“Stuff” My Dad Taught Me: A Father’s Day Thanks To Jerry McNellis

My dad has saved me tens of thousands of dollars since I’ve become an adult.

He helped Stephanie and I remodel our kitchen when we purchased our 96 year old house 11 years ago.  Since then he has also helped with the following house projects:

  • Installing a French Drain
  • A complete remodel of a bathroom
  • When we found out we were having Twins, he helped us remodel our back porch into what is now my office

He even helped me plan out the family photo wall in our dining room.

Father’s Day is this weekend and I wanted to share a few of the stories about how my dad, Jerry McNellis, has had an impact in my life.  I thought I’d do it through stories.

Please don’t make me go dance!

When Stephanie turned 30, I was a fool and asked her what she wanted for her birthday.  She said the only thing she wanted was to go out dancing.  She might as well have said “why don’t you go rip out all of your teeth with a pair of pliers” because that was my excitement level at the thought of dancing.

We talked it through and by digging deeper and trying to find what she really truly wanted, we were able to plan and do something that still has our friends talking…8 years after the event.

Steph got her wish…she went dancing…in our dining room!  We turned our house into Studio 715 and 53 of our closest friends showed up in their finest polyester!

From left to right:  Stephanie McNellis, Jerry McNellis, Pat McNellis, Phyllis McNellis, Brian Wichmann, Tim McNellis, Shannon McNellis

Thanks dad for helping create the memories.  He always said if you are going to do something, make it unique and memorable.  Don’t do what everyone else out there is already doing.


You want how much to paint the sides of my motorhome?

Another set of handy skills I’ve learned because of my dad is the ability to do a lot of mechanical work on my vehicles.  I’ve literally saved thousands over the years.  One of my favorite projects I tackled was learning how to paint a vehicle.  Steph and I bought a 15 year old motorhome and the sides needed repainting.  I first took it to get some bids and they all came back over $1500 to paint just the flat sides.

After less than a week of work (after the official working day of course), I had a finished product and saved well over $1100 by doing it myself.  Is it perfect?  No.  My dad helped me understand that perfection is a “mental construct…much like the horizon.”  You never actually achieve perfection.  Thanks dad for helping me let go of that need.

Here’s me in the middle of the project.

That’s the carbon filter “breathing apparatus” I’m holding in my left hand!  Thanks dad for instilling “safety first” when working on my projects.

(still working on the bottom trim!) – almost finished product!

“A good snapshot stops a moment from running away” – Eudora Welty

I’ve always loved photography.  There is just something about the stories a really good photograph can tell.  It’s become even more important since Lauryn and Logan were born a mere five years ago.

My dad talks about “pictures” capturing a concept or a thought in our workshops.  I look at some of the photos of the kids and they are the concepts, the moments and memories I will have forever thanks to the pictures we have.

Special thanks to Linda Butler for letting us stay at her house at Emerald Isle this past fall.  It provided us an incredible week full of memories and lots of great pictures!

Oglebay, the home of the Compression Planning Institute, is where we usually snap our Christmas photograph.  This was one of the favorites from Christmas 2010.

“I’m not a genius. I’m just a tremendous bundle of experience”

The above is one of my favorite Buckminster Fuller quotes.  It also kind of sums up what I’ve learned from my dad.

You see, my dad isn’t a car mechanic…he isn’t in the construction business…he isn’t into photography (although he enjoys seeing pictures of his grandkids!).

He’s into reading.  He reads more than anyone I’ve ever met.  He has an incredible library of books and he’s always learning something new.  It brings richness into our Institutes and I think it keeps us current.

He’s also into trying things – “learn by doing.”  One of the coolest things I think about our Institute is summed up by something my dad once told me.  He said he designed and developed the workshop for himself as a learner.  I look at the Institute as his “playground” where he gets to play around with all of the concepts he learns from his love of reading.

He passed this “learn by trying” mentality on to me as well as my siblings.

What I’ve leaned from my dad is that if I want to acquire new skills, there is a book out there and there are resources that will help me learn it.  I use the storyboards to track information and questions about subjects as I’m working on them.

Growing up if any of us kids had an idea (that didn’t fall into the category of blowing $%#@ up)…he supported us.  He never told us HOW to do something, but rather guided us to resources to learn how to do it.  Granted, if he had said “no” to some of the dumber things I did, I may have some extra cash in my pocket…but probably not.

Some of the dumb things I did include:

  • Turning my bedroom closet into an aviary.  I had books on cockatiels and thought it would be cool to have a “really big cage” for them.  I scoped it out, drew some pictures, determined what I thought were the costs and proposed them to my parents.  They said yes.  It was an awesome idea…until I had to clean it.
  • I spent one year living in Venezuela as an exchange student after high school.  My dad was very supportive.  When he asked about my plans for college, I said I didn’t want to go…yet.  I wanted to live abroad for a year.  He supported that.  He also supported my wanting to build a bocce court in our back yard when I returned.  I played bocce all the time down there and thought it would be awesome to have our own “bolas criollas” court!  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  If I dollarize each time I played, it was $1000 per game.

A love of reading, an ability to “think through an issue/project” coupled with using “boards to tell a story” – i.e. the storyboards…have become a way of life for me and my family.

One of the last nuggets my dad has shared is finding a mentor.  I may be six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon but I’m probably only two away from someone who has the skills and expertise I can learn from.  And we are all only one degree of separation from Google!

I will always be thankful for the “gifts” my dad has passed on.  I hope I can do as good of a job with Lauryn and Logan as my dad did with me.

3 Responses to “Stuff” My Dad Taught Me: A Father’s Day Thanks To Jerry McNellis

  1. Liliana June 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    LOVE!!! the Pictures.

  2. Jim Jezak November 3, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

    Hi Pat,

    It looks as if you did a really nice job on you motor home. Just let me pass this on, if you ever need any advice on anything car related, by all means drop me a line and I will help you through you project.

    When it comes to anything mechanical I’m you guy.

    The website that I listed above is my latest project. My brother, Nephew and I are equal partners in our business. It is kind of a unique deal I come up with the ideas and do all the fabrication and we all share in the development and operating cost.

    My how the time is slipping by, I think it has been over ten years since I seen you and Stephanie. Your children are beautiful and your Dad looks great in the picture. Tell your Dad I said hi and hope our paths cross again some time. All the nice things you mentioned about your dad is spot on, he and I always had a great time together.

    Take Care,

    Jim & Linda Jezak

  3. Pat McNellis November 11, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    Thanks Jim! The motor home has been a lot of fun and it’s provided a lot of “learning” for me.

    I will be contacting you over the winter as I’m pulling the generator…again…and need to troubleshoot it! Thanks for the offer.

    Best wishes to you and Linda.


Leave a Reply