I match up as a handyman as Arnold Schwarzenegger would as a ballet dancer. For me, anything more complicated than stapling four pieces of paper is a project. It requires plans, an almighty amount of careful thought and concerted visualisation.

Therefore, offering to build my daughter a robot costume for the Book Week parade a couple of years ago was both terrifying and exciting. The terrifying thought came of my own awareness that I couldn’t bang a nail into a wet newspaper without it combusting or the hammer punching out a window on the backward stroke. While apprehension niggled, excitement won over because I forecast my daughter’s smiling pride even if the robot would more closely resemble an octopus driving a tractor.


The robot started out as an empty computer box with two arm holes that I shaped relatively easily.  I was reluctant to get ahead of myself, yet ambitiously decided to coat the cardboard box with aluminium cooking foil to give the robot a more lifelike metallic finish.

Because the glue didn’t fasten my fingers together, I started to get confident and up my plans… some illogical part of me presumed that I could wire up a switch, battery, alarm and LEDs. I was getting ahead of myself, however, the vast complexity of gluing alfoil to cardboard shaped up my confidence enough to convince me that I could etch silicon chips to build my own robot circuit board.

Earlier experiences of botched DIY projects rang warnings in my psyche, so I knew to weld wires and batteries only once lots of testing had been done. The solder melted into tiny, shiny orbs that sealed the wire of the switch to a battery, then to a series of LEDs and, finally, an alarm.

Soldered and strung together, all the electronic gadgetry looked like a necklace for nerds.


I put the soldering iron down to begin taping the wiring to the inside of the cardboard box. It was midnight and joining eight wires over the four-hour stretch had been a blistering pace for me. I was scared of messing something up. After all, I wasn’t fabricating a robot for myself, but for the delight my eldest would source from her costume… and knowing that her dad would stretch himself for her.

Electrical tape sealed all the wiring, battery lights and alarm in place. I pressed the on-switch and the lights blazed and the alarm squealed. Everything worked!

My last operation was to shape the eyes. I carefully excised cardboard and alfoil with a scalpel to craft technologically advanced eyes that NASA would envy. It was 1:30 am. Time for one last test, knowing that I could bathe in the envious glow of a job well done.

I pressed the switch. Nothing. Click! Click! Click! Nothing!

A quick examination made me realise that my careful carving of the cardboard eyeholes had severed one of the wires. And, the workman-shed aroma of masculinity and soldering flux now had a sour tinge because I had set the one-million-degrees poker of the soldering iron down on one of my daughter’s thongs, thereby barbequing it.

Dad to the Rescue

Consequently, yesterday, I flinched when my daughter asked “Dad, can we build a Wiggles Big Red Car for the Book Week parade tomorrow?”

Immediately, I was caught in a push-pull parenting conflict. Should I be the rescue party when I get the child equivalent of a 000 call into a last-minute school project? Or, do I let my daughter perform her own last-minute homework triage? When do I affirm that my daughters can rely on me and that I will resolutely stand by them?  Or, should I let my daughters resolve their own schoolwork dilemmas?

I am holding out for an app I can download that would tell me what the right thing to say is. My daughters ought to have a positive impression of their dad, that he is solidly by them even during those times that we are not face-to-face. Or, am I supposed to let the “I seriously don’t have homework this weekend” play out so that my daughter cops the consequence of not handing anything in for assessment?

This time around, my partner and I made the marathon effort and the Big Red Car we created was a winner!


Photo: Jiaren Lau/Wikimedia Commons

Published On: November 22nd, 20220 Comments on The Big Red CarTags: , , , ,

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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