In Focus 

As with many other segments of life, when it comes to home improvement, my dad's got mad skills. I was reminded of this for probably the 1,001st time recently, helping (okay, mostly watching) him install two new exterior doors on my house. I don't mean that he hung new slab doors in old frames. Rather, he cut out the old frames and doors, put up the new, prehung doors, and built around them to make the whole thing be sound and look good.

The doors we took out were original to the house. The front entryway was composed of an ornamental iron storm door and a thick wood slab door. The lockset on the storm door was temperamental, at best, and we didn't even have a key for the slab door. Also, since the storm door was over half a century old (just after fire and the wheel were invented, I think), it predated true energy-efficient design.

Our side door had the same kind of iron storm door, but the slab door was hollow, clearly a repurposed interior door. If the front door lock bellyached at the touch of a key, the side lock was downright intractable. And, with a glass panel that never really stayed in place, the side entryway made sure we were never truly removed from the elements. We were a little cave family, grunting at seasonal extremes.

When my wife and I mentioned replacing both doors to my dad, he was delighted to help. Generally, there are four classes of projects that my dad jumps for:

#1: It will save money in the long run.

#2: I can't do it on my own.

#3: It will require no small measure of skill on his part to get the job done right.

#4: It will mean he gets to play with some of his home-improvement toys.

The doors project satisfied all four classes: We'll make up the cost on our electric bill over time, there was no way I could take on this project alone, it was satisfactorily difficult and complex, and my father got to break out all manner of drill bits, saws, and nail and brad guns. Oh, and the bubble; must never forget the bubble.

Each door took a full Saturday of work to install. The highlight for me, I must admit, wasn't when the job was done and the new doors were functional. It was the dozen or so moments leading up, when there was nothing for me to do and I got to just sit there and watch my dad work. (If my dad can do something alone, he will. If he needs help, he'll ask for it. If he doesn't, he'll decline offers.) With the sounds of college football emanating from a nearby TV, I got some serious nostalgia. I was 14 again, and I mean that in the best possible way.

And how does the house look now that the job's done? Let me say, ignore those people who say that you can't judge a book by its cover. Our new doors look great, and the house looks better than ever. By all means, judge our family based on my dad's handiwork.

On an unrelated, but related, note: Read the instructions before you use canned insulating foam. When they say to only fill gaps halfway, because the stuff expands, they mean it. On the bright side, it cleans up with acetate. ■

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