Father Knows Best, But Daddy Knows “This”

My wife was outside, cutting some of the overgrown shrubbery back from the front of the house. Like all husbands and [especially] wives do when their spouses are in the middle of doing something, I wanted her to drop everything for what it was I had in mind.

“Honey? Come in here! I think you should be the first one to try this!”

I said this to her as she was shoving some brambles into a professional-grade Hefty bag. She looked at me like I had just asked her to take her finger out of the one hole in the Hoover Dam that was keeping Lake Mead from breaking loose and flooding Las Vegas. She said she would be right in.

The Old Disposal That Needed Replacing
The Old Disposal That Needed Replacing

The “this” I wanted her to try was something important. The “this” was something that had been hanging over our heads for about four months, The “this” was weighing on everything else we might do that Saturday. The “this” was going to make the difference between deeming the weekend a success or a fruitless, less-than-24-hour turn-and burn out to the boondocks that would leave so much unfinished if “this” didn’t work.

The “this” was…The garbage disposal.

One of the images of dads in the past was this: They knew how to fix everything. “Dad” may have had a toolbox that only included a Phillips-head screwdriver, a splintered, wooden-handle hammer and half a roll of duct tape, but with that, he seemed to know how to replace a broken toilet and install a new set of built-in cabinets for Mom’s China. Granted, this image holds from the days of “Leave It To Beaver”. I don’t know if any mom past, say, 1974 who in her right mind would put her China on display as long as her kids still lived at home.

But, we like to believe that dads of the past knew how to fix everything. It was just one of those things. Whether it was a compressor on the fridge or a fan belt on the car, dad could make it right. “If there’s a problem/Yo! I’ll solve it” rapped Vanilla Ice in 1990. Vanilla might as well have been your dad when you were nine and needed a badass car built for your Boy Scout Troop’s Pinewood Derby.

I don’t know who taught dad to do all that stuff, but it seems like somewhere along the way, things changed. I don’t know exactly when, but now, we act in too many cases like we can’t do anything for ourselves. For example, my wife and I have a house we rent, and I can’t tell you how many times over the years we have gotten a call or e-mail from the qvarious renters [All parents with kids and respectable employment and education] about crises such as 1) A light “not working” or, 2) The smoke alarm the beeping and dad, or mom, not knowing what to do.

[The answers, by the way are 1) Try a new light bulb, and 2) Put some new batteries in. THEN call me about sending in the cavalry.]

When you live anywhere, there is always going to be something in need of repair. Sometimes, it’s something simple like replacing that light bulb. And sometimes, it’s something a little more complicated. Like replacing a garbage disposal.

For a dad with little or no experience in fixing things, putting in a new disposal involves the Holy Trinity of Home Repair Projects: Plumbing, Electrical, and A Very Small Workspace. I mean, isn’t twisting your body into an area about the size of a suitcase, then potentially flooding the house and/or electrocuting yourself just what every dad looks forward to on a Saturday afternoon with a full beer fridge in the garage and your favorite baseball team on the TV?

But, there was no one else to do this job, so it fell to me. To top it off, this disposal was not at our home in Oakland, with the full beer fridge, but 170 miles away, at our We-Get-To-It-About-Once-Every-Two-Months-Weekend-Getaway-Place in Mariposa, CA. We noticed it leaking when we were at the house about four months ago. I shut all the water off to it, the sink, and the entire house, just to be on the safe side. Then, about a month ago, my older daughter, Maddo, and I did a one-day trip out there just do I could take the old disposal off and bring it back to have a guy at a hardware store look at it and tell us what kind of replacement we should get.

And now, here I was, on the third trip out to edge of Yosemite National Park, to replace the old disposal with the new one. And of course, the replacement prices wasn’t easy.

The real fun started with trying to remove the old disposal connection “ring”, for lack of a better term, that was still on the “thing” for lack of a better term, that was sticking out of the bottom of the sink, and which, while still attached, wouldn’t let me remover the “flange”, which is the term for that thing that sits in the bottom of your sink and from where the process of draining water, and shoving chunks of food down into your disposal begins. Since I wasn’t up for leaving this project undone, nor for us having to wash our dishes in the bathtub, I loaded up the disposal, my wife and my daughters, and drove out to the local TrueValue hardware store, about 15 miles away.

We got to the TrueValue, and I explained the situation to Scott, the Plumbing Guru, with the aid of the new disposal and several photos on my iPhone. He was a little perplexed, saying to me, “Well, there must be some way to get that piece off, because you can’t pull it up through the sink!” This much, I already knew, so I picked up some plumber’s putty that I did need, but hadn’t brought with me.

Fifteen miles and about 30 minutes of driving later, we were back at our place and I was back under the sink. And, to my pleasant surprise, I actually managed to figure out how to get that old connector off, all the old parts out, and the new flange puttied up and back in place. I installed the parts to hold the disposal together under the sink, and then got to the part in the instructions about the electrical works.

And then I wondered what the hell to do next.

That’s because the instructions basically said I was going to need to rip out some paneling, strip out various wires, and make sure I din’t connect the “hot” wire to the “ground” connector and blow out the Town of Mariposa’s power grid. Simple, right.


This was something above my pay grade. I wasn’t about to start pulling wires out of walls and connect to switches and sockets and electrocute all of us. I also looked at the photos I had of the old disposal and saw that it worked simply by plugging its plug into the outlet under the sink.

This new disposal did not have such a plug.

So, for the second time that day, I loaded up the disposal, my wife and my daughters, and drove out to the local TrueValue hardware store, about 15 miles away. I found Scott, again, and explained what was going on. If worst came to worst, we hoped we could by another disposal, with a plug, and then return the one we had already bought to the hardware store we bought back in Oakland.

Fortunately, Scott showed me how I could attach a new electrical cord to the disposal that matched up with all the appropriate wires and would let me plug the new machine right into the wall, just like the old one. I thanked him. We left the store, went for pizza for dinner, and then, fifteen miles and about 30 minutes of driving later, we were back at our place and I was back under the sink.

The New, Improved Disposal, In Complete Working Order
The New, Improved Disposal, In Complete Working Order

I tied the hot wire to the hot wire, the white “whatever it is” wire to its twin and connected the green ground wire to the screw that holds it down. I put everything back in place, plugged the thing in, turned all the water knobs on—nothing leaked—and then called my wife in for the initial test drive.

After setting down her bag of yard cuttings, my wife came inside. We turned the sink on, and she flipped the switch. The motor came to life and growled like the brand-new disposal it was. I stuck part of a leftover sandwich in the drain and it disappeared down the hole.

Three round trips and 1,100 miles later, the disposal was fixed. And now, I can add “Replacing a Garbage Disposal” to the list of “‘This’ Is a Thing Dad Just Knows How To Do.”

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