Dad, Archery, the Shop, and Me

This essay is intended to document some parts of the strong and complex role that archery and Wilson Brothers played in my life.  That role started when I was about 3 years old and effectively ended at the beginning of my adulthood around age 21.  This essay could easily be expanded to form several chapters in a book.

Before I go into that relationship I have to tell you a few things about me that are central to the tale.

I am cross dominant.  I do not have a heavily wired in preference for one hand over the other when you look at all the things I do with my hands.  Most people will call me left handed as I do two major things with my left hand - writing and eating.  But there are many things I do with either hand, my right hand, or do well with neither.  I strongly prefer using a computer mouse with my right hand.  I shot a bow right handed along with baseball, playing the guitar, and what little shooting of firearms I did.  I am more dexterous in the fingers of my right hand than my left, probably from playing classical guitar for a number of years.  But I was completely unable to learn any of the wrist and arm  movements needed to play the guitar with a pick or in a folk style for instance.

I have a set of characteristics that occur in the non-right-handed population at least a factor of 10 more than in the right handed.  On the positive side is a propensity for understanding certain types of systems as a whole rather than just a collection of parts.  Another is the ability to pull together concepts from widely differing areas and make them work together.

On the negative side the most important is a set of deficits in physical dexterity, coordination, and reaction time.  In essence my body does not have a heavily wired-in side to default to when doing something new or when reacting in a crisis situation.  My brain and body take an additional amount of time to decide which hand or foot etc. to use in a situation which slows my reactions down.  Remember the slow, clumsy kid in your grade school class that was picked on and tormented a lot and always last-picked for all game teams?  That was me.

There are other important aspects of me related to my handedness but they are less relevant to this tale.  I pretty clearly didn't inherit my cross dominance as all my relatives are normal rightys for a couple of generations back as far as I know.  Everyone else in the Wilson clan I grew up in was right handed of course.

One other physical characteristic of mine central to this tale is that I did not inherit the sure, steady hands of my father and his brothers.  To this day if I try to do really fine work such as taking apart something small I quickly get quite frustrated.  I just can't control my hands at a fine scale very well.  In contrast Dad was really good at such things.

I started spending time underfoot out in that shop, which even on North Delaware in Springfield, Missouri in those early days was less than 50 yards from our house, when I was between 3 and 4.  It's hard to remember a time when I wasn't out there spending time with the hired help.  Luckily Mom didn't stop me as she had her own really pleasant memories of playing in her grandfather's blacksmith shop at a similar early age.  She didn't see me as going out there to my peril as other mothers might have.  I'm forever grateful for that.

I soaked up what I saw and heard like a sponge and started showing rather precocious abilities for mechanical and electrical things when in the first part of grade school.  I am convinced that my precociousness came from the inherited abilities coupled with that ability to grasp systems that goes with my handedness.  I tore lots of things up and by the time I was 8 or 9 I started being able to put them back together again and have them work.  The environment was so rich in wondrous things to do that I learned to do a lot of things and became very good with hand and power tools in spite of my physical deficits.  By the time I was about 11 if it was something in that shop or in the nearby three houses where the brothers lived I could understand and fix it.  Wiring, plumbing, appliances, refrigeration, TVs, you name it.  I am convinced that without that environment I wouldn't be the strong Mr. Fixit person I still am today.  But I was not able then and still cannot do precision or finish work.

I started taking part in the actual making of products when I was about 16.  Tasks related to things that got shipped out the door fell into three rough categories: 
I did a lot of work in the shop not directly on stuff going out the door.  Once we were in the building on Highway M I did all the electrical work required from then on.  I fixed a lot of electric motors.  Other mechanical work like replacing bearings in power tools was done by either Charlie Peck or me.  During the time on M if there was a new power tool I was the one to set it up and get it running.  I was the only one in the shop that knew how to use the knife grinder that went with the Delta 6"x13" wood planer that was bought to replace the old one in the pictures as I was the one that had originally set the planer up.

Some of the work was pretty satisfying, but one thing that affected my attitude towards the work was I never really felt all that much a part of the products that went out the door, probably because I never did any of the crafts work on them.  Dad of course got lots of the rewards from seeing his carefully crafted bows go out the door and be used a great deal.  I also learned in the process that I did not have the mind set needed for repetitive work and did not like it at all (actually to be honest I hated that kind of work).  My mind would always wander to other more interesting things and I'd inevitably make mistakes.  Sometimes they were costly, such as the time in the take-down era when I drilled 9 out of a batch of about 14 limb sets with the wrong template.  If I hadn't been family I expect I'd have been fired on the spot.  Things might have been better for all concerned in the long run if I had been.

Dad wanted a number of things in his only son.  The ones most relevant here were that he very strongly wanted me to have athletic ability as he did, he wanted me to be a skilled national champion archer as he was, he wanted me to be interested in archery and the business, and for me to ultimately go into it and take it over.  He lost on all counts.  He lost big on all counts except my skill as an archer and there he still lost. 

As an archer I never got beyond the level of a good amateur despite my best efforts.  I simply did and still do not have the steady hand, arm, and shoulder required to shoot small groups at 50 meters or more.  I would always let the arrow fly as the sight wandered over the center of the target rather than being able to fix the sight fairly steadily over the bulls-eye.  Only on a really good day could I hold the bow steady enough to get champion-sized groups and those days were rare.  The situation was quite frustrating for all involved.

Another of my physical deficits is a set of binocular vision problems.  Although I had some depth perception and had no trouble telling that one object was in front of another my ability to judge absolute distance was rather poor.  I was never able to learn to catch fly balls and my efforts at instinctive shooting (without any kind of sight on the bow) were pretty comical.

I think if I had had at least one of the characteristics Dad most wanted in me he would have handled the situation better.  But the thing that probably most bothered him was that my heart was just never in archery or the business.  I can not remember any time during my childhood when I wanted to go into the business.  It just wasn't ever my thing. 

When I started attending college it became obvious to Dad that my interests were definitely elsewhere and that his dreams would never become reality.  I became so much more interested in working on various projects in the Physics Department of Southwest Missouri State University there in Springfield that I no longer wanted to work in the shop at all.  The situation between father and son became very difficult and intense and around 1972 I all-but-stopped working in the shop.  In 1974 I moved into my own apartment.  After I finally finished my degree in 1977 I found a job in New Jersey and in early 1978 I left Missouri and the Midwest for good.

Communications between father and son were never very good.  Unfortunately as we both aged our relationship became increasingly distant. 
Had archery and a future of working in the family business been presented to me more as a choice instead of being rammed down my throat as badly as it was I would now have quite different feelings about my childhood heritage.  Nearly four decades later, I am still discovering ways my childhood environment was toxic or seriously harmful to me.  Because of some of those things, I will no longer have a section on the business on my website.  Too many memories are just too painful.

Maintained by Daniel V. Wilson and last modified on 21 September 2012.