My Father Taught Me

My siblings and I will be gathering in a few days to commemorate my father’s 100th birthday. He may not be in attendance since he passed away twelve and a half years ago. But who can say? The veil between this life and the next gets pretty thin for some people. Wilfred Woodruff, past president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was such a man. According to an account handed down, President Woodruff met the son of one of his old friends on the street. He said, “And how is your father. I don’t think I’ve seen him since he died.”

Whether or not he attends in person, our father’s influence will preside over the occasion, of course. We will visit the places where he and we grew up, tell the old jokes and stories that were staples of our childhood, sing the songs , and they were many, he loved to harmonize with us.

Over all we will be reliving the heritage, the sacrifices, the support, the love, the stability, the unheralded heroism that we were blessed to receive from him.

We will retell to each other the lessons we learned at his knee, but not at his hand, for he didn’t believe in spanking or other physical discipline. Only once did he break that code with me, and it was a time I sorely (pun intended) deserved it.

Like most children, the lessons I learned from Dad were most often observed and extracted from watching what he did. He, I’m sure, wasn’t aware he was teaching at the time. Those lessons also return to me at odd times.
The other day I was observing the annual leaking water line ceremony that our roof top swamp cooler puts me through. No matter how carefully I drain the line every autumn, every summer when I turn on the water the line will spit at me from a crack (or several). I think I could roll it up in the fall and take it to bed with me every night to keep it cozy and warm, and as surely as the summer solstice rolls across the mountains east of us, it will spray the side of the house again. And I will be splicing in a repair section, again, tightening the fittings, and muttering to myself,

“Surely a nation that could put a man on the moon could….”

Plumbing is my favorite activity next to do-it-yourself root canals. It is in some ways like the surgery. You never really know if the operation is successful until the job is sewn up. If the pipe or the patient leaks, it’s back to square one.

This time, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, I turned on the water and my connection held tight and dry. “But just to make sure,” as is my usual thought process, “I’ll just give it one more turn for good measure.” Then my father’s spirit whispered to me from heaven where, among other blessings, the plumbing never leaks, “Remember the basement water line.”

The memory came flooding back (pun intended.) Late Saturday night, winter cold, basement dark and clammy, all the plumbing supply stores closed, the plumbers asleep in their beds–not that we likely would have laid out precious cash for either parts or labor when there was a snowball’s chance in Hades we could fix it ourselves with left over stuff cannibalized from previous patch jobs.

With few and ancient tools, and a novice knowledge of the dark arts of plumbing, we yanked, jerked, and pried the leaking joint apart. Dad did the surgery. I managed the yellow glimmer from the flashlight sucking the last dregs of energy from its batteries. We cobbled together a splint for the house water line. Dad warily approached the incoming water valve and gently coaxed it open. I aimed the bucket to catch the inevitable.

But no; the gods of plumbing smiled upon us. The connection held. It was not even moist. We were astounded, amazed, and gratified. In his delirium of victory my father said, “Ill just give it one more little….”
Threads stripped, pipes slipped, joint snapped, a new geyser was born in the world. Dad ran for the valve enlarging my vocabulary as he went. I started my Saturday night shower early.

I learned a lesson that night without realizing it. When plumbing and/or people are under pressure, don’t cinch down. Back off. That truth has helped me in sports, personal and business relations, parenting, church counseling, and many other ways I could think of if I weren’t under the stress of trying to write something profound here.
Observing my work on the swamp cooler, I smothered the urge to tighten the water line. I zipped up my tool bag and tiptoed away. The last time I looked the repair was still holding. Thanks Dad.