My dad is the calmest person I’ve ever known. You can’t agitate the man. I should know; I was a teenager for seven years, and I was trying the entire time. I can’t remember Dad ever raising his voice in anger, though I do remember him making quite a racket when he ran into a yellow jacket nest with the lawnmower.
I think the reason my Dad never lost his cool with me was because I wasn’t a car engine. If I had been a car engine, I would have spent the better part of my formative years with Dad shining a light in my face and hollering. Dad is very handy at fixing cars, and he’s probably better at it than many professional mechanics, but I think the secret of his success is that he lubricates the inner-workings of his automobiles with expletives.
To illustrate, here’s one of those stories that’s been told in my family three-thousand times, changing slightly with each telling, but generally keeping the same punch line. In a couple years, this story will probably involve a blue ox and/or somebody riding a catfish down the Rio Grande.
When my sister Amy was a little girl, she wandered out into the garage, where my Dad was clanging around with his head inside the hood of our old blue station wagon. She had a little red toy hammer in her hand.
“Hi, Daddy!” Amy said. Dad put down his wrench and wiped his greasy hands on a rag.
“What brings you out here, little girl?” he asked her.
“I help Daddy!” she said, and she would have needed to have wrinkly puppies sleeping on her head to have been any cuter.
“Thanks, kiddo,” Dad said. “I could use some help.” A faint sound of wood creaking could be heard in the far corner of the garage; it was Norman Rockwell setting up his easel.
Then Amy started wildly swinging the hammer, yelling with each down stroke, “Dang! Dang! Dang! Dang!”
But she did not say dang. She said the first bad word you’re ever allowed to say in front of your parents, except she was at least ten years too young to be saying it, displaying at once her surprising knack for both mimicry and auto repair. Mr. Rockwell picked up his things and quickly exited the building. This is normally where the story ends, everyone has a good laugh and then Amy brings up the time I peed in the bathtub.
I mention all of the above only because, since becoming a homeowner, I have discovered that trying to fix things turns me from a mellow guy into a raving lunatic, and I’d like to blame it on genetics, rather than on me, of course. Perhaps I am turning into my dad. If you knew the man, you’d agree that that’s the best-case scenario. Regardless, Dad and I both have a special talent for swearing at inanimate objects, but when he swears at them, they listen.
I tried to replace the belt on our dryer last week, and at the low point of the evening, I found myself covered in sweat, froth and grime, waist-deep in large pieces of metal, hoarse from hollering at each of them, wondering how I was possibly going to retrieve each of the three screws I had dropped into an inaccessible chasm behind the tumbler. I put the dryer back together as best I could, but we can no longer run the thing safely. It makes such a screeching noise that it messes up whale migrations.
The good news is that Mom and Dad are coming to visit next weekend, and they promised me that they’d help me fix the old dryer or help me carry in a new one. I have a feeling that with the combined power of Dad’s vocabulary and mine, we’ll have the old one fixed up in no time.
Calm down! You can reach Mike Todd online at firstname.lastname@example.org.