When I was a kid, I could always count on my dad teaching me new things whether I wanted to learn them or not. My level of interest was never a consideration in his estimation of whether or not I needed to learn something. If it was a useful skill, he was going to teach it to me. By force, if necessary.
Recently, the ceiling fan in our bedroom started making an odd noise. It was annoying and kept me up at night. So either the fan had to be fixed or it was staying off. Fortunately, I knew what to do… all because of dad.
I flipped the breaker and disassembled the fan. Off came the lights and the blades. Then the housing got removed. Finally, I was left with just the motor attached to the ceiling. I undid the nuts, dropped the motor, and removed the wire nuts. Once I had the motor in my hand I could really listen to the sound it was making when I turned it. “Ah,” I thought to myself. “That’s the sound of a dry bearing. This thing needs oil.”
So after carefully applying a little oil, I reattached the motor to the wires and mounted it to the ceiling. After flipping the breaker back on, I turned on the fan. Granted, it was spinning rather fast without the weight of the blades. But it was fairly quiet. So I completed the reassembly, cleaning off parts in the process. Now, it’s all back together and quiet. Fortunately, the lights still work, too.
How did I know to do that? My dad. He’s the one who made me watch when he put in a new light socket in the basement… after I had yanked the cord and broken the one that came with the house. I stood there with a flash light while he connected the new socket, and then I followed him over to the breaker box in the corner. With a flip of the switch, we had a light over the washing machine again.
Dad didn’t always have the most patience with me. In hindsight, he probably couldn’t understand why I wasn’t paying attention. My second grade teacher had the same problem. But, he did teach me. More than any specific skill or technique, he taught me not to be afraid to try.
So, when I took the fan apart, I noted where everything was connected. I noted what screws went where. When it came time to put it back together, I knew where everything went. Not because I had a great understanding of electricians’ work. But because he taught me that I could do it, if I paid attention.
Our oldest starts 4th grade this year. He’s going to learn a lot from his new teacher. The stakes get raised and the homework gets harder. He’s going to memorize his multiplication tables, even if it kills me.
But I find myself asking, “what am I going to teach him this year? What is he going to learn from me that will affect how he lives the rest of his life?” Ask me next summer, and I might have an answer.
Derek Gwinn is the project manager for Operation Us. He and his wife live with two boys, a half-dozen fish and and one ugly cat. An avowed "geek" and graduate of the University of Kentucky, he's easily distracted by new technology or Wildcat Basketball.