Father's Day reminds us dad builds more than treehouses
story by Ramsey Harris | photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Father’s Day is time to celebrate Dad– to thank him for the lessons he’s taught, the experiences we’ve shared, and the fond memories he’s left us with. The legacy of fatherhood often includes shared construction projects. With hammer and nail, fathers teach their brood how to build something from scratch. When that something looms high above in the trees, dads teach their sons and daughters that anything is possible.
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Madison resident and doctor Dan Zant remembers building a treehouse with his father when he was growing up in Jackson, Ga. Board by board, he watched his dad turn their vision into reality.
That’s why he jumped at the opportunity to help his neighbor, Steve Speyer, build a treehouse for their children in the woods behind his house. Inspired by memories and a book entitled, “Treehouses of the World,” the fathers devised a plan to build a one-of-a-kind treehouse.
Just like in the “Swiss Family Robinson,” Speyer and Zant instructed their children, Maclane (10) and Carolina (9) Zant and Jack (11) and Annie (13) Speyer, to gather scrap wood for the treehouse. “They learned a lot about teamwork,” says Zant.
The Speyer/Zant treehouse has been under construction for two years, but Speyer refuses to say they are finished. “It’s still a work in progress. I want to build an adjoining crow’s nest,” he says.
Finished or not, the treehouse is a sight to behold. Supported by a poplar, maple, and sweetgum tree, the two-story structure towers at 23 feet at its highest point. According to Steve, every square inch of the treehouse was made with recycled materials. They only had to buy the huge metal bolts that suspend the house in the trees.
Now the children scale the rope ladder that leads to their treehouse. They sit on old wicker chairs on the top deck and watch deer, squirrels, and birds frolic in the woods around them.
Through the treehouse, the Speyer and Zant children have learned resourcefulness, self-reliance, and an appreciation for nature, but mostly they’ve had fun. “Everyone should have a treehouse,” says Speyer.
“Treehouses are for every generation,” says Zant. “Hopefully someday my grandchildren will have a treehouse, too.”
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“I didn’t have a treehouse when I was a kid, so this is sort of a dream come true,” Troy Bryant says, watching his children, Madison (8) and Michala (5) and his neighbors’ children, David (6) and Mary Bella (4) Newell, play on their treehouse.
Bryant, owner of Madison Handyman, a construction and repairs business, spent a week last summer building a dwelling nine feet off the ground around a huge water oak. A bridge connects the wooden fort with a tin roof to another platform, where the Zip line provides the most dramatic point of departure.
“This treehouse is the best thing my dad ever built,” says Madison, who calls it her “monkey fort.” The other children echo the sentiment, clamoring to share their treetop memories, some more fanciful than others. “I once saw a bobcat up here,” says David. “I threw it off!”
This treehouse sparks the imagination and leads to hours spent in the woods. The older siblings have taught the younger ones how to catch crawdads in the creek. “They say they’re going to play in the treehouse, and they’ll come back an hour later just as muddy as they can be,” says Troy.
“Sometimes with our hectic schedules, fathers don’t interact enough with their kids,” says Bryant. “This treehouse has been a great way to get the kids out from in front of the television and to spend quality time with them outside.”
“It’s been wonderful to watch my girls stretch themselves to be more brave and interact more with nature,” he says.
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David Nunn took a break from his busy schedule managing a city to build a treehouse for his daughter Paton in the backyard of their home in Bostwick.
“Several years ago, we drew it out on a piece of paper and made a list of everything she wanted in her treehouse. We lost that paper but found it after we finished. We realized we had done just about everything we wanted, except for a weather vane,” says Nunn.
Nunn believes that his daughter learned a valuable lesson through the process of constructing the treehouse. “Going from something you visualize to making it a reality takes time,” says Nunn. “Paton had to learn the steps involved in building something.”
Paton’s idyllic treehouse has perched high in a Grandfather Oak since she was 10-years-old. She’s 13 now, but she still spends time reading and dreaming in her very own space.
“I remember when we first talked about it [the treehouse]. She has changed a lot since then, but she still enjoys it. And she tells me she will always love her treehouse,” Nunn says.
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As Clark (12) and Albert (14) Orr have grown up, so has their treehouse. James Orr and his three sons (Allen, the oldest, is now away at college) fist constructed a simple treetop platform in 2001. Clark fondly recalls learning how to use a hammer and a screwdriver alongside his older brothers, as they worked on the base of their treehouse. When they moved a year later, it came with them, and James called on Madison Handyman to finish building the design his sons had in mind.
Now a tin roof covers the enclosed fort, and the boys can roll tarps down over the screened-in windows for the ultimate hideout. Clark once spent a summer night here with his best friend, Garrett, who read ghost stories by lantern light.
The boys store their fishing poles and tackle here for lazy summer days when they walk down the road to Ponder’s Pond to catch some fish. When the air is warm and the mosquitoes aren’t buzzing, the treehouse is a good place to relax alone. Situated in the back corner of the backyard, high above the red brick wall that encloses the Orr family from the rest of the neighborhood, the boys can perch, dreaming about the world outside the confines of their loving home.
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Building a treehouse isn’t always easy, but it’s fun– a lot like fatherhood. Through their treehouses, these Morgan County fathers have taught their kids important life lessons and created fond memories.