Today’s post comes to us from Crystal Bay.
My youngest child, Steve, is a 45 year- old single father now. Two years ago, his then wife broke his heart by divorcing him. They’d just finished building their “forever home” which he’d been designing for years. My thoughts about why this 13-year relationship deteriorated to the point of no return are that he put in 80-hour weeks working, partly on his four businesses and partly on building this masterpiece of a home. He’d come home and just collapse in exhaustion night after night. It may also have been compromised because of her career as one of Minnesota’s finest actresses in small theater and the Guthrie. Acting was always her greatest passion in life. She wasn’t even sure that she’d want to add motherhood to this lifestyle. At 41, she agreed to have a baby, and another one at 44.
The thing about relationships is that they, too, need to be tended to and worked on. He more or less, in his zeal to create the perfect home for his family, put too much energy and time into it and too little into their relationship. Any relationship can slowly die through neglect, and by the time she finally admitted her unhappiness, it turned out to be too late.
The first year without her was devastating for Steve. At the time, they had a brand new baby girl and a 3-year old son. He’d yearned to be a daddy for years, and finally was. The custody arrangement is 50/50, every other week end and 2-3 nights a week. He loves Charlie and Leo so much that to this day, he weeps at night when they’re not with him. I personally have never seen a more loving, involved, and devoted father in my life.
He designed this home around making it an adventure for his kids. Wall panels, when pushed, open up to tunnels and secret spaces behind the walls. Under both staircases, there are hideaways, some with little ladders going up to the second floor with more hidden spaces. A large book shelf is a hidden door to a kid-sized space, too.
In the second-floor master bedroom, he had a door installed just for a rope swing bridge out to an elaborate tree house. In the backyard, he installed a 100-foot zip line. His large sun porch has a high brick fireplace. On the second floor, behind the back side of the fireplace, he built four small bunk beds for sleepovers. These, too, can only be accessed through hidden doors.
The most special project of all, however, is a 25-foot long spiral slide which goes from the first level down to the lower level. He even put LED lights in it so that the darkness wouldn’t scare the kids. They come shooting out the bottom of it at fairly high speed. Many an adult has accepted a dare to try this slide, but usually after having a few drinks first! It really is scary.
Steve, having only been in this home for a few weeks before he and his wife began living apart, wanted badly to sell it. There were no positive family memories in the new walls and it was far too large for just one guy. For months, just being in it alone created heartbreak. He even spent a few months mostly living in a close friend’s cramped apartment to avoid the painful feelings of being in the family dream home he’d built. None of us wanted him to sell.
Over time, friends and family began to fill the walls with posit
ive, joyful energy. He’s hosted every family gathering in almost two years, and we’ve established a tradition of everyone being involved in making meals together. The kitchen’s so large that a dozen of us can have plenty of room to prepare our own part of the meal. Even the little kids contribute by mixing things or cutting up veggies. Last fall, after being asked by a neighbor if he’d have the annual neighborhood party, the home was filled with 70 people and had room to spare. Inch by inch, month by month, this is truly becoming Steve’s home. When asked if he still plans to sell it, he always says,” I don’t know – we’ll see”. My hopes that he’ll stay increase with every new project he does for his little ones. He just got a black lab p
uppy, so that’s also encouraging. No one more deserves to occupy this grand home than the man who built it.
Note: The Strib was doing a feature about homes which included fun spaces for kids and asked if they could take some photos and do an interview for their Home section. We were all kind of surprised that his creations took up the entire front and back pages. His now 6-year old Leo is standing in the slide’s opening and Steve’s the one at the bottom of it. Another photo captures the clan in the potluck line after preparing our meal together.
How have the walls of your home helped you through life?