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Man of the House: Dad's an amateur but spiritual plumber

February 11, 2012|Chris Erskine

My dad says February is the cruelest month — no football, all the Christmas bills past due.

"I've got post-Super Bowl depression," he moans, then pays me to pen his column for him again.

"Just don't write about your family," he warns.

So, yeah, I'm back. I guess my dad had an unusually fertile run of column ideas. That's why he hasn't asked me, his oldest daughter, to write his column for a while. Then, of course, there's the professional jealousy. Lots of people, including Mom, think I do a way better job.

Plus, the dude just hates February.

"I'm not a hater," he explains when I mention how he hates February.

"You're not?"

"I just miss Mike," he says.

"Mike?"

"Ditka," he explains, then goes off to plunge the bathroom sink.

You could heat Denver with the steam that pours out of my father's ears when he checks the bank balance, but give him something simple, like unclogging the bathroom sink, and he turns into this mellow Jesus-like character.

"I become one with the house," is how he explains his gift for home repair, but I think it's just the Irish blue-collar side taking over what's left of his brain.

He's in there now — huff, huff, grunt, grunt — trying to work his way under the sink that's been clogged for a week.

To me, he sounds like a very pregnant woman getting into a very tiny canoe.

Speaking of pregnant, the other day I heard my mom trying to explain where babies come from to my little bro — something about gumdrops, baby chickens and a unicorn. She wasn't even making it up. I firmly believe this is how she thinks conception happens, which is probably why we never have any candy around the house anymore.

One of these days, I'm going to have to have a talk with her. I think she's old enough.

"Mom, I'm sure you've started noticing changes in your body," is how I'll start.

Anyway, Dad's still in there, huffing and grunting, becoming one with the house. There's this "plumber's snake," a skinny Slinky thingy that he borrowed from his buddy Steve, and basically what he's doing now is giving the house a complete root canal.

"Hear that?" he says proudly while the snake makes these awful thumpy sounds in the pipes, like spirits in mourning. Our house doesn't need a plumber; it needs an exorcist.

"I'm calling a professional," my mom finally says.

"For what?" my dad asks.

"So we can get the sink fixed," she says.

"Well, if that's what you were after, you should've said something," he says, then ducks back under the cabinet and kettle-drums his head. Ouch.

"Hey, Newt, you OK in there?" I say.

"Just a minor concussion," he sputters.

"Dad?" my little brother says.

"Who?" my dad says.

"I've got basketball in 10 minutes."

"Huh?" Dad says before taking a little nap.

I pretty much expect the house to collapse at any moment. Mom says it's OK and way better than when Dad gets out the reciprocating saw and tries to level out the sagging porch, or when he buys a bunch of chemicals and goes after the termites.

"Really, all that's at stake is a $5,000 plumbing system," she says.

I guess you gotta be Zen to live with a man like that. Or any man, really.

Dad insists that this is just a minor repair, so it should take him only a month or two, not including any injuries he may incur along the way, or fractures he may suffer during his ridiculous Sunday touch football games.

"Worst case, I end up in the Irish sports page," which is what he calls the obits section these days — the Irish sports page.

This causes my mom to look up toward God and my little brother to cling to her leg in case she might pass out.

"It's OK, Mom," he assures her.

"Of course it is," she lies, wobbling a little back and forth.

"You know, porcelain is one of our nicest surfaces," Dad explains while stepping back to study the stopped-up sink. "Durable, shines up well, relatively cheap.

"If I could, I'd buy a porcelain car," he says. "My next wife may very well be made of porcelain."

And what a lucky woman, she.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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