Imagination Station: The House My Father Built

Photo by Kerri Liss

Photo by Kerri Liss

By Kerri Liss

Cradled in “The Loft,” I'd dream, write, play, and think about how I ended up in the highest elevation of my house. It’s a 20-square foot rectangular space under the roof of the house my father built in the 1980s. It is in my bedroom and is accessible by the sturdiest ladder I've ever seen. My father was never a fan of climbing ladders, so he made this one with extra solidity.

You climb up the ladder and crawl into The Loft, which still to this day contains pillows, stuffed animals, and some old drawings hung up like a miniature art gallery. One façade features oak railings, with spaces wide enough to feel open, but placed close enough to trust when you rest against them. The left façade is thick plywood, with hearts and teddy bears carved into it for a fun, decorative appeal, but also to let light in and to look out of like a princess in her turret. In the center of the plywood is a large, handcrafted heart with an arrow through it, etched by my father. That was my favorite part of The Loft because it wasn't a cookie-cutter carving, but rather one specifically dreamt up, planned, and delicately made just for me. I imagine that if one carving got messed up, my father would have started over to ensure any mistakes were invisible. This was for his little girl and even if I was the only one to ever look at it, he was going to make it the best he could.

But I wasn't the only one to see it. My friends loved The Loft and it was always our preferred place to play Barbies, tell stories, have sleepovers, and spy on those down below or outside in the backyard. Because not only did I have a loft, but I had a balcony too. And from The Loft you can peer through the hearts and the sliding glass doors to the balcony and then out into the woods in the backyard. The balcony was fun to show to friends, but its true value lay in the nights when I used to go out to stargaze or camp out and anticipate the solar eclipse. I had an astronomy journal and would write about what I saw. I now know I was really contemplating God's great love with awe and wonder of all good things much, much bigger than me.

I used to do my homework alone in my "office," which was a small sectioned off part of my bedroom where my desk was located. I had quiet time here. This is where I would write my essays, study Spanish, painstakingly work through physics, and eventually apply to college. All of this was done after cross country practice or karate, sometimes both. I remember getting my first bed that wasn't even a twin. It could barely fit in my bedroom, but, oh, how I really felt like a princess again.

Although I would work alone, I never felt that way because I always noticed what everyone was up to in the house. The floors to my bedroom are wooden, with little to no insulation, so I could hear every time someone walked into the pantry below to grab a snack, or when my father would turn on baseball talk radio in the bathroom, or when my mom started the laundry. Through the vents I could even hear down into the basement. The clanking of weights meant someone was working out in the gym. Live drums signaled my brother was in his element. And I could work in peace knowing everyone was happy.

My father gave me permission to paint my room however I pleased. I picked the brightest orange on the Electro-magnetic spectrum. He was less than thrilled, but allowed me to have the pleasure of decorating it myself. I had a vision and he allowed me to see it through to reality. How I laugh every time I come home to the country-style decor and walk upstairs only to find a blinding room of illuminating rays that shouldn't be allowed inside.

Around the corner of my bedroom is an open hallway, at the corner of which lay a space I'll call, "The Perch." The Perch is an overlooking area, sectioned by more oak railings, which you can lean over and look out into the dining room. This is the where my father comes out of the master bedroom in the morning and observes my mother and me having coffee and asks what we are whispering about. The Perch reveals any attempted secret, taking “open concept” to a whole new level.

Adjacent to The Perch is an area that used to be a catwalk, but has since turned into another bathroom. It seems some part of the house was always under construction. This bathroom was one that my brother and I mainly would share. We had a ritual of washing our faces and brushing our teeth at the same time while making up songs or telling funny stories before bed. This happened pretty much until I moved out. We'd make strange faces while grooming ourselves and sometimes still do if we're both home for a holiday, just for old times’ sake. My self-image was often healthiest here, but my vanity would also participate.

The front porch, with the boulders that my father had specifically selected and bulldozed out from the yard, is another noteworthy facet of the house. It is an extension of the foundation upon which sits The Loft, The Perch, and everything in between. Its boulders are a stronghold; not only do they balance the entrance way symmetrically as if to hug the guest inside, but they integrate nature and structure in a way that makes a statement. I remember playing on these rocks like Pocahontas, leaping from one to another and jumping off at the end, as if I could fly.

It wasn't until recently that my father shared with us some personal insight into his vocation as a carpenter. He said if being a carpenter was good enough for Jesus, then it was good enough for him, and he doesn’t exactly sit in the front pew. Another time at dinner, he said that he is thankful that he can do what he loves (building things) and in doing so, make others happy.

I can only wonder what it truly is like to give your all for a child—to physically and figuratively build your life around them so they can have the very best and pour out your life so that someone else has the opportunity to have an even greater life. But I do know that if my father can build a house so intricately, then my heavenly father has surely prepared a place for each of us, with even more hiding places, lofts, balconies, lookouts, rooms, and heart carvings than we can imagine.

As I walk down the stairs, hand on the banister, to the open space capped with wooden beams, I observe my father opening the bird cage before he knows I’m there. I smile at the site of a grown man finding such joy as the little bird cradles itself into the palm of his strong, blistered hand.

For more essays, check out our full archive