I was in elementary school when my father hurt his back so badly while working on the farm that his doctor confined him to bed.
My bedroom was immediately down the hall from my parents’, and after school one day I heard disturbing noises – violent banging and rasping – coming from their room. Their door was open a crack, and as I gently pushed my way in, I was surprised, relieved and completely enlightened about my own nature.
My father was lying flat in bed, as per the doctor’s orders. And he was building a small side table in this odd position, without a workbench or his machinery. (In fact, during this convalescence, he completely finished the table, which I still own. He painted a flower on each end and varnished the entire thing. All while on his back.)
Likewise, I’ve never been able to sit still. My dad once offered to give me $5 if I could remain motionless for five minutes. I have never collected on that bet. But after seeing him build a table in bed, at least I know – genetically – where I get my peculiar work habits.
My father’s urge to create was unstoppable. He transformed our house in Fort Smith, Ark., into a delightful English/Japanese garden, learning masonry, fence-building and landscaping on the way. He built a goldfish pond, tended a bamboo garden and installed dramatic lighting. All of this fueled by a remarkable eye for design and unspeakable energy.
When our house in town was perfect, he bought 84 acres outside Hackett, Ark., and proceeded to transform that with his hands and a vision. He bought a drafting table, read a bunch of books and took a class at the Shelter Institute in Maine with my mom. And then bang, we were building the first of two houses without the help of electricity or running water.
He plowed the bottomland and planted strawberries. Then he constructed a second house of his own design that was about 4,000 square feet. We were going to move there as soon as it was complete. I was promised a herd of goats. (Which I have never collected on.) And chickens.
I left for college in 1986, my parents divorced in 1989 and my dad lost heart in the farm.
This man who shaped an Arkansas wilderness of turkeys, rocky soil and armadillos was confined to a tiny apartment in one of those complexes that has a “singles nights” and keno. I thought my dad was done for and was broken in spirit. But I was wrong.
He bought a run-down farmhouse in town and transformed it into another gorgeous estate with a lap pool, workshop and guest cottage. No detail in his house was too small – he hand carved the heating registers with a geometric design I’ve never seen before. He built garden furniture that was so cunningly simple and beautiful that I blatantly ripped it off as a furniture maker. His kitchen was like something in Architectural Digest.
Meanwhile the farm sat dormant and unfinished. We’d go down there to fix walls or hang a new gate, but every visit was depressing.
During one visit, my father told me that the urge to create things every day had vanished. In some ways it seemed a relief to him. He didn’t have to judge himself on his daily labor. He began to take a deeper interest in music and singing (and piano and later cello).
Again, I thought he had reached the end of his creative life. Again, I was wrong.
He sold the farm and bought an old house in the historic district of Charleston, S.C. And again, he set to work rebuilding the garage, workshop and guest cottage. He transformed the interior of the house, and once more he created a perfect human terrarium where he was surrounded by beautiful objects he had collected or made during his entire life, from his time during the Vietnam war to multiple trips to Europe and Mexico.
And here he lies tonight. Flat on his back and dying from cancer he was diagnosed with in 2003. He’s leaving us far too early.
This time, he doesn’t have the parts or tools to build another side table. This time I’m sure we’re at the end.
Or are we?
Without my father’s example, his unstoppable work ethic and his eye for beautiful objects, I’d be a sorry woodworker. Luckily, I grew up in a house where we unapologetically made things. And when dad found beautiful objects made by others, he bought them. He sat them next to his own work and saw how his measured up. Or if it didn’t. And when the next day came, he kept building.
That’s where I come from. I might tell people I come from Arkansas (where I grew up) or Missouri (where I was born). But I really come from a home where our job is to make the world a little more beautiful each day.
And when he leaves us, which could be any minute now, the world is going to be a little less beautiful without him.
— Christopher Schwarz
137 thoughts on “From the Ground Up”
Peace be with you.
Oh Chris, there are no words. I am with you, and wish you and your Dad peace.
A beautiful tribute to a beautiful man. Well done, Chris and well done to your father for a life well-lived. I’m sorry for your loss, but thanks for sharing a part of your father’s world with us.
A lovely tribute. I’ll miss Dr. Schwarz.
“And when he leaves us, which could be any minute now, the world is going to be a little less beautiful without him.”
And yet all the more beautiful because of him.
His life and thoughts continue on in you. As he inspired you ,you inspire hundreds of not thousands. All starting with him. And i want to thank you him and you.
We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Your father’s were strong and tall, and gave you vision of the world you wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s wonderful, and made all the more so because you recognize it. You have my most sincere condolences for your loss.
Chris, a child is the greatest legacy a man can leave in this life. All other achievements
pale to that of a well raised son or daughter. I am sure your father is well pleased in his life’s greatest work. God bless you and yours.
A nice warm commentary on your father. My commiserations. Great memories though. My brothers and I helped my dad double the size of our house when I was fifteen and now, when I look at the beams, the windows, varnished floor and paneling that we installed ourselves with the help of some friends and relatives, I have good memories to relive in my mind that I will, like you, always have.
A beautiful tribute to your Dad.Thankyou for sharing a little bit of him, and yourself, with us. You are both in my prayers tonight.
We stand on the shoulders of giants, and some of us a fortunate enough to have sat on their laps as well.
Thank you for sharing your father’s legacy with us; you have our warmest condolences.
Dude had balls. Every man is subconsciously a reincarnation of his father and you are no exception. I lost my father at an early age and didn’t appreciate his lessons until it was too late to thank him. Now I’m renovating my entire house, redoing the kitchen, building all of my cabinets and cutting the drawer dovetails by hand in an eerie ode to him. Value the lessons and ethics he passed on to you which you will undoubtly pass on to your kids.
Solidarity. What a beautiful post.
Wow this touched my heart, a wonderful tribute a son could give his father.
Thanks for sharing Chris.
Thanks for sharing this. It’s a wonderful tribute for a remarkable life.
It is wonderful you know what he’s meant to you, and who you’ve become. I’m sorry for what you and your family are enduring. Thank you for sharing with all of us.
Lots of love Chris. Thanks for sharing such a touching story.
You inspire me like your father inspired you. My thoughts are with you and your family.
Chris: Thank you for sharing. It may sound weird or strange, but you and your father are rich man/men. In the end all we really have is our memories/stories.
What a legacy he has past through you to many of us also inspired to build and make things, a deeply touching tribute. Prayers for peace and comfort for all…
It’s not always about the amount of time spent on earth, but what you do with that time. He clearly lived his life to the fullest. Sounds like more than three men, you should be proud. As I am sure his proud of the man you became, his work will live on in you as well. I am truly sorry this chapter ends for you.
Thanks for sharing the life of a gifted man.
You were taught well by a man that could give you an excellent example.
the finest obituary I have ever read….thank you for sharing his life with us….cherish your time with him….my father died in august, 2016 at 96 and I still grieve for him daily……..I wish you and your family the very best……dale
I lost my mom to cancer about 16 years ago. I wish there was something that anyone could do to lessen the blow, but I’ve always found that even I usually have very little I can say. What I can say though is that I understand that pain, so you’re not alone, and that I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers over the coming days. God bless.
Thank you for sharing Chris….. my heart goes out to you and your family.
Very sorry for what you and your family are going through, but such wonderful memories will see you through. They do for me since my father left us.
Il fera toujours parti de vos créations, au sein des fibres du bois de vos oeuvres, au coeur de celles-ci. Bon courage et toute mon affection. Hugo
Thinking of you and your family Chris. I lost my grandfather who shaped who I am today. He planted the love for woodworking in me right before he passed and I struggle with not having him here to share these moments with. I have many great memories with him and those memories mean the world to me. I’ll see you in April.
My thoughts are with you all tonight. I know what “too soon” feels like, and for what its worth, I’m glad youve had the chance to say all of this now instead of later. Grace and peace.
Well done, that man. A safe and gentle journey to us all.
Losing your parents is the natural progression, but it still sucks. May Peace Be With You.
My condolences, Chris. That was a pleasure to read.
Chris, I’m sorry to hear of your family’s predicament. I lost my father to cancer in 2006 so I know first hand how the disease tears families apart. My sincere condolences for the pain you are experiencing. It sounds like he has had a profound impact on who you’ve become.
Words fail me. I miss my dad every day since he died of cancer in 1982 at the age of 58. When I walk through the plant where we both worked, (and I still do), and I see a perfectly formed, dead plumb piece of electrical conduit, or some other piece of his work as an electrician, I still think of him, after all these years.
If your father must pass, I hope that it is with peace and dignity and I hope that you find comfort in your memories of him and can continue to create beautiful things that he would have enjoyed.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family tonight.
Till Valhalla no
Thank you for sharing Chris. That was a beautiful tribute to your father.
What a moving tribute of all he built in your heart. I am lifting him, you and your family in prayer for God’s peace and strength during this difficult time.
Absolutely beautiful. My condolences on your loss but my congratulations to life well lived and well crafted.
Chris, thanks for sharing this beautifully written tribute to your Dad. It was a pleasure to read. My thoughts are with you and your family.
Beautiful story! All creatives can relate. At a loss for words having experienced a similar journey with my own father. What I can say about your dad is that his life is filled with experiences, he probably experienced more than several people’s lifetimes.
So very sorry for your loss. So happy to know his spirit will live on thru you and your work. May God hold you and your family gently in his hands.
Beautiful and so many memories.
Chris, I met you and we had lunch in San Diego several years ago. I have 2 sons your age. Your Father is surely proud of you. And, if he reads what you’ve written here…he will surely smile. Heartfelt and caring thoughts coming your way.
Thanks for sharing this today Chris. Just today I was looking at a photo of my Dad (who passed away many years ago) and thanking him for the gifts of life, humor, and intellectual curiosity that he instilled in me. Wish I had the chance to thank him…I’m glad you have that chance.
I am blessed to have known him through you.
You Mr. Schwarz senior and junior.
I don’t usually respond to your posts…I simple learn and do my best to either duplicate or incorporate them into my own work. Your story about your father was nothing less then inspiring and humbling. Where would any of us be without those people in our lives that lead us to admiring the beauty around us while teaching us a valuable life lesson…bravo!
Beautiful, Chris. My condolences.
Eloquent and heartfelt words.
I lost Mom nearly 25 years ago, and Dad more than a decade ago. I still miss them with an ache. I’ve been told I’ve written some good words about them both, much like your wonderful prose. I’m proud of those words and how they reflect upon my parents, as you should be about yours.
But more than anything else, even in the midst of wracking moments I believe are much like those I’ve lived, I’d like to share an idea with you.
Wallowing in grief is wrong, but grieving is not wrong. Grieving is an act of courage, not of weakness. Grieving is an act of love for one no longer present. Grieving is a sign of love and a salve for accepting things which cannot be changed. Do not fear grief. Accept it, live it, and preserve the love and beauty of those you grieve in your heart while striving to be your best in remembrance of them.
My condolences. In spite of the rough situation this was a beautiful post, which seems to keep in theme with the man it pays tribute to.
What a beautiful tribute, Chris. I lost my dad five years ago…I wish I could have honored him the way you did here.
Hi there …. Love your words … love the sentiment you so clearly convey ….
my condolences for your loss
Cheers, Mike in Perth
So sorry Chris. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. May his passing be gentle and peaceful.
I’ve often wondered what it was that has inspired you to become the person you are. Now I know. He has clearly left a huge legacy to us all!
Beautiful words Chris… It shows how important a person’s legacy can be. Wishing you peace and strength.
A beautiful story, clearly written with a deep respect and bursting with adoration. I am so sorry for your loss Christopher. My thoughts are with you for these coming days.
May your Dad’s last moments be peaceful and painless. Best wishes to you and the entire Schwarz family.
Oh Chris, Sadie and I send our love and warm wishes to you and your family at this time and pray that your fathers passing is a peaceful one , rest assured that your Dad would be immensely proud of you and the man that you are, your creativity, skill and boundless enthusiasm obviously comes from him and no doubt you will carry him with you always.
A moving tribute to your dad. Well said. I am thinking of you . My very best wishes for the future .
With all the love in the world. I have a dad like that. I find it hard to measure up sometimes – not that he’d ever ask that of me. I hope to have shown him, before he leaves, what exactly his permanent footprint in the world is. That he has made an impact way beyond his skills. Heart felt blessings to you and your father.
Family is the most important thing. Even more important than woodworking.
Thank you for sharing.
that is beautiful!
What a beautiful tribute. Our condolences to you and your family. God’s speed and peace.
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your memories of a fine person and teacher. It brought back my own family memories of an earlier time following WWII and my own military experience during the Vietnam war.
Beautiful words Chris. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
I am sorry you are having to say good bye to this wonderful person in your life. Lost my dad twelve years ago. Miss him. Peace to you and your family.
a very nice profile, a hard time for you. Many of us have been through it. Thanks for letting us know about him, and you. PF
Such a wonderful tribute. I am deeply saddened. Peace to you and your family.
Beartiful tribute to your Dad, Chris. It is so good for him, and for you, that you can be there with him.
Thank you for sharing this Chris. I lost my dad to cancer in 2006, far too early. I wish I had the ability to express my thoughts about losing him as eloquently as you. Your tribute was beautiful and brought back memories of my own childhood and family life.
May you both receive peace in your difficult time. My thoughts are with you and your family.
Mitch Alboom: Death Ends a Life; not a relationship. I find comfort in these words; it is time to be with your father…
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
Sorry Chris, peace be withe you and you family.
Beautifully written Chris. As I was reading it I found myself thinking about my father (who passed about 5 years ago) and me. Our fathers are very important and influential figures in our lives. It’s tough to lose them. I find myself thinking about my dad pretty much every day. The good thing is that he gave me a pattern of how to conduct myself in certain areas of life that I admire and want to emulate. And now you are providing an example for your own children, and that is a great responsibility–as it is for all of us. May peace be upon your dad, you, and your family. I haven’t ever met you in person Chris–only via electronic means, but I follow your writing and appreciate your work very much. You have been very kind to respond as I have commented and questioned, and have made my experience in woodworking much better. Thank you for sharing. I now understand a little more about why you are who you are.
“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” – Billy Graham
The comfort of Christianity.
My prayer is that he gets to continue his work in a much better place, while enjoying the company of those who went before him and waiting on those he’s missing.
Thanks for sharing.
Sorry Chris. Once again, thank you for sharing your life and now some of your fathers with us.
What a beautiful tribute. Peace to you and your family, Chris.
I hope your dad finds my dad in heaven. They will tinker together and create beautiful things!
An inspiring story, and beautiful tribute, thanks for sharing.. Peace to you and your family..
Thanks for sharing a part of why you are what you are. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.
A life well loved is a a life well lived. My heart goes out to you and your family. Peace brother -Aaron
Thank Chris for sharing this part of your life with us…
Blessing you him and your family during this time.
A wonderful essay for a beautiful wonderful man. May peace and love grace your homes always.
A lovely essay for a wonderful, beautiful man. May peace, love and good memories forever grace your homes.
This is beautiful. My condolences.
I wish I had your eloquence with words and talent with wood. Reading your tribute sent me to my long gone Father and what he instilled in me. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us.
Very well written, Chris. May your dad go gently into his eternal rest. Please accept my condolences.
A heartwarming portrait, though difficult to read through the tears. Must be the sawdust. A father and son have made this world more beautiful, each in extraordinary ways. Both beautiful anarchists. Godspeed.
As one who is three years into a cancer diagnosis and having always made things, your post has special meaning. Brought tears to my eye, Chris. My thoughts are with you, your family and father. Bob Glenn
I’m sorry to hear about your father Chris. Peace be with you and your family.
Chris, I am so sorry to hear this. I nearly lost my dad last year (stroke). It’s tough.
Lovely piece Chris. Very touching.
I’m sorry Chris. >
So sorry to hear this Chris. We lost my mother to cancer when I was 17 so I know your pain. I hope you and your family find comfort at this painful time.
Peace to you and your family, Chris. And may light perpetual shine on your father.
what a beautiful legacy he will leave this world with.
so sorry for your loss man.
Peace and Strength to you. My father could make/create anything as a craftsman and artist. He fought Muscular Dystrophy and cancer with the determination to live that you describe in your father. It wasn’t until he showed me a final duck decoy he’d been carving that he said, “I won’t finish this one, and that’s okay, but I want you to have it”….I weep like a baby every time I look at it, but I am so glad to have it, and it will be passed down as a family treasure.
May this blessing from John O’Donohue provide, well, something, or anything for you and yours in this time of great upheaval.
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
I walked your road in 2000. If it’s any comfort, our fathers never leave us, only their physical presence. A wonder tribute the likes of which I only wish I could have summoned up at that difficult time.
I’ve never had the pleasure to meet you but I’ve met your dad and love your sister and wish for you all peace.
Any father who earned such love and respect from his son must be a great man.
I’m sorry for your loss. I remember vividly the sadness and trial of my Dad being diagnosed with and then dying from cancer. My peace and love be with you and your family today.
woodworking is truly an art and when put feeling into it can be said that the hart went into it
Peace be with you. May we all recognize the true gifts that Father’s have given us during our time with them.
Take heart. When the pain is gone what remains are the memories.
My condolences, I have not shared your experience but I empathize with what must be an unbearable sense of loss.
Thank you for sharing these beautiful words with us, it sounds like you had a great example to learn from and look up to. The world will undoubtedly be less without him, but I’m sure those who met him are more that they were before based on your descriptions.
Such a loving tribute to your father, lots of love to you and your family, in this most challenging of times.
That is a very nice tribute to your father. He sounds like a remarkable man. I’m sorry to hear he will be leaving us soon but it sounds like a lot of him will live on in you and your family. God bless.
Wonderful tribute to your father Chris. His spirit will live on with all who reads that.
Sympathy for your dad and condolences to you, Chris. That dying is a natural part of life doesn’t make it easier when it comes.
Prayers and Blessings to you and your family.
Just hang out and talk about whatever he wants to talk about, or if he’s not a man of words whatever you want to talk about. It’s the death of future opportunities that gets you, and whatever perfect thing you think to say a moment too late will just rattle around in your brain and weigh you down through your mourning process.
When I saw you were writing about your Dad, I feared it was an obituary. Instead I read a story of an amazing person and an impressive life. Thank you.
What beautiful words to describe an amazing man. Thank you for sharing Chris: you, your dad and family are in my thoughts and prayers.
Chris, thank you for sharing the story of your father’s creative talent and a lifetime of creative work. My eye was drawn to your first photo, that of CPT Schwartz, MC. I can tell you, as a USAF veteran, that there is nothing more comforting for a young American deployed to a war zone halfway around the world who is sick, injured or wounded, than seeing a US military physician, nurse or medic who is there to help.
I lost my Dad 22 years ago. The fact that he spent half of his day traveling to, working his job, and returning from work. was not lost on me. It took a while to understand why we lived in a small town and he worked in the big city where he grew up. He spent endless hours every week turning a small summer house on a lake into a livable, comfortable home where love was the order of the day – everyday. He was a scientist with a heart as well as a mind. We grew to appreciate each other later in life. I watched him die, and I miss him every day. I lost Mom 14 years later. They were a perfect match for each other; not perfect humans, but better than each of them alone and I miss them both every day.
I wish you well Chris, be strong, and it’s O.K. to not be.
I didn’t know my father – he died when I was five years old.I have a few of his old tools which I cherish and use with reverence.
You are very fortunate to have shared your life with this man. He will live within you for the rest of your life. Nevertheless, I am sorry for your loss and my prayers go out to you and yours.
Hi Mr. Schwarz,
We don’t know each other but I would like to thank you for writing this tribute to your father. Your father lived a full life that everybody could take inspiration from. Men like him are hard to find nowadays but rare still are sons who pay homage to their fathers.
I am currently going through a certain challenge in my life and reading just encouraged me to keep on moving.
Thanks so much for the article, its memorable and stunning tribute to the inspiration of a father to his son.
As Tim above said….You inspire me like your father inspired you. My thoughts are with you and your family.
A tribute well earned and well delivered.
Wonderful tribute. May you find comfort in the coming days, months, and years.
Beautifully written, Chris.
You were lucky to him as your father and he was lucky to have you as his son. My thought and wishes are with you and your family.
Nicely done Chris, you are a very good writer and educator among other things. I am sure he is as proud a father as you are a proud son.
Thank you for sharing your personal tribute of your father, Chris. Even though your father will be gone,at some point, the world will definitely be a better place because of the beauty and the heritage he has left to make this world a better place. May we all strive to accomplish that in our lifetime. My sincere condolences to you and your family during this time of sorrow.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
So sorry to hear, my thoughts are with you
Your Father and You are an Inspiration ! Thanks for you sharing.
Bel hommage à celui qui vous a construit à travers sa passion. Mes condoléances.
Beautiful tribute, Chris. My deepest sympathies to you and your family.
Chris: your father was an exceptional person and your tribute was perfect. My sympathies to you and your family.
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