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Dad’s Corner

By: Justin P. McCarthy   |  August 3, 2023


Late last year, my wife, Katie, and I decided it was time to redo our downstairs bathrooms. We had our reasons: The puzzlingly low-friction-when-wet tile floor in the primary had tried to kill us a handful of times, and we couldn’t see it getting any less lethal as we aged. Our shower enclosure wasn’t installed properly when the home was built in 2002, and the tall panels of glass had partially detached and taken to swaying with the action of the door. It seemed ready to come down in a rain of broken shards on bare feet at any moment. Plus, we wanted to make the aesthetic ours.

The kids–having grown up in the house–had thoroughly trashed theirs: swollen baseboards, peeled paint, detached towel bars… it was time for a change. In an unjustifiable fit of radical optimism, we landed on the notion that it would be best to get them all done at once–“It’ll never be easy; let’s just pull off the Band-Aid!”

Thanks, Past Me! Past Me is lucky he’s family. With his string of gaffes, questionable decisions and outright betrayals, I probably should have unfriended him a long time ago. Past Me gets to have coffee meetings with our designer, stroke his chin and “hmm” thoughtfully over tile choices and stain shades. He gets to call up our builder and make his day: “Mark, we’ve got another big one for you!” Past Me is everybody’s friend but mine.

Past Me, along with Past Katie (who is usually far kinder to and more considerate of Katie than Past Me is toward me) even came up with a clever plan to ease us into the process. We’d start Jack and Claire’s bathrooms a few weeks before the end of school, then wait until we’d left for vacation to demo the remaining two.

Ah, those first, heady days. Sure, we had some ZipWalls up, and the kids had to share Ali’s bathroom (“This is like camping!”), but the work was always finished before they got home and the guys were great about sweeping and vacuuming to make it feel almost normal. The cats hid out in the laundry room, and I blasted music or wore my headphones during the day to drown out the hammering. “This isn’t so bad,” Past Me thought, “let’s get the mold crew in here, too!”

Past Us left the country with bright eyes and clear hearts the day after school ended. Whatever the house looked like when we got back, we thought, we’d be fine with it. We were off to adventures in the Far East–nothing could dent our enthusiasm!

Fast forward two weeks.  We returned home, bleary-eyed and jetlagged, to a barely inhabitable, quasi-apocalyptic job site. If you’ve seen the 1986 Tom Hanks and Shelley Long classic, The Money Pit[1], you get the idea. What our builder had described as “just the right amount of containment” ended up being a downstairs almost entirely clad in plastic. Despite all this, the crew had whiffed it one day and not zipped things up properly, and the entire house had filled with demolition residue. Past Me would never spend an hour flossing sawdust from between all the keys of a piano.

When my son, Jack–who is no great fan of disruption at home–griped at the chaos, I said something like, “The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings,”[2] and he scowled at me. After a few days, we found our (always slippered–look out for drywall bits!) feet again and settled into something of a routine. Then, the mold remediators–whom Past Me had thoughtfully scheduled for the week we returned–showed up to tear into three more rooms and the basement–“Oh, and we’ll need to pull out your washer and dryer, too.”

As I write this, we’re two months into the project, still down four bathrooms, still crunching across plastic-covered carpets, waking one another up in turn all night to use the restroom upstairs, still all showering in the guest bathroom. The cats are still hiding all day. The mold team has gone (great news: our retest was all clear!), and we’re “about a week and a half away–really!” from wrapping up (and unwrapping) Claire’s bathroom.

We’ve all found something like equilibrium, though we can’t wait for the work to finish. It’s loud and occasionally smelly and just feels so much less comfortable than we’re used to. I’m ready to be the Future Me that looks back on this summer and thinks, “These bathrooms look great; Past Me really did have the right idea!” But for now, I’m just glad he booked the girls and me a flight to New York next week.

[1]Maybe when you read this it will still be streaming on Peacock! (Ignore the ignorant 50% Rotten Tomatoes score and give it a watch.)

[2] Okakura Kakuzō shares this and so much more crisp wisdom in his The Book of Tea.


Justin P. McCarthy lives in Tiburon with his wife, Katie, and their three children--Jack, Ali, and Claire. He’d be delighted to hear from you at
More from this issue:

Back to School Hacks for a Smooth Transition HERE >> 

Creating Time for Movement HERE >>

Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival HERE >>

Show Her Real Friendships HERE >>

The Crucible HERE >>

The Last Month Rollercoaster HERE >>

Travel School: London & Paris HERE >>