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The Hobby That Helped Me Find My Center — And Become a Better Dad

"You can't let your mind go and think about your kids or work or your problems. You have to be totally, 100 percent there."

fatherly logo How I Stay Sane

Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. For Franklin Antoian, 41, from Delray Beach, Florida, that thing is woodworking, which lets him provide for his family, save money, and focus on a project and not his worries.

I got into woodworking about 10 years ago. I had a wall unit from Target and it just broke one day. It collapsed. I looked at it and realized it was a piece of junk. It was 250 bucks and it just broke. So I thought, Let me spend some money and get something really nice. I checked out a couple of real furniture stores, and the wall units were like $3,000. There was nothing in between junk and unbelievably expensive.

I’m a big DIY guy. I figured I could make a wall unit. It was just a square thing. I looked online and I found some DIY type instructions, I went to Home Depot, I got my woodcut, my screws, and all that stuff. Eventually, somehow, I put something together that resembled a wall unit.

It worked, and I was hooked. With woodworking, you have to be totally there, in the moment. You have power tools, wood, screws, saws. You can’t let your mind go and think about your kids or work or your problems. You have to be totally, 100 percent there. I kind of thought about that for a minute and just felt like, wow. That kind of dawned on me, that this is a great relief. There’s no way you can think about any stress at all. And, in the end, it produces something.

We don’t use the garage for the car, so I just converted that into the studio and learned a lot more about the business. My garage is in two parts: one side, where I just do the cutting and the sawing and the screwing to get stuff, the other part that is totally clean, where I do the staining and the top-coats and stuff, so there’s really no dust no that side of the garage. So all I have to do is get off the couch and walk into the garage to do it.

I made something for less money than that crappy unit and it’s probably going to last forever and I can pass it down generations. Whatever else we needed next, I built it. So, I made a playtable for the kids. We have a strangely shaped living room and kitchen and there’s no room for a regular table but I made a farmhouse table. It’s really long and it’s narrow: 10 feet long and 30 inches in width. We can sit 10 people at it and it looks awesome.

I got hooked because I made something myself, and it was better than what I could buy for a reasonable amount of money. But the side effect was that it really clears my mind. If we didn’t need anything and someone needed something that we’re friends with, or a donation, then I would just build them something. My favorite thing I’ve worked on is I made an outdoor table that has a cooler in the middle of it. I keep mostly beers in there.

I try to get into my studio at least once a week. If I have extra time and no one is around, and I have no obligations, I’ll just be in there, creating something. I don’t even need stuff anymore. It’s just what I want.

My two favorite parts of the process are the planning part and a step that takes place in the middle of the process. I love planning, grabbing a pencil and a sketchpad, and just drawing something up. The other part I love is putting the piece together after you’ve cut up all the wood, hopefully, into the right size, which never happens on the first time.

I work in fitness, so I’m pretty good at managing stress. But everyday life — with having two kids, and being the sole supporter of the family, and having a wife and a mortgage — that’s tough. It’s just stressful in general, providing for everyone, college funds, all that stuff. So to be able to go into the garage with 20 or 30 bucks worth of wood cutting and banging stuff up is kinda fun too.

My older son, he’s three, and he’s got a toolbox of all plastic tools. He’ll come into the studio sometimes — not when the tools are running — and he loves it. I’ll build whatever I’m making and leave the last nail and he’ll go in with me and bang it in and go, “Mom, I just built a bookcase!”  Everything in his room, I built. I built his changing table, his dresser, and his book case. That feels awesome to me. I made it all.