Posted by: silverback | 2010/03/14


i spent the day yesterday helping my friend Joel put his Yamaha R6 engine back together. we tore it down because it was making a funny noise when warm, plus it exhibited very low compression (repeatably) on #1 cylinder when we ran the compression test. i had my bike in for new rings anyway, so it seemed just as easy to rebuild two engines as one – all the tools would be out, anyway. i’ve got a clean, well-lit corner at work that has become moto central.

my five-year-old son Lucas was at the shop with us while Laura went to work for a few hours. he was adamant about wanting to help me, in between riding his bike around the warehouse and finding various cardboard boxes to play in and around. he also built a “dachine” out of some wooden stands we’d used recently in the paint booth.

it became a very emotional experience for me. i used to do the same thing with my father, from about the same age. on Saturdays and through the summers i would go with him to his shop, where he repaired and restored foreign and antique cars. i remember one place he rented was the front half or 2/3 of a cavernous steel building, the back half of which was filled to the ceiling with mysterious cardboard boxes. when i wasn’t pushing boxes around building secret hideouts and impenetrable forts, dad was teaching me the beginnings of my mechanical knowledge.

it has become clear to me now that i probably insisted on “helping” him, and he probably found innocuous tasks for me to do, gradually entrusting me to perform more and more complicated tasks. we were cleaning parts yesterday in the solvent sink. since it’s 2010 and we know about carcinogens and hazardous materials, Joel insisted on donning a pair of nitrile gloves before working in the naphtha. i’m fairly certain my dad had me washing grungy parts in the same solvent without the benefit of gloves. i think i said something snide to Joel about that. i remember the distinct smell, the way my skin turned all white and itchy from the extreme dessicant effect of the solvent. ah, nostalgia.

as the parts came out of the sink, they needed to be blown dry with compressed air. Lucas had been playing with the air gun, stalking around as far as the hose would let him, shooting the freeze ray at imaginary foes. he expressed an interest in helping as i brought the clean parts over to moto central, so i got him a pair of safety glasses (again – not a consideration in the 1970’s) and showed him the air gun’s true purpose. his attention span, normally very short, was surprising. i showed him how to use the blast of air to push the little streams of solvent off the sides of the part, until it was all dry. he exhibited outstanding attention to detail, and asked for the next part when he was done. so i gave it to him.

i made sure to tell him what a good job he was doing, and to make subtle corrections to his methodology. i showed him how to put the air hose over his forearm so he didn’t have to use all his hand strength simply supporting the weight of the hose. i helped him find the nozzle’s ideal angle and distance from the part so the little puddles just streamed right off the edges. after the first couple pieces were done, he took a break for a few bicycle laps while Joel finished cleaning the last. when he saw Joel coming with the clean engine case, he parked his bike and went right back to drying, with perfect form.

a huge part of being a father, for me, is teaching these seemingly mundane tasks. they come very easy and intuitively to me, a full grown adult with years of similar experiences. in trying to teach them to a child who has never done them before and doesn’t really even have a grasp on the back concepts, i have to examine them anew. then i must try to explain them in terms that he can comprehend. in doing this, i often end up with a bit of new knowledge myself, a missing or taken-for-granted piece of the puzzle.

so yesterday, as i watched my little boy intently drying off these motorcycle parts with compressed air, it took me back. i recalled a time when nothing was as cool as spending time working alongside my daddy. when i couldn’t wait for the next Saturday morning to roll around, because i’d get to go clean some parts or maybe install some spark plugs. i remembered the  wonder of the moment when the engine started back up after i helped put all the pieces back in place. and dad would look at me with that spark of pride in his eyes, setting my insides aglow with that sense of accomplishment that has become so much more fleeting as i’ve grown older and doing those remarkable things has become routine.

i watched this little boy, well on his way to becoming a big boy, looking forward to a few more years of Saturdays.



  1. That almost made me cry too. After all these years of feeling like I didn’t spend enough time with you attending to the investigations of your interests, I am suddenly feeling a great weight lifting off my shoulders. You and Dad were doing just that. I was “boy” thing and you were fine, building your own memories. I guess Meg and I were doing the same thing with our horses. In the end , you have become a devoted Dad and are passing the torch.
    Your Dad loved you with all his heart as I do . It ungrieves me to realize in spite of the negative moments due to his addiction and his taciturn Germanic nature that your memories are good and kind. Isn’t it amazing how God takes away not so good memories and leaves only those that are worthy to be remembered. Thank you so much for sharing these musings. Love you . Mom

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