My father-in-law is a great man. Today his greatness manifests itself in acts such as reading with the children; watching Hannah Montana marathons without complaint while taking care of the kids; giving my wife a little sanity time each week to go child-free shopping with her mother; and myriad other great feats of small kindness.
Once upon a time his greatness shone in the working of a great miracle of deception. An engineer by trade and a union member, my father-in-law found himself a reluctant party to a strike. He decided to make use of his forced free time by embarking on a home improvement project, finishing his basement.
My wife and brother-in-law, children of the 70’s, had glorious visions of a gray-wood-paneled shag-carpeted wonderland dancing in their heads. He began the project in earnest. This would be his masterpiece; no detail too small to warrant obsession with every measurement made and made again; wvery joint cut with surgical precision; every duct and pipe boxed out with special hidden trap doors for future access. This basement—this opus—would be perfect. Then the strike ended. The basement remains his great unfinished composition.
To this day my wife and brother-in-law pine for the hang-out-pad that would never be; my mother-in-law for the “extra space” that filled her dreams. Thirty years on, when they speak of the unfulfilled promise of the basement, there is no bitterness or recrimination. The story remains a hopeful one. They tell of the dreams they had, of the visions they had for it, and of the perfection of what would have been. The half-finished basement seems less a reality than does their dreams of it. This testifies to my father-in-law’s great achievement, a magnum opus of the incomplete.
This reminds me of the coverage of Obama’s indefinite indecision on Afghanistan. What to an outsider might seem like dereliction of duty, to his supporters, it’s the laudable pursuit of perfection. NBC’s Chip Reid gushes, ‘that the President is so thoroughly researching such a critical decision is a good thing.’
Obama’s ability to keep his supporters rosy glasses firmly attached in the face of disappointment is admittedly impressive, yet it pales in comparison to the greatness of my father-in-law. Let’s see if they are still singing Obama’s praises after thirty years without shag carpet.