Mark Twain once wrote, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
That quote could not be more perfect to describe my adolescent years, except my dad may have been on a faster learning curve of taking only four years to when I was around 18 — about the same time I had my first car and the repairs that came with it.
This was the late ‘70s and the car was a ‘68 Firebird convertible, which if I held on to, now lists for about $30,000 in Hemmings Motor News. It was the type of car that when you opened the hood all you saw was the engine, compared now to the monstrosity of hoses, wires, plastic covers, and tubes that are in an “engine compartment” of today’s vehicles.
The only hoses that mattered then were the ones from the radiator and the only wires needing attention were those to the spark plugs.
Dad showed me that not only did he have the ability of knowing how to change a water pump, but the wisdom of why, when changing the sparkplug wires, you changed them one at a time, compared to my bright initiative of removing all the old ones first and then trying to re-trace the path and figure out which distributor cap hole each wire was supposed to be plugged into.
My father, a draftsman and steel construction estimator by trade, earned the nickname “El Cheapo” by my brother and me because of his preference to do home and appliance repairs himself rather than hire an electrician or contractor — even for the big jobs of our circa 1920 home. Dad converted the attic space into a large bedroom for my sister, doing the wiring, flooring and sheetrock himself.
I discovered my father’s Mensa prominence after I bought my own house in the valley 20 years ago. Even though it was new (I saw it rise from a concrete slab in its lot), garbage disposals would eventually need replacing, appliances would break, and upgrades would be made to it.
Dad again would come over and show me the ins-and-outs he had gathered, passing them along to where now I can adequately tackle most basic repairs and have the confidence of plumbing, electrical work, and appliance repair.
I have gained my own wisdom learning the 120v hard way that when upgrading our switches and covers from ivory to white that despite some plugs and switches being on the same wall panel, it does not mean they are wired to the same circuit breaker.
I recall one time when my overhead microwave went out and I figured it had given up the struggle over its 15-year life. While pricing out new ones at $200 a pop, my father suggested that since I predetermined that it was not repairable and I had nothing to lose, that I venture into taking off the faceplate to see if it had an internal fuse. A 35-cent fuse later, the microwave was back in service.
One thing Dad couldn’t teach me was the skillfulness needed in painting and construction projects. I’m a wiz if something’s threaded or pre-measured and it’s a remove-replace or assembly project. If the undertaking requires cutting, painting, or exact measuring, I’m a bit more challenged.
I am, however, becoming more experienced in the painting field due to my wife’s latest quest to have no white wall left in our house since my retirement from the police department last year.
Of course, by the time I realized what a mastermind my dad was, I had kids of my own who had many of the same criticisms of a father I did when I was 14.
Now, as did I, my son and daughter are realizing the wisdom of their father too.
My son has needed my assistance with his own car crises since he’s started driving, including one time notifying me that the car wouldn’t start. The problem was quickly solved when I asked if he had the shifter in the ‘Park’ position. (This seems to be a prevalent trouble with the Millennial Generation because as a sergeant I was approached with the same dilemma by more than one rookie police officer.)
My recently married daughter (and new home owner) has called me up with, “Da-DEE,” which she knows melts my heart and can induce me into whatever favor she is about to ask, to bail her out with garbage disposal replacement, installing overhead fans, lighting troubleshooting, and kitchen upgrades. To their rescue I went and eventually mentored my new son-in-law in the same fashion as my dad.
My growing up period was not free of issues and I vowed many times not to raise my kids in many of the same methods as my parents. A high school friend of mine who is a successful stand-up comedian with a “colorful past” talks about growing up in his family stating that he’s not the dad he had, so his son will not be the boy he was, because of the man he’s become.
Some of this even applies to me. I would never think of wanting to take another car-motel vacation with my parents and conversely my kids love to travel with my wife and I on the type of vacations we take. While I had curfews for my kids, I wasn’t as strict as I perceived my parents to be. I may have my own idiosyncrasies, but I feel I allowed my kids their own independence.
However, one legacy I wish to pass down is not only being knowledgeable, as my father, but to offer the same selfless giving of himself as he did for me.
Richard Paloma is a retired police officer and writes for The Riverbank News, The Oakdale Leader and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at 847-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.