Friday, November 16, 2007

Not Bob the Builder

Every person should have some idea of what they are good at, I am still struggling with this, but I do have some idea. I am certain of what I am not good at. I am not a handy man. Maybe it is my own fault because my standards of quality are just too high.

Some men are perfectly happy just patching things together with duct tape and calling it a day. I expect that if I build shelves from scratch that they should not lean at 23 ½ degrees to the right. I explained to my wife that the leaning of the shelves was due to the coriolis effect. I said it with a straight face but I don’t think she believed me. She knows I have a B.S. degree.

This “not being handy,” is a fault of mine that I recognized long ago but have only recently decided to accept. Somehow being a man means that there is a whole list of things that you should be able to do, you can’t ever do, or should never be seen doing. Being handy is something that every man is supposed to be born with, like it is a gene or something. I am here to tell you that it is a learned behavior.

In my formative years, I must have missed something. I do have some skills, but they are helper skills. If you show me what to do I can replicate it. If you tell me what to do I can make it happen. If I am in charge, it is going to get broken. I should never be unsupervised if repairs or construction work is needed.

I do have a pretty good collection of tools and equipment for someone who has no business using them. Sometimes looking at them scares me because all I can picture is the damage I can cause. I have an ultimately cool laser level and I swear I still can’t hang a picture straight. I am not making this up, I have the piles of un-hung pictures stacked around my house to prove it. Part of the reason this tool doesn’t work well for me is the fact that I am afraid that I will blind myself or a family member with the intense beam of focused light. I saw Star Wars and know what a laser can do.

Last night I got to set up my Birthday/Christmas present for the next seven years- a new 42” LCD TV. It has really been filling me with dread. Not because of the putting together of the TV, that is easy- I do well with electronic stuff for some reason. The problem was the new TV stand.

I can’t call it an entertainment center, because that sounds very large. This “stand,” as I call it, is a glorified coffee table really. It is about the same height and length, but it has a drawer and little mini shelves. It only took me almost three hours to put together. This is a new personal record, especially considering that I only had one left-over screw, and that was the manufacturer’s fault, not mine. One of the screw holes had the female connector jammed too far down the hole. That is how I have a left-over screw.

Part of the problem with putting the stand together last night was that I was trying to do it with my kids around. They want to help, and I needed help, but I needed someone with more skills than I have to help me, not fewer skills. If I don’t know what to do, how am I supposed to direct them? I try not to be the grumpy dad, but it is hard. I never understood that about my father, why he would suddenly become moody over doing some little thing. Now I know it is because he was faced with something he didn’t know how to handle, or what he was supposed to do. It is hard when you are an authority figure and you don’t have a clue as to what to do.

I tried to get my kids to help me at different points during the stand building. Sammy, who is 3, sorted my screws, and then when my back was turned, put a tiny screw into a bigger hole. The screw disappeared and I spent the next 5 minutes banging on the part to get the screw to fall back out. This was before step number one was started.

Of my children, Sammy was by far the most eager to help me. I used a rechargeable screwdriver and lined everything up and let him push the buttons. He was digging it. Calvin helped me get the top lined up and move the big pieces around. Savannah also joined in after the screwdriver button pushing fun began.

The most difficult part of the build was when I was laying on the floor trying to look in the dark space underneath the stand holding a flashlight while attaching the top to the supports. Sammy thought this would be a great time to hang off the sofa and try to zerbert my stomach. When he couldn’t quite reach he asked me to stretch my stomach up to meet him, which I did because I thought it was funny. Suddenly, he jumped of the sofa and onto my stomach. I was a trampoline, and Sammy was bouncing on me. It is hard to laugh, breathe and tell a kid to get off of you. They just don't take that very seriously.

In the end, I only had to take the stand apart and put it back together 3 times. And I did not cuss, except really low where the kids couldn’t hear. I didn’t yell at anyone or break the stand, but I am still afraid to move it by picking it up from the top. I think it will pop right off. The screw that could not go into the base, well I think I know what to do with him. I will just put him in the drawer with all of the other left over parts I have collected throughout the years.

Maybe I am getting better at this stuff. This project turned out much better than the computer desk that I put together that could not be moved for 4 years because it would collapse (we lost the desk when a mover lifted it 2 inches off the ground). Or the doggie door that nearly crushed my wife and Calvin, when he was a newborn. Why would a dog actually use a door that you made for him?

So, I am not handy. Big deal. At least I have some helpers that that don't know how incompetent I am. And they know the Bob the Builder song. That always fills me with confidence.

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