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Pinewood Derby Adventures Come Full Circle with Son's Success
By Matthew D. Keenan


That piece of lumber embodies the hopes, dreams and worldly expectations
of a boy - a boy who believes that his dad is invincible and that any
undertaking uniting father with son cannot possibly fail. Until it does.

By most objective standards, I'm probably not a very good parent. My
failings could fill this entire newspaper and indeed have in previous
columns. I'm tough when I should be forgiving and forgiving when I
should be tough. The red flags for my flaws were apparent many years
ago, when our sons showed their penchant for "drop to the ground" temper
tantrums at obscure places like Christmas Mass.

In contrast, my mom and dad seemed to do most things right. They raised
five kids and never played it safe. They constantly tossed my brothers
and sisters in harm's way. We won some, lost more and learned that life
is not fair and complaining about it does not make it more equitable.
Now in case you think I've become the next Dr. Phil, stick with me for a
moment. I'm getting to my point.

And that point is the Pinewood Derby. That little five-ounce block of
wood is a metaphor for much about parenting - and life. That piece of
lumber embodies the hopes, dreams and worldly expectations of a boy - a
boy who believes that his dad is invincible and that any undertaking
uniting father with son cannot possibly fail. Until it does.

Like me, my dad had three sons, all in Scouts, all needing Pinewood
cars. And like me, my dad had little time and less talent to build
anything. He owned no saws, drills, hammers or even nails. If necessity
is the mother of invention, my dad was Mother Hubbard. He taught me that
steak knives are more useful for carving wood than filets. That a
fishing tackle box contains almost everything you need to achieve the
desired weight of five ounces. That brown carpet can swallow a couple
pounds of graphite without even a hint of stain. And that you can
complete three weeks of work on the night before the weigh-in. His
makeshift approach did nothing to dampen my expectations. We never took
home any trophies or ribbons. But every year we kept trying.

A generation later I have remained largely faithful to that legacy. This
month my fifth-grade son, Robert, raced his last car in his Cub Scout
Pinewood Derby. Between him and his two brothers, our family has made 12
cars over eight years.

In the early years, it was one misadventure after another. And we had
frustration, disappointment and tears. But every year we got better. I
picked up some tips my dad never appreciated, learning that when wheels
rub against the chassis, the odds of your son holding the championship
trophy are long. When his finished car rolls in a semicircle on your
kitchen floor, those odds roughly double. And the digital postal scale
at Hy-Vee is critical to achieving the perfect weight of five ounces.
And when the derby arrived on the last Friday in January, our efforts
came full circle. Among 70 competitors, the final two cars included the
one belonging to a fifth-grader named Keenan. Second place. Meaning his
car will run one more time, in the countywide Pinewood Derby contest.

And when my son's final car runs its final race, we will retire it in
his bedroom, in the same way his brothers have. Each one has my son's
name taped to the underside, assigned at the weigh-in. Each one will
have a story - each one an embodiment of hopes, dreams and expectations.
Some realized, others dashed. Each one symbolizes a special time in
their young lives, when we lived and learned and came to recognize the
value of taking a chance on a block of wood, just like another father
and his sons did 30 years ago.

Copyright 2004, The Kansas City Star
Reprinted by Permission

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 3, Issue 15

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