Saturday, January 17, 2004

-40 C = -40 F

I just had my first coffee in several weeks so please forgive me.

I have been away at my father's cottage/country house/log cabin/chalet/whatever. He got a call from the heating oil people who said that they had put over 800 liters of fuel into the tank and due to the high volume they were concerned that it may have been empty. Well, when a oil furnace runs a tank dry you can't just start it up again once the tank is full. You need to prime the thing to get whatever water/sludge/whodidthis out of the lines first.

The drive up was good. We got to talk about some stuff that we wouldn't have talked about otherwise. Enough said.

So we got up there and the furnace was off. The whole house was in a deep freeze. If you live in the north east then you have an idea as to how freaking cold it has been. Well, lets just say that the temperature hit -40 (that's the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit if you were wondering) just before the sun came up on Thursday morning. We turned on these little baseboard heaters, some portable heaters, and the oven.

My father, the eternal idealist, was certain that this was going to be an in and out job. We had headed up from the city straight from the office without picking up anything from home. The technician he called didn't show up so at some point my father and I decided we would stay the night. He hadn't let me start a fire up until that point because he didn't want to have to leave the flu open when we left. So I started a fire. With all our heaters, the stove, and the fire I think the main room we were in got up to somewhere between 50 and 60 depending how close to the floor you were. My dad slept on the couch and I slept next to the fire. I guess it was more of a deep "I wish it was warmer so I could sleep" meditation. I really wish I had brought my sleeping bag.

So the next morning we did a closer inspection of the water system and discovered that the well pump and pressure tank were cracked, several of the copper pipes had separated at their joints, and one of the toilet tanks had fractured. Things were just beginning to thaw and we did what was necessary to avoid a watery mess.

It all seemed like a big deal to me, like something that would require professionals to fix, an insurmountable challenge even for two intelligent Engineers (although I often don't feel deserving of that title when standing next to my father). My dad just started taking note of all the problems. I helped and followed pipes, located all the problems that I could see. Then he stood in front of the pump and thought, thought and thought some more. He made a little list and headed off to the hardware store. While he was gone I used a little pipe cutter tool to remove the old hardware and then hauled the newly minted junk out back.

He came back with a new pump and pressure tank, plastic pipe and joints, metal joint clamps, copper pipes and joints, and a propane torch. Anyways, the technician never showed at all and we needed to get back to the city to unload a container of heaters today. We packed up and left but not before mostly connecting up the new pump and pressure tank. All that is left is the copper pipe work out of the pump and the repairs to the severed joints around the house.

So my dad knows his shit. I remembered that he built a house once. He didn't just have a house built, he was directly involved in every aspect of its construction. His brain and body are no more capable than mine, he just has a pile more experience behind his than I do. He believes in himself the way I used to when I was young. No conceit, no pride, just quiet confidence.

Working with him reminded me of a few things. I was reminded that I am an Engineer. That has less to do with my degree or my work experience than with my desire and capability to understand how the world works and how to make it better. The first portion of my life was focused on the how it works side but my recent discoveries have me thinking about the how to make it better part. I don't need to change my weapon, I just need to work on my aim.

I was also reminded that big hard problems need to be broken down into little easy problems in order to get them fixed. Its that whole forest and the trees thing I mentioned here except I was talking about a much bigger forest of a problem.

I also realized that I feel like a child again in his presence. I will elaborate on this in the following post using some Freudian metaphors.

I know my Dad is not the vision of perfection of my early childhood or the ineffectual puppet of my adolescence. My helping of affection from him may not have supplied me sufficient nourishment to make up for the lack of a mother in the house but the respect he served to me, and everyone and everything he came across, provided me more than enough sustenance to keep my heart alive through many a cold cold night. Love comes in many textures and flavours; not always the ones you asked for, but tasty and pleasing to the palate nonetheless.

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