Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Boomerang, My Father, and Me

When I was 11 or 12, my father and I embarked on a project to build a boomerang.

I’m not sure why we did this thing. Perhaps Dad just wanted us to share an experience. Perhaps it was to try to have a “project” going when his father came to visit. (Grandma had died and Grandpa had stopped his woodcarving hobby after her death; perhaps Dad was trying to rekindle that interest.) Whatever the reason, I was thrilled.

I loved spending time with my dad. He worked what seemed to me a lot of hours. He traveled quite a bit, and he was on the high council in our stake and advised a different ward from ours so he was almost never in church with us. So the chance to build a boomerang was way cool.

My first boomerang had been a gift from Dad, brought back from a business trip to Australia (and looked a lot like the one in this photo). I’d never tried to throw it, just because it was cool. (And heavy. I was surprised how heavy it was. It was probably about two feet long, and my scrawny 10-year old frame was not up to throwing it.) The plan was we’d build one we could throw together.

We headed off to the Carnegie Library in Oakland, east of downtown Pittsburgh, next to the Carnegie Museum and near the University of Pittsburgh. I was pretty much in awe that Dad knew how to find plans for a boomerang in the magazines in the library and photocopy them for our use. (No internet then, of course; that “trip” would be accomplished with a few mouse clicks today.)

Armed with our plan we headed to the lumber yard in Coraopolis, down the hill from our home, to buy the wood – pine – and glue.

Like all projects Dad did, this would be a test of patience. This was not a one-day event. There would be gluing, clamping, cutting, sanding, filing. We created a three-layer laminated piece of wood from which we cut the basic shape, and then had to file the “wings” properly so it would spin and return to us.

In reality, I have no idea how much of the project Dad let me do. Some of it, to be sure. And I don’t remember how many weeks of Saturdays we worked on it, but I’m sure it was quite a few.

I remember the day we finally took it out of the vice on Dad’s old workbench at the back of the garage and he suggested we go give it a try. We walked the quarter mile up our road to the local elementary school. We stood on a hill above the playground and he let me have the first throw. I had no idea what I was doing and I tried throwing it like a Frisbee. It sank like a stone to the playground below, and I ran and retrieved it.

Dad took the next turn. He held it high above his head, holding it like a torch in his hand. He heaved it forward with a grunt and I watch in awe as it leveled out and spun through the air, first away from us and then returning, just the way it was designed to do.

Dad was awesome. I was amazed. We had done it.

Dad was pretty pleased, too. I have no idea if he wondered whether it would work, but he never expressed any doubt that it would.

Since we were on top of the hill, I scampered down to retrieve the returned boomerang and brought it back to my dad. “Throw it again!”

He obliged. He held it up like a torch and heaved it forward. This time, though, it spun forward, end over end, spinning straight into the ground of the playground below with a loud crack. One end stuck in the ground and the other snapped off. In one shot, the boomerang was in two useless pieces.

Dad walked slowly down the hill, sighed, and pulled the wedge of wood out of the ground. We walked home quietly. We didn’t talk about what happened. I didn’t fuss about not getting a chance to throw again. He didn’t fuss about weeks of work broken in one poor throw. We simply carried the pieces home and returned to our lives.

But that memory still lives on with me over four decades later.

Thanks, Dad. And happy Father’s Day.


  1. That's a good story. Thanks, Paul.

  2. Nice story! I love making things with my dad.

  3. I never knew that the boomerang had a successful flight - thanks for sharing that part of the story!