Dad was a compulsive helper, never happier than when he’d made something wonky work again.

A gate that didn’t quite latch, a switch that was broken, a ratty window screen, my homemade table extension that was too wobbly. My father could do electrical wiring, woodwork, caulk, tile, grout. He had strong opinions about office supplies and equipment. By the end of his life he had an office and garage full of tools. Or I guess I should say by the penultimate chapter of his life he did, and he used them as long as he remembered what they were for. He had quality tools for the usual stuff, clipping, sawing, attaching, smoothing. Then there were the curiosities: an automatic paper folder that seemed just to mangle, odd file storage systems, lightbulbs and widgets from another time. He had thousands of punchcards, no longer used for data storage by IBM, they became his lifelong notepads. He’d write carefully on them so the little punches didn’t “chad,” though I didn’t know that word at the time.

I thought of him when I’d pass the “Wasps Ahead!” house, where a kind and cautious person had put up signs warning of a wasp nest 10, 30, and 60 feet in advance, in both directions. “Do not use sidewalk! Wasp infestation!” was one of the signs. I was either there at the wrong time of day, or the wasps had been removed, so there was a lonely feeling to the signs, the danger past and nobody around but me and the dog. We never saw a wasp.

I share dad’s love of making improvements, though in my life I’ve tried to balance being on top of things with letting them go. He was always sure he had the solution to your problem, and being at the receiving end of that for so much of my life, I’ve tried to learn humility. I can see a vision of how I think things should be, and I do try to leave things better than I found them. But I’ve also learned about the laws of unintended consequences. Not all of my fixes have helped things, and sometimes I don’t have the answer.

I’ve been thinking of my dad because we’ve had chronic internet connection problems, on and off, in the last while. Different people come out and suggest different things. Some of it helps. I actually think an electrician may have just fixed a problem we had, something about neutral and ground doing something they shouldn’t. I can understand the big picture of it, but I don’t touch the wires. Dad would have his voltage meter out, but while I can replace a light socket (with some angst), I don’t even pretend to understand how they get all the megabytes through a copper cable originally made for TV pictures. I suspect the whole enterprise is wobbly, but that could be just so I don’t feel singled out by life when I’m kicked off Zoom.

In the end of course it’s the helping that has left Dad’s biggest mark. He might not always have had the right solution, but he always wanted to be of service. I would have loved for him to learn more about the emotional side of the equation, but I never doubted he wanted my life to be better.