Fathers, in the most ideal of conditions, serve as more than the authoritarian figures in our lives. Eventually, if others are as fortunate as I am, fathers become friends. Despite this overwhelmingly unlikely ideal that I myself am privy to, I recognize that some fathers lean more on the side of tool rather than at the side of Al Borland on “Tool Time.”

Paul Wong
DEBBIE MIZEL/Daily

My father is no such tool. Constantly absorbed in fixing, repairing, breaking things and then fixing things again, all in the name of the betterment of our little plot in Traverse City, my father is a tinkerer with a full box of tools.

And not new tools. His tools glimmer like those on display at Home Depot (the Toys “R” Us of the middle-aged man), but they are from the stone age. Their only scratches are the engraved “RHS” that proudly decorate each piece in his giant collection. He maintains that a man only needs to purchase a single set of tools, and after that, if he takes care of them and doesn”t loan them out (“Never loan the tools out, you won”t see them again,” My Father) they will last a lifetime.

This homage to fathers begins with an e-mail I received from my dad last week. In order to understand the following to the zenith of its thematic importance readers should know a few key background facts: First, my mother is Kathy, second, my dad is a lawyer, and he comes home for lunch almost every day and third, this is from an email, so my father is using “netspeak” (whatever that means). He”s actually smarter than he sounds in the email, and he”s smarter than you.

Luke Got time to tell you about Tuesday.

I was in the midst of researching and writing a long brief at work 15 pages typed, when I came home for lunch with Kathy. Seems all the garage lights burned out. So, I go and replace all four bulbs three went bad, but when the 4th went, I knew I had to do something. In the process, I”m up on the ladder to replace two in the ceiling fixture when they fall from my coat pocket and the new bulbs die on the floor. So I have Kathy get two more bulbs. Easy huh? I put all four in, leaving the last two to do above the steps at the back door.

I holler to Kathy, who is then inside the house, and have her flip the switch (next to the dimmer, just inside the door). She does. Nothing. Damn, I think.

So I go inside, thinking the switch must be bad. Mind you, this is during lunch, and I”m hurrying to get back to work to finish my writing project. It just wasn”t one of those days I felt I could spend on “Tool Time.” So I run downstairs, get out my electrical junk box, retrieve another old switch, tools, shut off power to dining room at fuse box and head upstairs into the dining room to the switch.

After pulling it out and handling it some, I see some little blue sparks. Lucky it was sparking on my screwdriver rather than my hands, as I thought I had cut off the power to that area. Uhh … go back downstairs, then cut out the fuse to the garage too thinking “well, maybe power for these garage lights is coming from inside the house to the switch somehow.” I return, complete the wiring job, return to the circuit breaker box, throw the switches and expect Voila!

So, I run back up, have Kathy flip the switch, look into the garage and there is NOTHING. Oh Shit I think, maybe those mice critters we had up in the garage attic last fall (before I fed the poison and ate through a wire or something. I don”t have time to go crawling there now, and by the time I get home, it”ll be too dark for that crap.) So Kathy says, maybe we should get an electrician to look at it. I think “yeah,” as I”m fit to be tied, given my still waiting writing project. So she calls, and the electrician is to call back about 5:00 pm per the recording.

I go back to work, happy as a clam.

About two hours later, the phone rings it”s Kathy, and she”s laughing hysterically. I ask, “what”s up honey?”

She tells me the lights are working fine now. All she did was turn on the light switch by the door OUT IN THE GARAGE.

The ends that my father (and presumably other fathers) reach to simply make sure that their worlds are completely in order is hysterical. My father stood at a socket and nearly fried himself to death in the name of a four-pack of burnt out light bulbs. He put his writing project on hold for part of the afternoon to spend his lunch away from his daily peanut butter and honey sandwich, choosing instead to climb around a ladder and bungle through the garage seeking the root of the lack of light.

Fathers stumble around garages everyday, and much of the time for little more than car-port visual acuity. Sometimes though, the seemingly aimless fixing and tweaking has an end goal, like flipping a switch.

Luke Smith can be reached at lukems@umich.edu.

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