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You’re never too old to ask Dad

Laura Crooks The Spokesman-Review

‘Your daughter has a question for you.”

Of course, after some 15 years as my phone-call-away personal handy man, my father knows I never call just to chat about how his grandkids are doing. Nah, we do that via e-mail, where we can send photos and such.

The phone is reserved for more important conversations, which usually start something like:

“So… we were replacing the door knob on the garage door and we got it down to the mechanism inside the hole and a piece broke off and then someone closed the door completely and now we can’t get it open.”

“So… we disconnected the wires to the telephone jack in the living room when we were painting. Because the wires were short, we couldn’t get it hooked up again but figured we don’t use that plug anyway. But now the phones in every room of the house have stopped working.”

Somewhere along the way to adulthood, I apparently missed the class about every little thing you need to know about houses and cars to stay sane. But as a trained journalist, I know very well the value of a good source of information and guidance, one who can help me navigate the web of deceit, also known as the yellow pages.

My dad is Deep Throat.

Before I call any contractor or technician, I call him for a debriefing. I have to root out what potential scams they may try to pull. I have to get a basic understanding of how the device works. I need an insider, a knowledgeable source who can tell me if I’m on the right track.

“So … the car is making this noise when we start it up. What could it be?”

Dad knows I don’t really expect him to diagnose the problem from 1,300 miles away by listening to the distressing noise over the phone. He knows his role well: confirm or deny my suspicions.

Even after I call someone and write out a hefty check for repairs, I call Dad for a follow-up debriefing, with detailed notes about what the contractor said.

“So the plumbing guy says the upstairs toilet is draining slowly because the jets that fill it are clogged with calcium and rust deposits. Aside from blasting the thing with sulfuric acid, he says we probably should just replace it. Does that sound right to you? Have you ever heard anything like that?”

Of course, the underlying question I’m hoping to have answered is, “Did we just get ripped off?”

Dad may sigh or grumble “Now what?” when he finds out it’s me on the phone. But I know he secretly loves feeling needed by his all-grown-up baby.

And I figure the calls are part of the payback. After all, my distrust of professional fix-it people comes from growing up under the wings of a guy who reads Popular Science, Popular Mechanics and local building codes for fun. When I was a kid, Dad played games like “I spy a Phillips screwdriver, a monkey wrench and a 9/16-inch socket.”

When something breaks down in the house, my husband’s first reaction is “call someone.”

Not my Dad. He never called a repairman. Nope. Never.

Even after he attempted to fix a leaking dishwasher three times by himself, instead of calling a trained technician, Dad declared we would simply do without a dishwasher.

One would think that after a year of fighting with siblings over who has to wash, dry or put away the dishes, I would have sworn off following in his footsteps. But, like father, like daughter.

The other night the refrigerator door fell off its hinges. My husband and kids stood there mouths gaping wide as bottles of ketchup and salad dressing and jars of olives crashed to the kitchen floor.

Without missing a beat, I took two steps toward the phone. But then I stopped. It’s an hour later in Arizona, I thought. Can’t risk waking Deep Throat for this one.

We managed to find the screws that had worked their way out and put the door back on.

The next day I thought about calling Dad just to tell him that I didn’t call him the night before and that everything still turned out OK. But I didn’t. Something tells me he would have felt left out.

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