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.