I sit the tiny screwdriver down with a flick, foiled to the point of contempt. I had spent the previous hour unassembling and reassembling a fish-shaped toy about the size of a watch and not much less complex.

The defective-lightbulb-containing keychain had cost a buck-fifty just a few hours earlier, my son's reward for being so attentive at the museum. It and one like it had become the playthings du jour of him and his sister.

When he greeted me at the door, he asked me to fix it, like countless other trinkets I neither purchased nor regarded. I said I'd take a whack.

No matter how many times I slipped the springs and wires and screws into the scattered holes, I couldn't get them to hold when I twisted and pinched the various body parts together. If it was my fishy, it would have received the toy version of the flush at hello.

I believe I failed to mention much of this effort took place with one or both kids climbing aboard, sitting upon or jumping off me. I kept my cool and even enjoyed the attention... early on.

But when it was becoming apparent I might not succeed at this little test of my fatherhood, I became glum. Not angry, just visibly agitated. Unhappy.

My wife called the kids in for a bath. As they reluctantly turned away, I regained some hope, sure I could figure this mess out with full concentration. Finally, as the kids hurried back, I got it together as it seemed to belong. But a failed flip of the tail told them everything they needed to know.

As they tried to distract themselves with other toys, I dropped the screwdriver in frustration (and began talking to you). I ask my wife why I do this.

"I don't know," she replies. "Because you do."

I leave it for a couple of minutes and resume with a desperate ploy: If I could back out the screws a little and force the screwdriver in without breaking the flimsy but clear plastic, I might be able to bend the wire back to make the necessary connection.

After some finagling, I do it, screw it together and test it - done. I tap my son and hand it to him. He presses the tail and visibly brightens himself as the light goes on. "Wow, you did it! Thank you, daddy."

I turn to my wife and tell her I know why I do it: Because my own dad would and did. The thousands of seemingly simple requests I made of him and my mom never went unaddressed, unfulfilled. If they couldn't do it, no one could.

So, as I sit down now and prepare for the season of toy-building, battery-installing and booboo-kissing, I think of my parents and admire them for what they've given me, the intangible values for which I'll never adequately thank them.