As a child, I believed my dad could fix any type of motor. Whether it was a lawn mower, dirt bike or automobile, my dad could fix it. That knack extended into to all things mechanical and I’ve spent most of my life wishing I could be half as gifted.
It was a frequent occurrence for people to arrive at our family home with a trailer in tow to drop off mowers and other vehicles for tune-ups and repairs. After casual conversation, dad would unlatch one of the garage door panels and they’d push the contraption de jour into the tiny little shop where he would begin the process of restoration.
I would visit him in the garage when appropriate. On one such occasion, he was working on a late 1960s style push lawn mower that had a crank on top. Once the crank was fully wound, the operator would lock it in place and flip a switch to ignite the mower. Dad had spent many hours trying to get this mower back into operation, but was having no success. Mom and I visited him in the shop that evening. He was clearly frustrated and I’m sure he spewed a few curse words along the way. As he and mom chatted, I investigated the motor.
He explained how it was supposed to work, so I started spinning the crank top, listening to it click, click, click as it spun. I was soon straining more to get from one click to the next as the tension tightened. “Keep cranking it as far as you can,” dad said with a grin. So I gave it my all. “Let’s see if it starts,” my mom said a bit later. “Go ahead,” dad said. They both looked on with smiles as I pushed the lever into position. In a commotion of smoke and the gurgling sounds of the mower starting up, I looked to my father who was now red-faced as mom smiled and laughed in his direction.
I Did It
I remember little else about that evening, but I’ll cherish the night I thought I had fixed the one motor dad could not. It’s not the fact that I got one up on my dad. Rather, it’s the fact that he took the time to explain how it worked and allowed me to try. Whether he felt it was a worthwhile effort or not, he gave me a chance. Instead of saying “You’ll never get that thing running, so don’t even try,” he told me to give it a go and encouraged me. It’s similar to when he allowed me to extinguish the barbeque grill coals. He had a great, almost ritualistic process for making the best barbeque chicken you’d ever eaten. That ritual ended by using big grill tongs to pick the still warm coals from the grill and drop them into a bucket of water. It was fun for us kids to listen to the sizzle of hot coals as they hit the cool water, the smell of which lingered in your nose for hours afterward. Dad assigned me the duty on evening. I put on the thick work gloves and did the task. Satisfied with my work, I removed the gloves and put them back onto the shelf directly below the grill. Dad asked me later that night if I had done what he asked. I told him I had and he thanked me. Then he explained that he found the gloves burnt up below the grill. Either a coal dropped from the grill after I had finished, or perhaps during, and I carelessly threw the gloves on top of it.
My dad had the proper response in handling it with me. He was generally known to have a bit of a temper, but that wasn’t the case on this night. Instead, he explained the seriousness of what might have happened and made sure I knew that a much worse situation could have resulted.
No yelling, no cursing, no grounding or spanking. Just an explanation. The crank mower and the grill coals are two of my most cherished memories from my relationship with my dad. They were the rare moments in which we had one-on-one interaction and discussion. They are moments in which he instructed me, made sure I understood and then empowered me to grow as a person.
They are among the reasons I believe parents who take time to be present in their child’s life, to teach them and to equip them for life, are the parents who are most honored by their children. Dad took time to sow some key lessons into my life, and for that I will be forever grateful to him and the wisdom he imparted. I can only hope to weave such solid wisdom and understanding into the lives of my own children.
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