English is not his mother tongue but that doesn’t stop my dad from going through the fine print on contracts. “Part and labor for one year,” he reads aloud to me.
I correct him. “Parts,” I say.
“Do parts include silly putty?” he asks me.
“What are you talking about?”
He had noticed a leak coming from the new air conditioner. The front panel is attached via round bolts threaded through oval holes. Which explains the minute threads of cooled air escaping past his outstretched hand. He calls the HVAC guy and tells him to bring his silly putty.
My dad loves figuring out how things work. Not only does he want to understand the mechanisms that surround him, his brain has the capacity to hold blueprints in his mind, rotate them, manipulate them. He enjoys solving the puzzle when things go wrong.
My brother remembers the day my dad took apart the riding lawn mower. “It won’t start,” explained my dad, gesturing over what seemed like a thousand pieces arrayed across the floor of the garage. My brother wanted to help but had to hurry to work.
When he returned later that afternoon, my brother noticed my dad out mowing the lawn. Even as a teenager, he was impressed. “Baba fixed the lawn mower!” he said to my mom. “Yes he did!” she said. “What was wrong with it?” he asked. “It was out of gas.”
My brother loves telling that story to his patients sitting, open-mouthed and drooling, in his dental chair. That one, and the one about my dad changing the oil in my brother’s car. Which is a point of pride for my dad, avoiding the unnecessary charge for an oil change at the mechanic’s. Only on this occasion, my dad forgot the rag, left it behind, and my brother awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of a police officer smashing his car’s window to pop the hood and douse the fire under the hood.
Not everything my dad touches turns out quite the way he expects.
When my parents’ basement flooded, he came up with an ingenious plan to dry the carpeting without calling in the professionals. He laid down sheets of newspaper and then gently applied heat with an iron. It worked beautifully, drawing out the water, but leaving behind clearly legible newsprint reporting on the massive flooding in the Midwest. Talk about a nice way to document your home’s history.
And when his precious Mercedes suffered its first ding, he wasn’t about to take it to the dealership. Instead, he purchased a bottle of automotive touch-up paint. Only he couldn’t get it open. Sitting in the passenger seat, he worked at it and worked at it. You know what happened, don’t you. A pressurized paint can, a Persian who fancies himself MacGyver, and luxury leather upholstery is all you need to know.
My brother-in-law Jeff, a true MacGyver living a well-oiled life in Des Moines, Iowa, thinks my dad combines an American do-it-yourself bravado with a Persian’s deep distrust of outside interference. Jeff once watched in mute disbelief as my dad tossed aside the manual for the crib he was assembling. It’s “full of errors,” my dad huffed. Sure enough, ninety minutes later, a crib stood ready for Jeff’s new son. “What are these?” Jeff asked, pointing out a few unaccounted pieces of hardware. “Extras,” was my dad’s explanation.
Jeff wrote up a little ditty about my dad’s process. I thought I’d share it here:
A NEEDED REPAIR
The Persian contemplates the project ahead of him. Ripe with anticipation. Sympathetic nervous system firing. Sweat gathers on his upper lip, only hidden by thick mustache. Heart rate rises. Edginess similar to race horse just before the bell rings.
MAN VS. MANUAL
The Persian mocks the common toolbox. All he needs is his handy K-Tel 4-in-1 wrench, yet comforted by his back-up equipment consisting of a roll of duct tape and a ball of string circa 1977.
THE BELL RINGS
The Persian is off and racing, parts flying together with precision. Hands moving as if guided by divine intervention. Crazy fingers twitching with the speed that would match the mastery of the pinball wizard himself. No need for the manual — its only use is as a fan to cool his pulsating brain.
THE DUST SETTLES
The Persian stops. The hands quiet. The sweat cools. He reveals the finished project. It may resemble a Rube Goldberg drawing but it is done.
A SINGLE CLAP.