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Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 05:21 PM   #1
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Dealing with the parents in law

As Dr. Phil would say, "If this is the biggest problem you have in your life then get the hell off my set and send me an alcoholic transgendered drug addict who's selling body parts to pay for the breast implants. Whaddya do all day, anyway?!?"

But for all of you whose elders learned their financial skills during the Great Depression and who now live only 15 minutes away from you... this story is my occupational therapy. It came off just like running engineering drills on a submarine.

Casualty: I got a call yesterday afternoon from my mother in law-- "Nords, I have to be downtown at the doctor's in an hour and the car won't start. I need you to drive me there."

Immediate actions: Of course the proper response is "Aye aye, ma'am, I'll be right over." Meanwhile my brain had a few questions: Is she bleeding arterially? Is she sick? Is this an appointment? What doctor? Why won't the car start? ?!? I don't ask these questions because she's usually seething with fury after arguing with her spouse about the car not starting and him not wanting to call us until he's tried to fix it.

My spouse, bless her heart, responded: "Honey, you stay here. I'll drive Mom to the doctor and tell Dad to call you to help fix the car." (Guess who's getting the better part of this deal!)

[Optional diversionary "casualty": A couple minutes later, as spouse is backing the car out of the garage, the phone rings. Thinking that it was MIL calling to wave us off because their car started working, I sprinted for the phone and raced to the garage to abort spouse's rescue mission.
"Hi, Dad, my fault, I missed the bus to Kumon and I'm still at high school. Could you drive me the half-mile there so that I don't have to walk and be late?"
Ahem. Let's just say that my answer was short & pointed and we followed up later. But now let's get back to the primary casualty of the stranded in-laws.]

My FIL called a few minutes later. "Hi Nords, my daughter is taking my wife to the doctor and I need to replace the Subaru's spark plugs & wires. Bring all your tools."

Supplementary actions: "Aye aye, sir, I'll be right over." (Hey, he's seething with fury too after losing a car argument with his wife.) When he moved here from the East Coast five years ago, FIL sold all his tools (to avoid paying the shipping weight) and he hasn't gotten around to replacing them yet so I've become what's known in the trade as "Tool Boy". I should also mention at this point that FIL has known for five months that his car's starter motor is dying, but it still works "almost every time" and after all it costs real money to replace one of those things so why not use it until it really breaks down.

When I arrived, the car would crank but not catch. I smelled fuel (fuel pump's working!), the starter motor was still working (nice & hot, too), and everything else seemed OK. Troubleshooting with my FIL is difficult because he doesn't use the same diagnostic vocabulary in the same way twice, he doesn't think about the troubleshooting questions before he answers them, he fixates on one symptom to the exclusion of all others, and everything reminds him of a story about his first car. (Imagine working on cars with Dustin Hoffman's "Rain Man.") My FIL won't spend "real money" on a dealer's shop manual or a Chilton's troubleshooting guide, although he'll scribble cryptic "helpful hints" on random scraps of paper while listening to the Magliozzi brother's "Click & Clack" NPR show. So he's not real communicative or methodical about his troubleshooting and thus he didn't mention until two hours later that the car's "Check Engine" light has been locked on for several weeks. But I started hunting around under the hood for the distributor cap and a primary coil, because it's extremely unlikely that all four spark plugs & wires would all go bad at exactly the same time.

He dismissed that question in favor of replacing the wires & plugs. For those of you who don't own a '96 Subaru Legacy, it's a flat four engine with the spark plugs concealed way down low outboard both sides. You have to remove the windshield fluid reservoir on the left side and the air cleaner assembly on the right to get to the wires. The wires have four-inch rigid rubber extensions that reach deep into small engine block holes to cap the plugs, so when you finally pull the wires out you can't even see the plugs and you have to feel around with a spark-plug socket and an socket-wrench extension. Of course the block is jammed right up against the side of the engine compartment and you have to work the pieces around the turn (don't drop anything!), connect them by feel, and use the remaining half inch to attach a universal joint to the socket wrench. I should also mention that my FIL insists on doing all the work despite being functionally deaf and having a cataract. But otherwise, no problem!

I've learned not to argue because my free time is worthless, so 90 minutes later we finally freed a spark plug wire and we'd managed to get the spark-plug socket stuck on the plug inside the hole.

When we "decided" not to remove the spark plug at just that moment (only three more after that one!) and to check the stock at the parts store before it closed, I suggested taking along the distributor. "No, no, they have all that stuff on the computer and they'll know what we need." Ewwwwkay, how 'bout taking the VIN along? "No, they know what we need." How 'bout taking the owner's manual for the plug numbers? OK, fine, I'll bring along the #$%^ing owner's manual.

The first question at the NAPA store was "What engine size? It's in your owner's manual." It turns out that the Subaru's electronic distributor replaces combines the primary coil, points, & rotor. It takes inputs from position sensors on the camshaft & crankshaft and decides when to fire the plugs. When the clerk asked about the "Check Engine" light, FIL "remembered" it and the NAPA guy recommended a computer dump for the fault codes. (Note to self: From now on make sure you figure out a way to test-start the car yourself instead of letting FIL do everything.)

As we drove back home (grinding my teeth) FIL pointed out the neighborhood's obnoxious 20-something gearhead who, 10 years ago, used to race his cars on the street and play car-alarm symphonies at all hours of the night. (I had many words with that kid and his family, among them "disturbing", "peace", and "police". We are no longer on speaking terms.) FIL wondered if the guy might be able to help diagnose the Subaru's problems. I advised going to a mechanic who'd also replace the plugs & wires for the first time in the Subaru's life. Maybe he'd replace that starter motor, too, eh? FIL agreed and we called my trusty mechanic for tomorrow's appointment. I offered to tow him down there but he said he had tow insurance, so the mechanic recommended a towing service. We left them our second car and raced home for daughter, dinner, & tae kwon do practice. (Yes, we have a life too.)

After we left him alone to think (always dangerous, bad tactical error), FIL realized that he might actually have some expenses-- towing deductible, engine diagnosis, plugs, wires, starter motor-- why, that's real money!!!. So he went to the gearhed, who used his laptop to diagnose a faulty camshaft sensor. FIL called me with the "good news" and is probably haggling with NAPA over the price of the replacement part before he asks the kid to install it. Who knows how much he's paying the gearhead, but it "Beats paying $75 to a mechanic who's just playing on a computer!" Of course the Subaru will retain its original plugs, wires, and starter motor (nine 10 years old, 60,000 miles) until we replay this casualty at a later date. Stay tuned.

What, you may ask, was so damned important about the doctor that it couldn't be rescheduled until the car was fixed? Ah, well, that would be more money. MIL has a persistent skin patch on her earlobe that never healed, but she didn't want to waste money on the doctor for just looking at a cut. After weeks of ignoring waiting for it to heal it turns out to be a basal cancer that requires a biopsy and an excavation excision. Of course it got a lot bigger over those last few weeks, so it's a little more expensive & painful to remove. ("Local anaesthesia, doctor? No thanks, that costs money. I'll just scream quietly while you work on it.") Canceling the appointment at short notice would have been another fee, so arriving on time became a crisis.

Why was FIL so crazed about getting the car running right then? Ah, they've been meaning to tell us that he's had the same doctor-money problem with squamous cell carcinomas on his face and he was worried about his wife. (But he just wasn't worried enough to spend the money to take her to the doctor a month ago!) He also felt guilty about not spending money to figure out the "Check Engine" light.

Why was the "Check Engine" light a problem? Well, for nearly 10 years he's been running that car on high-octane gas because that's what he thinks he's supposed to do. However he's recently become alarmed at the extra nickels per gallon (after all he drives ~1500 miles/year at 35 mpg so that's, gosh, nearly 50 gallons/year at over $3/gallon!) so he tried out a tank of "cheap low-test". Shortly afterward the "Check Engine" light came on, which he blamed on the gas and "knew" he'd have to pay a dealer to reset the light. So he's been running the car on high octane again and hoping that the light would go out on its own. He didn't realize that it might actually be a different problem like, for example, the camshaft sensor breaking down.

Maybe the Subaru will be back on the road today, hopefully without our further assistance. At least we got the wires & plugs back together and my FIL has my gift of my spark-plug socket. (He claims, for the fifth year in a row, that he'll buy the rest of the tools.) Hopefully MIL's cancer isn't malignant or metastasized. I don't think my in-laws have learned anything from this casualty and I'm sure we'll repeat it at least once more when the starter motor dies.

But now I'm afraid to answer the phone.

Next month they're going on a cruise for two weeks. We're already planning to replace the kitchen floor and the dishwasher, paint the closet doors, and stretch the carpets. Maybe I should also have the mechanic replace the damn Subaru's starter motor, wires, & plugs. I could discuss it with my FIL or I could just do it, pay for it myself, and save us all the hassle.

OK, I feel a little better. Thanks for listening...
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 05:40 PM   #2
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

Remind them that someday you'll have a say in picking their assisted living facility.
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 05:59 PM   #3
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

I'm in much better shape. I stopped doing my own car repairs about 20 years ago and now I can claim that I don't know anything about new cars so can't do anything to help
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 06:00 PM   #4
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

He reminds me of my DD Father. *Mother refused to buy a new car for years because he kept 'fixing' them (he worked at a garage when he was a teen - in the late 30's). *If there was an urgent need for transportation and the car was out of order she would either take a bus or call my brother *(who usually worked nights). *She finally bought one when he was moved to a care facility.

One of the reasons she loved their HNL condo is that he had no car to tinker with. Brother liked it too!!!
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 06:09 PM   #5
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

Nords,

I read your whole story. You have my sympathies.

You are about 5-10 years ahead of me on my journey with my parents, and I am not sure what that will bring. Probably me sharing my story here.

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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 08:52 PM   #6
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
... But now I'm afraid to answer the phone. ...
Caller Name ID.
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 09:43 PM   #7
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

Actually Nords, it sounds strikingly familiar to my situation.* FIL has had diabetes for 30+ years (and has taken good care of himself) but now suffering renal failure.* His blood sugar has been wacking out and he passed out in the chair the other day, woke up and was pretty belligerent.* Try talking to him about re-stretching that 35 YO carpet!
Nothing and I mean nothing has been upgraded in their house since 1971.* I finally had to argue with him the other day to get the A/C condensor looked at as it wouldn't keep up with cooling.* He'd been putting a soaker hose spraying water on it all day (for the previous 3 summers) to get it to cool but now the fan crapped out.*
Now it's not like they don't have any money but they don't seem to have the ability to spend it.* I spend my time cleaning out gutters, trimming trees, etc. but they sure can be stubborn.
Now we're trying to make sure all is in order should anything happen to them, wills, poa's, etc and that is just as tough.
I feel for ya man!
For what it's worth, their son (my BIL) was a submariner during Vietnam and was stationed in HI and BIL's FIL was sub commander.
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 10:35 PM   #8
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

Nords, I also read your whole story.* Very interesting and amusing especially the part when your FIL says, "Bring all your tools" but of course, frustrating for you.

Hang in there.* You are good to your wife's parents so you're earning karma points (is that how that works?), and hopefully your daughter's future husband will be as good to you as you are to your in-laws.*
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 10:41 PM   #9
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

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...hopefully your daughter's future husband will be as good to you as you are to your in-laws.
Yeah, if you treat him like your FIL treats you, your future SIL might be nice enough to load the Glock for you and help you hold it up to your head!

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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 11:14 PM   #10
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

I apologize in advance for not reading the whole story ... to read a report would be too much like work. (Where's the executive summary anyways?) Writing it must really be like work for some folks!

I got as far as mentioning Chilton's manual. I've always found these in the local library, so FIL doesn't ever have to pay for it.

The whole thing probably had nothing in the end to do with car repair, so I won't even discuss overhauling engines with my dad back in the '70s. I'm gonna guess it had more to do with human relationships, so I won't even discuss overhauling engines with my dad back in the '70s.
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 11:16 PM   #11
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

I didnt read it all, but i skimmed enough that I think i got the point. * *I've been suspicious myself that this whole ER thing is just a mirage/facade, and that if i were to eventually do it, all of my family would instantly know that i'm avaliable for all of their problems, and i'd just end up working 3+ days a week, except in this case for no pay at all.

Skimming your story, my fears on this are maintained.

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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-07-2006, 11:35 PM   #12
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law


Why do these things always happen when there's a solid swell running? Took a solid overhead set on the head this afternoon. Two waves later I noticed blood on my finger. Decisions....

I have the Haynes Manual for 1990-1998 Subaru Legacy/OB. Let me know if you need any pages scanned.

That rear plug is a nightmare. I think the 3" extension did the trick. Had to tape the socket onto the extension so that I could remove it after tightening the plugs. Mine just turned 100K. The only time the engine light came on was when I didn't secure the gas cap after a fill up. Next I'm up for a water pump, engine seal, and timing belt.

My older relatives are 5000-10000 miles away. When I'm helping them out it's much easier knowing that I'll be headed home soon.
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-08-2006, 12:45 AM   #13
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

Nords,
...I read the entire thing because it so much reminded me of quality time spent fixing things with my FIL who was too cheap to do anything the right way. He has been gone 2 years now and I miss him. Life is funny.
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-08-2006, 07:01 AM   #14
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

Thanks for telling your tale of woe, Nords. Aiyiyi! Good thing you have hobbies that allow you to ride the danger and to express your frustration/aggression--hyah!

This tale has me recommitting to registering DH & me for one of those continuing care places in our late 60s so we can enter in our early 70s (good places usually have waiting lists of a few years).
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-08-2006, 07:16 AM   #15
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

Quote:
Originally Posted by Azanon
I didnt read it all, but i skimmed enough that I think i got the point. I've been suspicious myself that this whole ER thing is just a mirage/facade, and that if i were to eventually do it, all of my family would instantly know that i'm avaliable for all of their problems, and i'd just end up working 3+ days a week, except in this case for no pay at all.

Skimming your story, my fears on this are maintained.

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It may be worse than you think. I have friends?/relations that I do not let know when I take a week off to do stuff around the house. At least until I have my stuff done anyway. We will see what happens when I retire next year.
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-08-2006, 10:23 PM   #16
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

Upon further consideration it seems like my earlier post could be interpreted as an attempt on my part to chide Nords. Sorry Nords. Not my intent and I really did identify with your consternation about the auto repairs with your FIL. I would like to add that working with my FIL on his projects and auto repairs really did annoy the crap out of me. It was like he could not stand to spend money buying the right parts but could not imagine that wasting my time and his trying to make something work with the wrong cheapo parts was in the long run much more expensive because our (especially mine LOL) time was worth something.
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-08-2006, 10:42 PM   #17
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

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Originally Posted by jclarksnakes
Upon further consideration it seems like my earlier post could be interpreted as an attempt on my part to chide Nords. Sorry Nords. Not my intent and I really did identify with your consternation about the auto repairs with your FIL. I would like to add that working with my FIL on his projects and auto repairs really did annoy the crap out of me. It was like he could not stand to spend money buying the right parts but could not imagine that wasting my time and his trying to make something work with the wrong cheapo parts was in the long run much more expensive because our (especially mine LOL) time was worth something.
No, no offense taken. Actually you nailed it both times-- he'll waste days of everyone's time to avoid "wasting" money and I'll miss him too someday.* But I'd rather spend our time together hanging out at the beach, not sweating in the garage in the futile hope of avoiding a $75 fee. Especially since his genes seem to carry a life expectancy of another three decades or so.

They've considerably loosened their purse strings over the last couple years, but that's because the Fed has raised their interest rates and effectively tripled the returns on their all-bond/CD portfolio.* They're making some progress-- he's bought their new computer and has at least learned about DSL & cable, even if he's having trouble leaving cheap dial-up.

Haven't heard anything from them since Wednesday.* Hopefully they're finding the parts OK, but I'm afraid to ask!
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-09-2006, 08:13 AM   #18
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

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No, no offense taken.* Actually you nailed it both times-- he'll waste days of everyone's time to avoid "wasting" money and I'll miss him too someday.* But I'd rather spend our time together hanging out at the beach, not sweating in the garage in the futile hope of avoiding a $75 fee.* Especially since his genes seem to carry a life expectancy of another three decades or so.

They've considerably loosened their purse strings over the last couple years, but that's because the Fed has raised their interest rates and effectively tripled the returns on their all-bond/CD portfolio.* They're making some progress-- he's bought their new computer and has at least learned about DSL & cable, even if he's having trouble leaving cheap dial-up.

Haven't heard anything from them since Wednesday.* Hopefully they're finding the parts OK, but I'm afraid to ask!
Dial up to DSL... maybe he's found on line poker!!!!!

Sorry Nords, but I just couldn't resisit saying that.


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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-09-2006, 11:29 AM   #19
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

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Dial up to DSL... maybe he's found on line poker!!!!!* *
Ah, that's a whole 'nother rant.

I think it causes him extreme mental anguish and psychosomatic pain to consider spending $34.02 per month for DSL "just to read our e-mail and the Washington Post online".* That's his side of the story.*

Admittedly the reason that he's finally noticing the slow dialup speeds is because he no longer surfs with a Pentium III, Win98, and 256 MB of RAM.* He has a gigabyte of RAM and even a graphics card!* Now he can see that the computer is sitting idle while the bits trickle in... he just doesn't mind sitting there waiting for pages to reload.

But then you talk with his spouse, who spends literally hours at dialup speeds trying to organize six-week Mainland vacations with cheap airfares, Elderhostels, a cruise, and maybe a vacation condo or two.* Of course coordinating their travel with other Mainland friends ensures that this type of logistics planning changes weekly.* It'd drive a travel agent nuts, so only the websites would accomdate the "updates".* She'd really appreciate DSL.

As for gambling-- have you ever noticed that some Vegas casinos still have penny slots with 99% payouts?* My parents in law are keeping that tradition alive.* I can only imagine his reaction if I brought him over to the $25 blackjack table with $2500 to count cards and work on his progressive betting...

I could go on and on but you get the idea. "How many grandmothers does it take to change a lightbulb?" "That's OK, I'll just sit here in the dark."

I love the guy and he's taught me many valuable ways to change my outlook on life and on time.* He's great with their only granddaughter (who is now also a Civil War aficionado) and he's a huge repository of oral history of growing up during the Depression, living through WWII, and the post-war Bronx.* He's much more of a presence in our lives than my father.*

But I doubt that our kid would appreciate their scrimping & saving to enlarge her inheritance three or four decades from now. They are the living personification of Cut-Throat's philosophical query "What are you saving it for?!?"* I just wish they'd spend a little more of their money so that we could all enjoy a little more of our time together.
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law
Old 09-09-2006, 01:25 PM   #20
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Re: Dealing with the parents in law

Nords, I really enjoyed reading your story. I'm willing to bet that one of the reasons your FIL deals with his repairs so irrationally is that he enjoys puttering around with you. Take it as a compliment. He won't change!

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