The other day, I decided to teach my sons how to change the oil in the car.
Now certainly it is much easier to drive your car to a local gas station or even to one of those places that specializes in changing oil, and certainly the amount of time a person spends on the task could be better spent elsewhere, but the truth of the matter is that men need to know things about cars so that there is at least one circumstance in their interaction with women where he can feel competent.
I'm sure they don't do it on purpose, but the opposite sex has made me feel like a clumsy oaf for my entire life, and car stuff is the only topic where I get to shine.
I actually anticipate the times when we get a flat tire, and Mrs. Chef looks relieved as I pop out of the car like a jack-in-the-box with an oil rag in its back pocket to haul out the spare tire, car lift and tire iron. Though, truth be told, I suspect she can change the tire just fine, but she knows what a messy job it is. She just flatters me into doing it, because she knows that a man will do anything a pretty girl asks.
But this is about changing the oil.
In order for them to learn anything useful, the first step is to interrupt their video games. “Okay kids. You've spent all morning saving the universe or whatever it is you are doing. Now it is time to learn something useful.”
The high schooler rolled his eyes, which I have decided is actually a nervous tic, perhaps even the early signs of Tourette syndrome, because otherwise it would mean that he is feeling utter contempt for his father, as if he might suspect that his father might be an idiot who is stupidly keeping his son from doing the things he wants to be doing, when he wants to do them.
On the other hand, a set of rolling eyes might mean that he and I have a total understanding between each other, and he had better get his butt out to the garage before I get ticked off and add more chores to the list.
So the eldest slouches outside, and the youngest looks at me and asks, “Why do we have to change the oil?”
“Because oil loses its ability to help rough edges and metal parts move together smoothly. The viscosity drops over time and...”
“No-no. I mean why do we have to change the oil?” This time emphasizing the 'we'.
Frustrated at the reasonableness of his question and the possibility that minor automotive maintenance may not be as useful a skill as it once was, I responded, “Because aliens could come down from some planet and kidnap all the professional people who know how to fix cars, and then where would we be?”
I was fortunate that seemed to satisfy him.
So we all trooped out to the garage and I had them take turns as they jacked the car up. Then I lured them beneath the ton of brooding steel and pointed to the drain plug. After they placed a tray to hold the used oil beneath the engine, I handed the oldest the 9/16-inch wrench and I said, “Unscrew it halfway, then let your brother finish it.”
Everything went well, but when the oil started to leak out around the drain plug, the oldest, thinking that he had done something horribly wrong, screwed the plug back in until it stopped leaking and then handed the wrench to his brother. “You finish it.”
So the youngest unscrews the plug and immediately the hot oil comes gushing out and scalds his hand.
That's when I realized the kids had actually been listening all those years when I would hurt myself and holler out a few choice curse words.
Then I taught them how to simultaneously drop the drain plug in the oil and lose another 9/16-inch wrench.
Then we got down to the real lessons. First I showed them how to spend twenty minutes trying to find an oil filter wrench without actually finding it, and then I taught them the time-honored tradition of ramming a screwdriver through the side of the oil filter and scraping the beejesus out of your knuckles while trying to twist the dang thing off and then scraping your knuckles again putting the new filter on.
Once that was done, we started pouring the oil into the top of the engine. Seven quarts later, and the dipstick still refused to show the oil level.
So I took the drain plug from the eldest, who had been holding it for safekeeping, had them screw it back in the bottom of the oil pan, and then we borrowed Mrs. Chef's car to go buy more oil from the parts place.
Three hours after we had started the lesson, the car had a new change of oil. Sure, it may have cost three times as much as it should have, taken up an entire afternoon, and resulted in two teenagers expanding their vocabulary in unanticipated but descriptive directions, but at least we knew we had done the job right.
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