I always knew Dad was smart, but he elevated himself to near-genius status one wintry night when I was 10 or 11 years old. You see, the family was gathered around our lone television, a 25-inch black and white Sylvania console. Suddenly, squiggly lines appeared, the picture rolled, and then nothing but a white dot in the middle of the picture tube. Disaster.

Why did I bother to plow through my homework right after dinner? The reward was to be an hour or two of prime time TV. But now this. How soon could the TV repairman be summoned? Would he have to haul the TV to the shop for repairs? How long would it take? All weighty questions for an adolescent in the ’60s. What if we had to go all weekend without TV? No Wrestling at the Chase? Unthinkable.

But I was way ahead of myself. Dad sprung into action. After I fetched a Phillips screwdriver, he soon had the fiberboard cover off the back of the TV. I watched, mesmerized, as he removed the tubes one-by-one from the chassis of the TV, recording the number off each tube on a schematic he was sketching as he worked. I resisted the urge to ask questions for fear of breaking his concentration. Working deep inside the maze of wires and tubes surely was akin to brain surgery.

Once the tubes were out and the schematic complete, Dad said, “Sam, get your coat. We’re going to Thrifty to test these tubes.” Thrifty? Thrifty Drug Store? To test TV tubes? It just didn’t compute in my young mind. But I was too excited to ask for an explanation. After all, I had been elevated to apprentice brain surgeon.

Sure enough, Thrifty had a tube-tester, a giant console with various tube receptors and a meter with red, yellow, and green fields. Dad commenced to work, finding the proper receptor for each tube, then pushing the test button. As the tube warmed up, the needle on the meter began to move. Most often it lurched up to green, and Dad would set that tube aside. It was captivating. Then, as Dad pushed the test button on the next tube, the needle started moving as before, but faltered and stopped dead in the red zone. Dad let out an “ah-hah” and summoned to clerk who retrieved a replacement from the locked cabinet below the console.

We raced home, and referring to his schematic, Dad fastidiously re-seated all the tubes and re-attached the fiberboard back. My excitement was at a fever pitch. He plugged the TV back in and I asked if I should turn it on. Surely the apprentice brain surgeon would be given the honor of flipping the switch. And sure enough, Dad gave me a nod and I did the deed.

First, the white dot in the middle of the picture tube. Then an agonizing moment or two of uncertainty. Was the operation a success or did the patient expire? Then, some squiggly lines. The tension mounts, and a roll or two of the picture. C’mon baby, pull through! And almost miraculously, the most beautiful black and white picture a television had ever displayed. It was magical! We did it! We resurrected that old Sylvania from the dead.

As Dad settled back into his easy chair the next prime time show’s opening theme began to play. But I paid little attention. I couldn’t take my eyes off Dad, who in the last hour had elevated himself in status far above mere mortal. The neighbors have to call the TV repairman, but not us. Dad is a genius and, with the able assistance of his apprentice, anything is possible.

Tube TVs and tube testing stations are things of the past. But dads of this generation don’t need tube testers to impress their children. Because it wasn’t the tube testing that made me so proud that night. No, I was proud because I got to be Dad’s apprentice. And every dad can do that.

Sam Stemm is owner and president of Big Z Media