This past weekend, I visited my oldest son, Jeremiah, and daughter-in-love, Erin, in Rockwall, Texas. They have recently moved there and are both teaching school. Upon arrival, I was greeted by the normal hugs and exchanges of affection, along with . . . a broken vacuum sweeper. They were trying to install a new belt, but didn’t have any instructions. Being the dad, I set about to solve my children’s problems. It finally took all three of us to do it: one to pry open the plastic case, one to slip the belt inside, and the third one to stretch it around the beater brush. The next day, I had so much fun being with my children: fixing their computer, running wires through the walls and just being . . . a dad.

For a long time, I considered myself a failure when it came to my children’s education. It was always embarrassing for me, a grown man, to confess to the world that I had permanently damaged my boys. I woke up one day and realized a horrible truth: my sons never took shop.

When Jeremiah and Caleb were young, we enrolled them in magnet schools.

Supposedly, this would give them an advantage when it came time for college. At these magnet schools, they received the most up-to-date, innovative teaching, designed to equip them for Harvard and beyond. Cathy and I thought we were being good parents, but both our boys made it through high school without taking even one shop course. I understand most high schools still offer shop, but I never hear about anyone actually taking it.

In my high school, every young man took either shop or auto mechanics. I loved shop! It’s the best memory from my five years of high school. While my classmates turned out walnut ashtrays and salad bowls, I made my parents a solid maple, seven-drawer dresser (I am not making this up!).

Today’s students take more unusual, intellectual classes. Jeremiah took meteorology. He can describe a dozen different cloud formations and waxes eloquent on the subject of barometric pressure. Caleb, on the other hand, took photography. One son could tell you when it is going to rain; the other could take pictures of the rain; but neither one could fix the roof. They did not know how to use a hammer-so what good was all that information? For the longest time, my boys’ diplomas sat on their desks. Neither one knew how to drive in a nail to hang the thing up.

Oh, they knew how to wire up a Nintendo game or splice the cable TV from one bedroom to the other. They could hook up the multiple wires on back of their computer; connect the mouse, the modem, the monitor, the scanner, the keyboard and a host of other paraphernalia . . . but even changing a burned-out light bulb extended far past their range of domestic ability.

After my sons were grown, all I heard from them at first were things like, “Dad, our faucet is dripping.” “Dad, the toilet is stopped up.” Somewhere in all those years of education, someone should have taught them how to use a plunger. And somehow during the course of high school, someone should teach students that when the red light on the dash comes on, it doesn’t mean you’ve got a week to figure out what’s wrong. Take my advice: make your kids take shop.

Educating your children encompasses two areas: knowledge and skills. Knowledge is the easy part, but giving your children skills takes patience, practice and mentoring. If I could do life over again, I would spend more time helping my children learn the skills of living. Working on small projects helps prepare them for the bigger ones that life sends their way.

By now, both of my sons have picked up some skills from their dad. Jeremiah has now built an armoire for his TV; he refers to it as the “masterpiece.” Caleb recently retiled his bathroom. But there are other areas of their lives-especially spiritual things-that I could have mentored more effectively.

I like to tell parents: you pay now, or you pay later. Teach your children how to pray, how to search the Scriptures and give an answer for what they believe. Knowledge is good, but knowledge empowered with skills is . . . freedom.

Dear Father, help me to impart to my children the tools of knowledge, then teach them the skills to use these tools effectively. May the knowledge they grasp become as a scalpel in a skillful surgeon’s hands. Thank You for giving me the skills I need to be an effective parent today. Amen.