My father, on his technical training: School was fun because I liked taking things apart, but we didn't do any microwaves.


y father, on his technical training:

School was fun because I liked taking things apart, but we didn't do any microwaves. TVs, radios, early computers, teletype machines, computer language like Fortran. I never learned how to fix microwaves in technical school. I don't remember anyone having any close calls in school.

At CN Telecommunications we had a couple of guys play pranks on the newbies with capacitors, but nothing as dangerous as a microwave. A lot of what I worked on when you were a kid, I learned on the job. Sears did train me on most new equipment, but I was fixing microwaves before I was trained.

The other electronics tech I worked with at Sears had an accident with a TV. He was usually quiet and never said much, but one day he came back from a service call smiling and joking about how the client’s TV would just have to be replaced. His watch band had touched a high voltage wire in the TV, and his arm jerked back so violently from the shock that he broke the end off of the picture tube.

There was at least one Sears tech back in Ontario who died from a microwave accident. TVs have high voltage but not as high amperage as a microwave.

It is the amperage that kills you.

It’s 9:30 on a Saturday morning, November 2020 and this is the longest conversation I’ve had with my father in a year.

So, our microwave doesn’t work and rather than throw it out we are wondering if it’s possible to get it fixed. It turns on but there’s no heat. I IM my parents' Facebook account. It’s a Kenmore

This is how we ask for help in my family—indirectly but with expectation. Kenmore is a Sears brand he knows and the microwave in my new house looks like it’s from the early 1990s.

    I send a video clip of me trying to boil a glass of water.

    … ...

    I can see he is typing, deleting, then retyping.

    … ...

    Let me think ... so everything seems to work ... fan comes on, lights and panel all work?


    It could be a door switch.

    We get sound though, so it looks like it’s cooking. But just no heat.

    There are 4-6 door switches one could be bad or not closing properly. Are there any strange smells like ozone?

    Like kind of a plastic smell? I ask.

    Burnt carbon, he says.

    Even with all the particulates in the mill–refinery–air of my hometown, I don’t know what burnt carbon smells like. After some back and forth we determine, yes it smells like ozone.

    I could walk you through it, he says. Do you have a test meter?

    He sounds receptive to the project. I hope so. Coming out stories don’t often describe how re-establishing a relationship with a parent can be like trying to get to know a stranger. Most stories from writers with parents like mine end with strained holiday visits (at best), or no connection of any sort (at worst). I want another option.

    You could just put in a range and get a countertop m/w, he says.

    I can’t tell if he doesn’t want to deal with the headache of fixing it, or if he has changed his mind about helping me. But then he texts, I can get parts for you if needed.

    I send the model number; he sends a thumbs up.

    My father has been dying since I was born. Since he was born.

    Do I only want him around so I have someone to call when the appliances break?

    My father has been dying since I was born. Since he was born. He was never supposed to live past two, ten, 22, and so on. He is 66. Extending the lifespan of a machine comes naturally to him.

    The next day, I call my brother, and he comes over to help me take it apart. My father watches on video chat. We used to do woodworking projects together before my parents moved, so it seems right to call Chris in for this. It helps that he has had more successful communication with my father than I have lately. I hold my father, via phone, above the microwave, keeping him at arm's length.

    We test all the connections to find out where the current breaks.

    Watching, I think about my father’s failing heart and his newest pacemaker. And all the years he spent working with the largest magnet in most people's houses—bending over a microwave, heart inches away from a magnetron. The magnetron is a 3x3 inch box weighing two and a half pounds and converts electric current from the outlet into electrons. These electrons are the “microwaves” that heat your food. If you touch part of the magnetrons live current, it will throw you across the room. This can kill a person. Even unplugged, the microwave has some remaining current in a high voltage capacitor which slowly bleeds off the current. But if that current isn’t fully discharged, that shock would kill my father.

    We confirm the magnetron is broken.

    I am glad he is not here to fix it in person.

    We begin collecting all the screws from the outer microwave case into a small jar. The call ends with my father assuring us that in no way will we ever be able to find where all the screws fit and to expect leftovers.

    I am still trying to figure out where I now fit in my parents' lives, or if these leftovers are all I’m going to get.

    After the call, I say to Chris “This is the most animated or interested in something I’ve seen him in a long time.” I think to myself, and this is the most he’s talked to me since I came out.

    “He likes to feel useful. This is something he knows there is no debate about.” Chris adds another screw to the jar.

    “No drama,” I say, by which I mean, no asking him hard questions about his beliefs.

    I try to joke about it, “He’s probably also bored in retirement. Even Fox News conspiracies get boring after a while.” We chat about how small his life has become with the pandemic: the government considers him ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. Growing up I imagined all the things that could kill him: vacuuming, walking too fast, strep throat, moving furniture, catching too big a fish. I never thought about boredom.

    I worry he is waiting to die.

    Chris doesn’t respond, but we are both relieved that if our father died tomorrow, at least he and I were talking again.

    The magnetron arrives in the mail late December, my father is still alive, but my brother is out of town for work. The new magnetron’s terminal and gasket are in different spots than the original. I take some pictures and send them in the chat. My dad and I text at each other. I draw arrows on the pictures and send them again. He can’t seem to make sense of what’s different and why it matters. I tire of explaining it.

    I message Why don’t we wait until Chris is back in town, maybe a third pair of hands will help. He texts back, Ok.

    Three weeks later Chris and I have fixed and remounted the microwave.

    Like this tenuous relationship with my father, I expect the magnetron to someday shake loose and break the whole machine.

    We count six leftover screws, but I only know where one of them belongs—on the magnetron mounting plate. The new magnetron is a different shape, wider. I tried to bend the screw, angle it, but the hole stretched and sharpened. I decided it's secure enough without it for now. Like this tenuous relationship with my father, I expect the magnetron to someday shake loose and break the whole machine.

    Sometimes storytelling is like collecting those screws; we organize our words in an attempt to reorder our lives. Inevitably, storytellers pick and choose which parts to keep, what to leave precariously hanging. Sometimes a story must be retold, rewritten, or reread before something shakes loose from the reader. We choose what we give meaning, what’s necessary, and whether we really do need to have all the screws in place.

    Rebuilding my relationship after coming out is the same. I'll never be able to put all the screws back in the same order or the same place they came out of, even if I wanted to.

    The leftover screws from the microwave are still in the jar on the workbench. They are different sizes and colours, but all have the same head shape. Only when I got to the end of putting the case back on the microwave did I realize I didn’t have enough long screws left. It’s a good thing the microwave is an above–the–stove type—the cupboard walls will keep frame in place. My father says these kinds of microwaves are the worst to fix. They’re difficult to remove, and the casing is often sharp since the manufacturers know only the installers or techs will ever hold them. My father's skin is tough and dry, like most people who have worked in a shop for 25 years. He has old burns from soldering mishaps and his knuckles crack and bleed from the frequent washing with orange shop soap. Even with gloves, scrapes and cuts are an inevitable part of the job.

    A good story might cause a hiccup, a muscle tweak, or hit a nerve and send a hot streak of pain through your chest.

    Again, I find something I have in common with my father. While I wonder if his storytelling has a hidden evangelist agenda, I know honest storytelling will cause some scrapes and scars. A good story might cause a hiccup, a muscle tweak, or hit a nerve and send a hot streak of pain through your chest. Angina.

    Angina is a chest pain usually unrelated to any physical issue and feels like a vice is squeezing your chest from all sides. I can remember three times I've felt angina: when my first girl crush announced she had a boyfriend; when my ex-husband asked for a divorce; and when my father sent an email saying “Maybe silence is best. Love Dad.”

      Angina is the physical manifestation of a heart breaking.

          About the author

          Melinda Roy is a queer neurodivergent writer and birdwatcher from northern British Columbia. She holds an MFA in Creative Non-fiction from the University of King's College. Her writing has appeared in The Malahat Review, Augur, Untethered, and Thimbleberry, and she has written reviews for Plenitude and Event. She can be found on Instagram @melinda_writes and