James Griffioen

Photograph: William Abromowicz/Illustration: Oksana Badrak

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James Griffioen: The Super-Dad
My wife works while I stay home and take care of our two young children, plus Wendell, an energetic bird dog we rescued from the streets of Detroit. He loves to run but had to settle for meandering walks with short-legged toddlers until it hit me: I could build a dog wagon. With a flathead screwdriver and a lot of trial and error, I transformed our old jogging stroller into a sleek two-seat sulky. Now when Wendell hears me jangle the harness I built from old leather belts, he leaps into the air and bolts to the door—he can't wait to pull those kids from the farmers' market to the riverfront, and we travel at a pace that thrills us all.

I am not an engineer or any kind of craftsman. I'm a guy whose kids—and possibly his dog—still believe he can do anything. When I left my job as a corporate litigator four years ago, it was a promise to my children: I may not be able to buy you as many things, but you will know your father. We moved from tony San Francisco to downtown Detroit, where there aren't as many stores or things to do. We have to make our own fun.

So when we noticed a few inches of water had frozen in a deserted lot, we grabbed our ice skates and made it our own private rink. When my 5-year-old daughter became obsessed with ancient Egypt, we cut pizza boxes into pyramids and turned our living room into the Giza plateau. When my 2-year-old son wanted to be RoboCop for Halloween, we raided the recycling bin for detergent bottles and milk jugs and painted them metallic gray. I pieced his mask together from an old bike helmet and a wash bucket. We hit the streets in search of evildoers and commiserated with real Detroit cops who let my son sit behind the wheel of a real police car.

Creativity rubs off. Not long ago, my daughter asked me to build her a horse, and I made sure she was part of every step of the process that didn't involve power tools. She designed and helped craft her scrap-plywood Pegasus from the first sketches to the last coat of stain. Something that existed only in her imagination became a toy she could ride. Every project we finish feels like the fulfillment of a promise, though it's not the things we create that matter—it's the time we spend creating things together.
—James Griffioen

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