Saturday mornings when I was a child required no alarm clocks or wake up calls. The sounds of wrenches, pliers, and oil pans ringing on the driveway were as regular as a sunrise. My father was always fixing this or tinkering with that. He loved cars, and loved teaching me how to change the brake pads, or replace the oil, or even install a new master cylinder. I remember when my old ’77 Nova blew out because stupid me forgot that cars need oil. He called two of his army buddies and the three of them lifted that engine right out of that car (granted, it was a small one), but I remember watching them remove the hood and just raise that block and set it up on blocks so they could take it apart. It took most of the weekend, but they managed to install a new “metal block with big holes” to replace the one I had somehow cracked. They let me hold flashlights, and even prep the surfaces for gasket seals. And they told me how someday I’d probably be able to do all of that myself. I just rememeber being impressed with how much they knew about every little bolt and lockwasher under the hood of any given automobile. If your car squeaked, my father could tell you why, put your car up on ramps, and fix it. He just loved cars, and I know that he hoped someday to share that passion with me.
I don’t love cars. I don’t take care of cars. Sure I keep the fluids at levels above empty (mostly), but I don’t wash them, and when I finish my McDonalds meal, I usually bunch the bag and toss it on the floor until there are about seven or eight of them. To me, a car is a utensil, and one that doesn’t need to be clean in order to do the job you need it to do. It doesn’t even need to run well – it just needs to run. As you can well imagine, my father never quite did figure out where he “failed” with me, and why after hundreds of years of “tinkerers” in our family (German Carpenters from 1350 right up to my own Grandfather), I would turn out different. To him, it was as if he had somehow failed to pass on a family tradition; a lineage that he somehow failed to continue.
Last weekend, my father’s car needed a new oil pan. His army buddies are gone now, and he’s hardly capable of lifting engine blocks “the Army way”. But I helped him hang a tackle from a sturdy tree overhanging the driveway, and together we winced it and together we installed a new pan. He went on and on about how he had been to a recent auto show and bid on a few vintage cars, and what he planned to do with them. What he usually did with them was line them up behind the house, convinced that someday he would fix them and sell them. But he could see in my eyes as I listened, that I wasn’t really excited about his day. We finished by sundown, and I was home in time for dinner. I was in the middle of replacing my motherboard when he called to thank me again for my help. “So, what are you doing,” he asked. I started off telling him that my new motherboard was broken, and that I had been replacing it. He had no idea what I was talking about but asked me what was wrong with it. “Well dad, the CPU fans stopped spinning, and the extra case fans I installed were not able to supplement the failure, so I have to replace it. But this is really going to be great because with all these extra fans, my cpu temperature should be…about…”
And like a runaway train, it hit me square in the chest. I don’t know how long I was silent, but he eventually broke the pause with, “well, I just wanted to thank you again for all your help, son.” I smiled and replied, “Dad, it’s the least I could do after all the stuff you’ve done for me.” I hung up and just sat in the quiet for a while, as the realization settled in. I had become my father, and perhaps I felt what he did the day he realized that after centuries of tradition, he wouldn’t be a carpenter like his father was, but wanted to work on cars. We’re not so different after all, me and him.
People tell me I’m starting to look like my father, and I’ve even caught myself in laughter, sounding exactly like him. Some people dread the day they turn into their parents. But I couldn’t think of another person I’d rather turn into than my dad. I guess the only thing left for me now is to lose my hair and use that “comb over” trick so nobody can tell. And maybe someday I’ll have a son, and I’ll try to turn him into a computer geek like his old man.