeowner has just begun. The list of things you need to do is longer than your arm and it never, ever ends. So you start buying tools for all the projects you need to do and pretty soon you've got a garage full of them, but that's OK because you use each and every one of them."
"How is that like a marriage?" I finally asked when he didn't continue.
Tapping the steering wheel with his fingers, Ray spoke. "The way I see it, a person generally enters marriage thinking that's all he needs to do – just get married, and life is one big picnic for then on. People tend to think that the wedding is the big deal and don't give a whole lot of thought to what happens afterward.
"But that isn't how it works, Mark," he continued. "A marriage needs its own set of tools, just like that house you and my daughter will get someday is going to need tools."
"What kind of tools?" I asked.
"Nothing you can buy at the hardware store, that's for sure," he said. "I guess patience, consideration, kindness, and – most of all – love are the basics. If you have those in your toolbox, you can build – or repair – anything."
When we reached the hardware store, Ray and I waited in a newly companionable silence for the saws to be sharpened. When the clerk finished, Ray handed one of the saws to me. "Here," he said, "the first tool to hang in your garage someday."
I accepted the saw, knowing I'd just been gifted with more than a tool. Ray had given me a good dose of wisdom learned from years and years of his own marriage, wisdom I'd be able to use when I married his daughter.
I still have that saw. It's seen me through many home-improvement projects and has also served as a good reminder of what my not-so-quiet father-in-law once told me: With the right tools, the sky is truly the limit.