Be a plumber, my father said

From the Halifax Daily News, April 2, 1995

Be a plumber, my late father told me once. It’s good, honest work; secure – everybody’s drain backs up sooner or later – and the pay’s better than your average reporter will ever earn. You even get overtime. Time-and-a-half on weekends, double-time on Sundays, the sky’s the limit on holidays.

Truth to tell, I don’t think my father ever really believed writing was any way for an honest person to make a living.

He may have been right about that.

But he was wrong about the other.

His son could never have been a plumber – or anything else that required either manual dexterity or the ability to follow instructions.

He discovered that to his regret on more than one occasion, most notably (and finally) on the day he “helped” me install a new modern sink in the kitchen of my first home. I say the “day” but in fact, I managed to transform what he insisted would be a simple job – he really did know about these things – into a month-long job.

We had just installed a new kitchen cabinet and cut holes through the floor to the basement to connect the sink to the water supply. (I say “we” but only in the royal sense. Mostly, I just watched. If I come within five feet of a hammer or a saw, I invariably manage to injure myself. Just ask my wife. Or my kids.)

My only role in all of this was supposed to be to go down to the basement and pull the flexible copper tubing into its proper place as my father fed it through the holes.

In my defence, I will point out that there wasn’t much room in the basement. In order to reach the pipe I had to squeeze between the water heater and a concrete wall. As I reached up for the pipe, which seemed to be stuck, I braced myself against a pipe bringing the water to the water heater.

Wrong move.

Whoosh. Water, water everywhere.

The plumbing – how was I to know? – was old and weak, and the solder gave way. Not just in one joint. One joint led to another, and (as we discovered) repairing one only loosened the solder in another. By the time we were finally finished – okay, he – the house had a completely new plumbing system.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my father did not ever again offer to help with my home handyman projects.

Economics dictated that I continue to perform my own home repairs for a few years after that until a helpful electrician finally put an end to my ever even being allowed near a tool chest.

While doing some work for a real contractor, who was putting an addition on our house, the electrician marveled to my wife that it was lucky we were still alive. It seems that a new lighting system I had installed in our basement a few years earlier would not . . . ahem . . . pass inspection.

My wife has since taken over the role of home handyperson (for which I will be eternally grateful to that electrician).

Unfortunately, she was away this week when the ring on the flapper ball in the toilet tank gave way. I discovered this when I put my hand into the tank to try to figure out why the toilet wouldn’t flush. Unfortunately, in my haste to withdraw my hand from the cold water, I managed to snap the float ball off the float rod, which meant that the ballcock could not continue to do its appointed job either. (I didn’t know the names for any of these plumbing thingees at the time, but, thanks to my handy-dandy plumbing repair book, I do now.)

Forced to choose between continuing marking my students’ final honors theses and calling a professional plumber, or attempting to do the job myself, I bravely chose to head off to Canadian Tire.

It did take me four hours (it might have been cheaper to call the plumber) and I did cut myself (but only once and just a small wound to the knuckle), but, in the end, I managed not only to replace the broken pieces (these instructions really were idiot proof) but the toilet also actually now works (a first for me in my repair career).

Flushed with success, I am now reconsidering my earlier, perhaps hasty decision, to ignore my father’s advice.

It’s never too late to try a new career.