My daughter had confidence enough for both of us

My task was to build a bunk bed for my daughter's dolls. I knew next to nothing about woodworking, but to her, I was an expert.

Linda Bleck

My 8-year-old daughter was dumpster-diving at our neighbors’ house, again. It’s a skill she learned from her teenage brother, who frequently made off with boards discarded from the house renovation next door. This “dumpster” was no more than a giant green bag made of heavy-duty woven material and provided by a waste management company. The 4-by-8-by-3-foot item came complete with straps, so it could be hoisted onto a truck. The yellow straps looked like ribbons atop a flat parcel, and my kids delighted in extricating treasures from this great green gift in our neighbors’ front yard.

My teenage son had designs on a backyard ski ramp. My daughter, following his lead, dug through the detritus until she found something she needed. If you found a sheet of 1-inch plastic foam, wouldn’t you immediately think, “American Girl doll bunk bed”?

My daughter met me in our garage with her treasure, proudly announcing that she’d found mattresses for her dolls’ bunk bed. 

She was, I knew, referring to the store-bought doll bunk bed that broke two years ago. It had sat in our attic, along with my promise to fix it. But after not hearing any further word about it – that it was missed or must be fixed – I’d quietly taken it to the dump one Saturday a year ago. I confessed this sad news to my daughter.

Undiminished, she looked at me with expectation. “That’s OK, Dad,” she said. “You can make one.” 

She knew I owned a circular saw and was now, I thought, looking to me to turn a sheet of  plastic foam into a bunk bed. Before assuming that she was truly asking for the impossible, I tried to clarify her aims, as any backpedaling parent might.

“Sure,” I suggested. “Let’s cut out two to size. We’ll lay these mattresses on the floor of your bedroom, and your dolls can have a sleepover!”

She was having none of that.

“No, I mean a bunk bed, where one doll sleeps on top of the other one. Just like the one I used to have.” 

Trying to picture how to stick bedposts on a piece of plastic foam, I asked, “Does this need to last more than a couple of days?” 

“It needs to last forever!” she said.

Despite the pressure of that extremely high standard, an idea slowly began forming as to how it might be possible. It seemed to me that someone could fashion a simple wooden bunk bed frame to hold two plastic foam mattresses. I figured that someone was me. 

We set to work. I told her what it would look like. She approved and helped me mark pieces of wood to cut. Within an hour we had a wobbly bunk bed frame (with mattresses) screwed together with big, gray drywall screws. I know next to nothing about woodworking, but I do know that proper furniture usually has drilled holes and dowels, dovetail or box joints, or some other kind of unobtrusive joints that I don’t know how to make. But that’s OK, because that’s not what she ordered. Besides, why try to build a doll bed that would only impress another parent? 

The bunk bed took an hour to build. My daughter loved it. And though it was so unsteady that it required me to carry it to her bedroom and would lean in a strong wind, it was solid enough.

The bed not only served her well, but it also allowed me to pretend that I was far more handy than I am.

You see, my daughter didn’t know that I know so little about making things. I didn’t have much experience with this growing up. I never saw my dad use any tool other than a screwdriver, so this flimsy doll bunk bed, with its plastic foam mattresses held in place with finish nails, was one of my finer woodworking accomplishments.

A couple of years later, when that doll bunk bed broke, she confidently said to her mom, “It’s OK. Dad can fix it. He has tools. He can fix anything.” 

Her mom and I looked at each other and smiled. My wife was surely recalling the pot rack I’d made years before – also using drywall screws. But she agreed with our daughter.

I’m happy to perpetuate the idea that with the right tools, dads can make anything. And though it may not last forever, at least it will last long enough.  

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