I’m lying on my back underneath my house in central Texas repairing a copper pipe that burst during the February ’21 deep freeze. After locating the leak by pressurizing the pipes with water and finding where it cascades, like a waterfall, through the underflooring, I have removed the appropriate boards, located the burst section of pipe, and cut it out with a reciprocating saw.
As I am about to tell my son what I need next, the deburring tool to smooth the cut edges of the pipe, he hands it to me. That is followed by the polishing brush to remove oxidation and dirt. All of this is handed to me without asking, and we move through the rest of the repair process wordlessly.
Each repair is tedious and sometimes, because of the location, a difficult process, but each one follows the same routine:
- Locate the leak.
- Remove the underflooring to expose the pipes.
- Cut out what I call the pipe “aneurysm.”
- Deburr and polish the two ends.
- Cut and prepare the proper length of pipe and repair couplings.
- Apply flux to all surfaces.
- Put the patch in place.
- Heat the joints with a blow torch and apply solder when properly heated.
While no step is hard, they all must be performed on your back, under the house, in a tight workspace. When you cut out the underflooring, you get sawdust all over you and often in your eyes. When you cut the pipe, you often get doused with residual water. Sliding the repair couplings can be difficult in a tight fit. Worst of all is when molten hot solder drops on your arm or when you light the floor joists on fire.
The first one or two repairs are “fun”; the fourteenth is just work. At the end of the day, your neck hurts, your shoulders ache, and you have minor burns and bumps. You are tired and exhausted.
How did we end up in this situation?
Well, I have always enjoyed building things and putting things together. I have often commented that if “Some Assembly Required” is not on the package, I feel cheated.
After acquiring some land in central Texas in 1996, I got a crazy idea that I could build my own house. Not contract it out, but build it myself. So, between September 2005 and December 2012, that is what I spent all of my free time doing.
You learn a lot of things building a house, and one of them is you don’t think of all the possible things that can cause problems in the future. When it is 105 degrees in July, it is hard to think through the uncommon but periodic deep freezes that we get about every ten years in February.
As you are probably aware, Texas endured a week of cold temperatures in February of 2021. Except for one hour, the temperature was below freezing for 234 consecutive hours (93 hours, one hour of mid-30s, followed by 139 more hours below freezing). That is almost ten days. Nothing is designed here for that level of cold. Including the house I built.
It is pier and beam construction, and it stands between 1.5 and 3 feet off the ground. The plumbing is in the floor.
I had faced burst pipes in this house once before. Following the deep freeze in 2011, I spent many hours on my back repairing burst pipes by myself and subsequently installed freeze drains in both lines. As the freeze of last Feb did its worst throughout the state, I was sure that because I had drained the pipes after my last visit that the pipes in the house were safe. It was the connections to the external water supply that concerned me.
My son and I headed down in mid-April to assess any damage, and to our delight, discovered that the outdoor pipes were fine. Our joy was short-lived when we turned on the water to the house and quickly discovered three leaks.
Fourteen pipe repairs later, we have the cold-water line fixed with at least one known leak in the hot-water line. I suspect that we will find more “up-line” as they only show up when the “down-line” ones are repaired.
Most of the repairs are in the same places they burst in 2011, leading to the conclusion that I have low spots in the lines that don’t allow all the water to drain to the main drains. I suspect that we did not have problems between 2011 and 2021 because it did not get cold enough for long enough for the trapped water to freeze. Needless to say, we have installed more drains!
So, why am I telling you all this? Well, first of all, my Perceptual Style is Activity, and I love to tell stories with lots of context and branching rabbit trails, and I often forget what the point is I am trying to make. I tell stories to connect with others and to share insights about life. I often give too much information about my personal life, emotions, and psychological discoveries in the process of doing so.
The story here, told through the lens of a house repair, is really about connecting with my son.
He is my second child, 34 years of age, with a Flow Perceptual Style. There are many things I could tell you about him that I find amazing and wonderful, but as with many Flow folks, he would resent me for revealing things that he regards as very private. So, I will limit my disclosure to the fact that he is left-handed, an exceptional artist, and thinks in pictures. All three of these things were also true of his mother, who died in February 2014.
Like his mother, he picks up, with incredible sensitivity and subtlety, on what is going on with others, and he responds to his awareness with little things that enhance their experience and make life, well, flow. He does this naturally and without conscious recognition or intention.
My historic willingness to talk about any detail of my life and the insights I have about others openly and candidly with most anyone has on many occasions embarrassed, baffled, and irritated him. As he has gotten older, my continued propensity to do so, despite his request that I not, has resulted in angry confrontations on more than one occasion.
One of the great things about being with other people who share your Perceptual Style is that you don’t have to explain yourself to them. Communication is smooth because you see the world in the same way, and conflict is about content, not about stylistic differences like it often can be with people who have different Perceptual Styles from you.
Effective communication between people with different Perceptual Styles requires an intricate dance in which terms must be established, definitions discovered, and intentions consciously talked about. As with any dance, one misstep and someone’s toes get hurt. Re-finding a rhythm that works is awkward and not always possible. And so it is between my son and me. I have clumsily and unconsciously stepped on his toes many times over the years.
While much of this has been apparent to him and me for years, it all became painfully obvious following his mother’s death. In communicating through the grieving process, we discovered that his main point of contact, connection, and deep communication with his parents had been through her. As he said, he lost not only his mother but someone who understood him at a deep level with little need for explanation.
They got each other.
He and I have been working hard ever since to figure out how to make our communication smoother and more effective. I have been working on not violating his deep privacy, and he has worked on communicating more directly with me.
I began construction of the house when I was 50, completed it when I was 57. I am now 66, and the difference in my physical stamina, flexibility, and ability to recover is drastically different.
The house stands unoccupied for months and usually requires some sort of maintenance or repair during our periodic visits. Since I am the one who designed and built it, I know its eccentricities and its quirks, and most of this knowledge is in my head.
My son noted both of these facts and approached me about six months ago and, with his usual subtlety and grace, suggested that it was time for him and his siblings to begin taking over maintenance of the house and the land. Not, he said, because I couldn’t manage it any longer, but so that I could go and enjoy the mental and emotional break from daily life that being there is without having to worry about what needed to be attended to.
We have taken several trips down together, and each time I have shown him something he needs to know. Each time I note how much easier it is to let go of more responsibility and how easily he is making our work together flow. The burst pipes gave us a great opportunity to transfer knowledge in vivo and to see how we are discovering how to connect with each other at a new and deeper level.
Out of tragedy and challenge, great joy!
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