Column: A father's legacy: goosebumps

Oct. 27, 2013 @ 03:58 PM

I blame fathers.

It’s not always the father, but often it is, who gets upset when someone turns the air conditioning down low in the summer or turns the heat up high in the fall and winter.

“Low” and “high,” of course, are relative terms. If it’s July, the house had better be somewhere close to 80 degrees. If that’s too hot, go to the store or the mall, where there’s plenty of free cold air. If it’s cold outside, the house is going to be cold too, and if you’re cold, put on a sweater – that’s what sweaters are for.

At least, that’s how it was at my house.

It must also be how it was for most of my friends growing up because at this time of year, almost all of them hold off turning on the heat. They see how long they can last without it.

This past week brought most of them to their knees before the thermostat. A friend who lives in Greensboro confessed her weakness on Facebook, saying she had wanted to go until at least Nov. 1 without heat but made it to only Oct. 21:

“It wasn’t so much that the garage was actually warmer than the house. It might have had something to do with the plants wilting from the frigid air. Definitely had something to do with having to wear socks to sleep last night. But the last straw ... was sitting my buttocks on that ice-cold toilet seat! THAT is where I draw the line.”

That post drew comments from a number of other friends who also were holding out, with one woman bragging that her children were starting to complain.

I did not hold out on turning on the heat – but I have held out setting the temperature much above 60.

Why do so many people do this?

Obviously, one reason would be to save money. Especially in this economy, when so many of us are bringing home a lot less money than we used to.

But many people who are financially comfortable and haven’t seen their income affected by the slow economy do it too.

I think it’s because it’s practically a tradition, like the date when you start to pull the Christmas decorations out of the attic. At this time of year, this is what your family always did: freeze to death, because Dad said so.

I wonder, though, whether this “tradition” is one that will die out in another generation.

My dad grew up on the tail end of the Depression and in the war years in a central-Ohio house heated by a wood stove. Turning up the thermostat was not an option, so if they were cold at night they added more blankets. To him and the millions with similar childhoods, central heat, when it arrived, was a luxury – and like all luxuries, it was a lot more expensive than doing without it.

But my generation grew up with central heat. Our parents didn’t make us sleep under 10 blankets in a 35-degree bedroom. We just were told to put on a sweater because 68 is plenty warm enough.

I wonder whether each successive generation will ease that benchmark a bit. In 20 years, will people wax nostalgic about how their parents never let anyone set the thermostat above 74?

One thing I can say in favor of my father’s way of doing things: When I walked into the kitchen Friday morning and discovered that the furnace had stopped working overnight, dropping the kitchen to 50 degrees, suddenly our 60-degree bedroom felt downright toasty.