My Father's Son

Having a mechanic for a father has always been a blessing. It was never easy on him of course, and many was the “10 minute job” that turned into an entire day's project. There were tight bolts and hard-to-reach places and on more than one occasion I saw him take a blowtorch to a stubborn part, once uncomfortably close to a gas tank. His hands would be black with grease, sometimes bloody though he never noticed, and he shimmied under cars on a creeper trusting jacks that still make me nervous today.

I wasn't much help as a boy. “You need to learn so you can do this someday,” he told me wisely. I was often bored and just wanted to go back inside and watch Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. I leaned toward the artistic more than the mechanical, taking more after my mother although I'd like to think my musical ability comes from his side of the family. And while I could never diagnose a car just by hearing something was wrong, the way he could when his auditory senses were still at their peak, I did turn into a decent troubleshooter and a fast learner where computers were concerned. If my peers knew more than me, it just meant that I had really smart peers. The dumbest guy in a room full of geniuses still holds his own in this world.

Now I wish I had paid attention. As arthritis and old age take their toll, more and more my dad needs to rely on another set of hands. I can't fix a car by myself yet, but as long as he's there to guide me I can take things apart and put them back together. So it was on Monday that I went through an important rite of passage and changed the oil and filter in my new car for the first time. I had helped my dad with my old car, mostly loosening bolts or pouring clean oil into the engine, but he had handled the dirty work and the bulk of the job.

I had consulted the owner's manual ahead of time to ascertain where to drain the oil, especially since the vehicle was unfamiliar to both of us. The bolt of course proved too tight to remove, and while my dad went downstairs to look for a better tool, I slid under the car and worked the wrench, surprised at my success. Though I was fully expecting it, the gush of hot oil once I got the bolt loose also surprised me. “What did you do now?! Is that blood??” asked my mother, gardening nearby when I appeared by the hose with an oil-soaked hand. “You might have the computer-smarts, but you don't have the other everyday smarts...” she chuckled when I explained the situation. Meanwhile, my dad appeared with a new tool only to learn I was already draining the engine.

I had to fish in the bucket of oil for the bolt I'd dropped, so my hand didn't stay clean for long. Soon the dripping stopped and I replaced the bolt, noticing another problem before I moved on to the filter. In my left front tire, I could clearly see the head of a nail or screw. Thank God I was lying under the car to notice, not to mention that I had I rolled forward another inch or two, the nail wouldn't have been visible. Already, an estimated fifteen-minute job was taking longer than expected.

The filter was a little tough, but with a special tool my dad had I managed to get that loose, and avoid getting any oil on myself or the ground, better prepared. The new filter was easy to catch, but difficult to tighten as it had a marginally smaller diameter than the one we removed and the tool couldn't get a good bite. I tightened it by hand as much as I could then wrapped a cloth around it so the tool would fit. Finally we could move to the tire.

I rolled the car back once we lowered it to the ground and pulled back the jacks. We could see the head of the metal object was that of a worn down Phillips head screw, and my dad thought we might be lucky, that it might not have been long enough to puncture the inside of the tire. The whoosh of air when he removed it said otherwise, and we stuck it back in to plug the leak while he got a patch. That proved to be a simpler task than the other challenges we faced. He removed the screw again as I shoved the patch through, a strip of some kind of adhesive held by a metal device that could be retracted, leaving the adhesive in place. Once we were satisfied that it held, my dad had me slowly roll the car forward and backward while he walked around checking the other tires for nails.

Our next destination was the gas station, to replace any air that had been lost and add air to the other three tires as needed. I did those first, and when I got back to the problem tire I couldn't believe my eyes.

“Hey dad?”


“What'd you do with that screw?”

“What screw?”

“The one we took out. Do you have it?”

The old man fumbled around his pockets, producing some pennies, a half-wrapped hard candy, and his car keys.

“No, why?”

“I think I rolled over it again.”

I would have thought it was a different screw, save for the fact that the original one was unaccounted for and this one was two inches from the spot we'd patched, so we clearly would have noticed if there were two in the tire to begin with. No, when he took it out he must have dropped it on the ground, and when I was rolling the car forward and backward for him to check the other tires, I managed to work the screw back into the tire we took it from. Of course.

We were lucky this time. Despite rolling over it a few times and then driving to the gas station, the screw was still sticking out a bit and hadn't penetrated the inside of the tire. No air leaked, and when we got home my dad treated the area with some kind of black sealant from a tube. Two hours after we began the oil change, I could finally take a shower, throw on some clean clothes, and enjoy the rest of my day off. I might not have inherited my dad's mechanical abilities, but I'm pretty sure I know where my luck comes from.


Blogger Lorna said...

You can tell a story like nobody's business

9/02/2008 9:44 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

As can you, Lorna, as can you. :)

9/02/2008 9:54 PM  

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