Running a phone line is, according to every tutorial on the internet, one of the simplest, most basic, and least dangerous wiring tasks that an amateur can attempt. There are only two wires involved—a red one and a green one. The task begins with simply locating the Network Interface Unit (the outside portion) and the phone jack that the wire has to go to (the inside portion). The Network Interface Unit gets unplugged from the network, so as to prevent any electrical shock during the process (this step is inexplicably omitted in the majority of tutorials), the red and green wire ends are unwrapped from their little screws inside the Network Interface Unit and the phone jack, the new wire is unrolled and connected in its place, the new red and green ends are wrapped around the screws, the box is plugged back into the network and voila. It’s ridiculously easy, particularly considering that phone companies generally charge upwards of $85 to do the job. The most difficult part is finding a screwdriver to take the phone jack off the wall.
After watching ten or twelve video tutorials of the job, I was confident that I could handle changing the wire. Out of everything, there was only one aspect of the entire process that was really making me shudder. It was the thought of a horrible, dark, tight space covered in spider webs and invisible moving things that cast eerie shadows; a place where creatures of all sorts had lived and died, a place where ancient bones lay for no understandable reason and spiders that may (or may not) have been brown recluses.
As I knelt there, staring into the abysmal hole I would have to crawl into, I came up with a brilliant idea. I called upon my most loyal friend. Then I called again, and again, and finally she came. “You first,” I said to my dog (who has been known to voluntarily spend time under houses). At any rate, I could hope that she would knock down the spider webs. Instead, she looked at the hole and wandered off, completely disinterested. Bereft of my last shot at a companion, I gave up and slithered into the crawlspace.
As I left the sunshine and entered the underworld, I was reminded of all the times that I had watched my dad disappear into the same hole to fix a leaky pipe, some wiring, and at least once, the very phone line that I was down there to replace. In that moment, I was filled with gratitude for all the times my dad had crawled into the spider webs and the darkness so that his family could have the convenience of running water or a working telephone. At the same time, I remembered just how many people in modern society don’t have the luxury of any dad at all, let alone the sort who crawls under the house to repair things.
In today’s society, one can clearly see the deconstruction of the family, society’s most basic unit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God and make good use of freedom” (CCC 2207). With the family’s degeneration, the role that has crumbled the most seems to be that of the father. This can be seen pretty well in the ways that fathers appear in literature.
I recently gave my sister a copy of “Life with Father” by Clarence Day. In this memoir of one boy’s dealings with his seriously idiosyncratic father, the Father’s influence over his son is very, very clear. “Father made a great point of our getting down to breakfast on time,” Day writes. “I meant to be prompt, but it never occurred to me that I had better try to be early.” If these were the opening sentences for a chapter in a book written today, they would very likely be followed by an account of how the author’s father forced his views about timeliness on the author. We would see the way that the father’s old fashioned views about being on time stifled his son, breaking his spirit, and how the father simply could not understand why it is so important for his son to be late. In the book that was actually written, however, one reads the comical tale of how Day was all but tricked into being prompt because of an heirloom watch that he often broke and had to scrounge up the money to fix.
In the contrast between Day’s father (or Frank Gilbreth Sr. in “Cheaper by the Dozen,” or Mr. March in “Little Women,” or a dozen other fathers from older novels) and the modern image of fathers in books and television today, we see a shocking difference, a lack of respect, and, perhaps most dangerously, a lack of expectation. The father’s role has become almost optional, he is often not expected to stick around for any amount of time, and the results are disastrous—lower achievements in schools, higher prison rates, higher teen pregnancies, more depression, and less self-reliance … the number of problems whose roots can be found in the absence of fathers gets longer and longer. Meanwhile, the father’s role in literature all but vanishes, and where he does appear, it is rarely as a figure who offers real aid to the child, but rather as an enemy who can only be counted on to misunderstand everything, or else remains completely oblivious to whatever the child is doing. The wiring between generations today is completely burned out, and little is being done to repair the broken line.
As I unrolled the telephone wire under the house, and crushed the spider that may or may not have been a brown recluse; as I got my sister to pull the cable up through the floor using only a bit of floral wire (yeah, my dad never would have thought of that) and as I put my hand right on top of what was most definitely a rib bone, I whispered a quiet thanks to my dad, followed by a thanks to my mom, who made sure that I read enough books to keep my mind occupied while I was lying in a three foot tall dungeon under our house.