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Building a canoe – and rebuilding a relationship with his late father

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Trent Preszler says his hardscrabble life growing up on a cattle ranch in Faith, South Dakota was made tougher because of his relationship with his father, Leon, a former rodeo champion and Vietnam War vet.

CBS News lead national correspondent David Begnaud asked Preszler, “Did your dad ever tell you he loved you?”

“No. Not once,” he replied. “I wanted him to so badly. And I felt like if I was the first one to say, ‘I love you,’ that somehow it would be worth less.'”

Trent Preszler and his father, Leon. 

Family Photo

Preszler recalled one day as a boy he was hammering some aluminum cans to make money, and ended up destroying some bricks that were part of the patio.

“And next thing you know, as the story goes, your dad punches you in the face?” Begnaud asked.

“Yes. He did. Only one time.”

“But you never forgot it?”

“Never forgot it.”

“What did it do to you?”

“Well, it made me afraid of him,” Preszler said. “It made me kind of question my place with him. And I was trying so hard to live up to my dad’s expectations. And it made me feel like maybe it would never be possible that I could.”

In 2000 Trent’s sister, Lucy, who was two years older, died of a rare illness at the age 25. Shortly after the funeral, Trent came out to his father, saying that he was gay. His father’s response, according to Trent: “‘We ain’t never gonna talk about that again.’ And we didn’t. He wasn’t kidding.”

Fast forward to 2014: Preszler was living in New York, and had gone nearly a decade estranged from his father, when his mother asked him to come home and visit for Thanksgiving. Preszler’s dad was very sick.

“When I visited him in the hospital, the last time I saw him alive when his cancer had flared up again, I leaned in to give him a hug on his hospital bed. And he gripped me so tight. I mean, I could feel his hands, like, digging into the back of my shirt. And I thought maybe that would be the moment, finally, when my father said ‘I love you.’ And he didn’t. The last words my father said to me were, ‘Drive safe, okay?'”

In life, Preszler thought he had little in common with his dad. “But that all came crashing down when I saw him lying in his casket,” he said. “I looked at his hands, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I have the same hands as my dad.’ And, you know, my mom always said, ‘Your father could build anything.’ And it was that moment when I thought, ‘Well, if he could build anything with his hands, maybe I can too.'”

In his workshop is the only thing his father left him: his toolbox.

After his father’s death, Preszler spent a year obsessed, teaching himself how to shape refine and finish, of all things, a canoe. And not just any canoe; this is a canoe made by his own hand that has buyers around the world wanting him to build more, at a price point of $100,000 a canoe.

Trent Preszler uses his father’s tools to build bespoke canoes. 

Randee Post Daddona

“So, it was almost like dad saying, ‘I’m gonna give you just enough to get you on the road. And then you gotta figure the rest out yourself,'” he said.

Begnaud asked, “Is this a business or is it a hobby?”

“Well, I’d say it’s both. But it has become a business. I’ve sold two boats. I have a third boat on commission now. And the great part about it is that it still feels like a hobby. It still feels like a passion project.”

Aaron T. Joseph/Preszler Woodshop

By day, the 44-year-old is CEO of a winery on the North Fork of Long Island. In April his memoir, “Little and Often,” was released. It’s about his journey growing up the son of a cowboy in South Dakota, and how building a canoe from scratch led to some self-discovery.

Preszler said. “I realize now that I think maybe he knew that when he knew he was about to die. Because when that moment came to say goodbye, he didn’t hold back a single ounce of his love. Whether that was just saying, you know, ‘Drive safe,’ or if that was saying, ‘Here, take my tools and make something of yourself,’ that was all he could give.”

William Morrow

Begnaud asked, “Finish this line for me: ‘I wish I would’ve told him…'”

“I wish I would’ve told him that I loved him. And I wish I would’ve thanked him for all the lessons that he taught me growing up.”

“‘Little and Often’ is the title of your book. Means what?”

“Well, it means that extraordinary things can happen if we just focus on doing little, ordinary tasks every day. And building this canoe with my dad’s tools kind of beat that lesson into me, where it was like, ‘No, no, no. This is the only way it’s going to happen. You can’t do this any other way. Dad’s way is the “little and often” way.'”

“Thinking about the title of the book, what I’m thinking is, to love, on this Father’s Day, little and often is good enough?” Begnaud asked.

“It sure is.”

     
For more info:

    
Story produced by Sean Herbert. Editor: Joseph Frandino.

     
Web exclusive: Matt Bomer on recording the audiobook of Trent Preszler’s memoir, “Little and Often”



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