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Next Man Up

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It wasn’t a big job and Dad could fix just about anything, but his 1985 Chevy Impala needed a new water pump and he asked me to change it for him. That in itself was like the passing of the baton.  As long as I could remember, Dad was the guy you asked for help—if he couldn’t fix it—you might as well throw it away. Dad didn’t just repair things, he improved their design and invented tools to make those repairs easier.

Once he wasn’t happy with the leaf rake he was using, so he disappeared into his work shed. After a week of sawing, drilling and hammering, he unveiled his newest invention—a rake with twenty spring loaded tines.  His design kept uniform pressure on the ground and gathered up more leaves than its predecessor. It was a thing to behold—but it weighed a ton.  I told him he should have put wheels on it. He glared at me for a moment, snatched it out of my hand and disappeared back into his shed.

He taught me how to use tools by helping me build my first bicycle. It was constructed from the remains of several other bikes. Dad had a watchful eye and was maybe a little more concerned about accuracy and detail than I. His meticulous way of doing things sometimes drove me nuts. On one occasion I actually snuck some tools out into the field behind our house where I secretly replaced my bike’s crank set bearings. I wanted to get the bike back on the road—not spend the rest of the afternoon preforming his multipoint inspection.

Even after I moved into my own home, Dad would like to check my work and always seemed to say, “You know what you could have done?”  So when he asked me to change the water pump I realized—maybe for the first time—that Dad’s age was starting to cause him some limitations.  Not only was I happy to help him out, it was satisfying to know that he thought I was capable.

We brought the car next door to my uncle’s garage and I began the job. Between my dad trying to look over my shoulder and my self proclaimed expert uncle pointing out each and every step, it was getting pretty crowded under the hood. So I asked them if they would mind just holding the light and handing me the tools as I needed them.  Neither one of them could see well enough to read the wrench sizes so they guessed—and argued—and usually handed me the wrong size wrench.

Finally I asked if they’d mind going to the auto parts store to buy a new radiator hose clamp. I didn’t need the clamp, I needed room to work. So “MUTT and JEFF” left for the store and in the tranquility of their absence I removed and replaced the pump.

Surprised to see it completed on their return they asked how I finished so quickly. I told them, “Once I got the two of you out of my way it went pretty quickly.”  Dad laughed, but there was another emotion behind his laugh.

These days I find myself struggling to do some of the work I used to do. I rely on my son-in-law Doug for help. When he first married my daughter he couldn’t do much. He never had a dad to show him, but he was very willing to learn.  Over the years he has kind of taken over and I now find myself holding the flashlight and handing him wrenches.

Now I know what my dad was feeling behind that laugh of his. Eventually everyone gets replaced.

I hope that Dad got as much joy in watching me take the baton from him as I do watching Doug.

Photo credit: arbyreed / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

12 thoughts on “Next Man Up

  1. This is a wonderful, warming tale! Brought back memories of working alongside my dad when I was small :). And I am now passing this along to my own children. (Just like to mention that your website looks fantastic – goes so well with the tone and content of your posts – I shall enjoy reading more of it!). Mir xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You know we all spent a many of hours with Dad showing us his magic .I remember He would come out to the car before I would take off with it and he would check the oil ,clean the head lights and check to see if they would light up and turn signals worked .I would have to make plans to leave 30 minutes before time .This on time I left after Dad’s pit stop and was going towards Thornton Woods when a cop pulled me over and gave me a ticket for one head light being out .Man I told him about Dad’s checking it all out before I left BUT I got the ticket anyway .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great story, Gene. I chuckled over your comment that he should have put wheels on that rake. Very funny! Hopefully, your son in law will appreciate the wisdom you are able to pass on to him now. God bless you and yours. 🙂


  4. Gene, what a beautiful post. I love the picture of you helping and taking things over for your dad, and now your son-in-law doing the same for you. I guess I don’t like to look at it as you (or me, or my husband) being replaced. I like your picture of passing the baton. It’s the next generation’s turn to step up and take on living and doing well. And when we’ve trained them in that, they’ll succeed. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. There are some who do not like to pass on their skills or accomplishments and would rather the younger generation learnt on their own. This often happens in Medicine. Sometimes a physician knows how to do a particular procedure but he doesn’t like to teach it to a young student because who knows, the student might get better than the teacher ?
    I am so glad to read this post of the handing of the baton and also that you taught Doug to do things and he willingly learnt from you.
    God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right Susie, there are those who will not pass down what they’ve learned through experience. Honestly I think that some people just don’t want to be easily replaced so they purposely withhold information. What I’ve learned over my 40 year railroad career is that everyone can and will be replaced.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is so true- no one is indispensable. I worked in a department where I thought I worked the hardest and knew a lot about the running of the department- when I left I thought, that should show them- they will most probably come running after me and say, “come back.we need you”. Nothing like that happened.
        Important life lesson learnt then.
        I am so glad I blog because I get to share and learn from experienced “good” people like you, Gene.

        Liked by 1 person

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