The drain fittings I had taken off were so old, corroded, and bent out of shape that I couldn't get them back together without severe leaks, which is why I was running to the kitchen sink to rinse out the washcloth that I was using to clean up my son. My every trip to the kitchen was a trip of brief abandonment to him.
The hardware store is always a bonding experience between father and son, and so after the beach and before the vomit we had gone to buy new drain fittings. We'd walked around the large hardware store with a plastic juice pitcher at the ready to catch his barf, should he feel the need. No one there seemed to think it odd as I instructed him on how to use the pitcher-- it was Fathers Day, after all, a time for fathers to bond with their sons. We made it home cleanly with all new parts in heavy chromed brass.
Eventually my son napped, the worst of the mess was cleaned up, and I went back to trying to get the drain open with the plumber's snake. Drains grow this vile black goo that gets all over everything as you run the snake in and out: it covered my hands and arms and splashed onto every surface in sight. This is in addition to whatever noxious substances and smells you might imagine come from a drainpipe, not to mention the smell of remnant vomit. Suffice it to say that I felt almost, but not quite, covered in shit. I wrestled unsuccessfully with that plumber’s snake for a good 90 minutes and then I heard my son behind me. He leaned onto my aching back and breathed his vomit- and nap-smelling breath on my cheek as I wrestled one last time with the snake. I torqued it with frustration this way and that and finally pulled it out in disgust at my wasted effort. Lo and behold: on the end of the snake a small child's toy was skewered!! "Look at this!” I cried in my
This adventure in plumbing had awakened in me a dormant memory of watching my own father clean out the drains in an old house that we lived in when I was maybe a year or so older than my son. He too used a plumbers snake, got blisters, and banged up his knuckles. I probably leaned on his back, and breathed on his cheek, and I know that I thought he could fix anything wrong with the world, not just the plumbing. So I called him and tried to explain. I think he understood what I was trying to say: That the cross-generation bonding power of plumbing repairs with your son was stronger and more mystical than a phone call or a Hallmark card. That I relished being to my son what my father was to me. That I understood parenthood and childhood now from two different perspectives and that the understanding made life rich and flavorful. That the love for my father and for my son deepened and strengthened one another.
It was a good day for father-son bonding after all.