Early this year, over dinner with friends, someone suggested we share a moment or achievement from 2022 that we were proud of. Normally I’m too embarrassed to think of myself that way let alone talk about it, so I tend to deviate. “Well, I’ve avoided jail again!” I might say. On this occasion, however, I had something to share that might have sounded like a deflection, but in fact wasn’t: “I fixed our broken dishwasher.”
“Yummy,” they said. “What a man.” However, I found that they were not as impressed as I was. I didn’t blame them. Someone else at the table had just talked about their recovery to full health after months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Hard to top that. At the same time, my friends weren’t fully aware of my origin story and thus couldn’t appreciate how far I had come.
My father could, or at least never did, replace a light bulb. Nor have I ever seen him wield a hammer or operate a drill. Instead, it was my mom who did what she could with the little tools we had—if only to avoid inadvertently employing the type of tradesman who can spot a homeowner’s lack of expertise like a shark. can smell blood in the yard. water.
As good as my mother was at tackling small jobs, and even bigger ones like painting, she was not an expert and therefore unable, like Yoda, to pass on her DIY skills and wisdom. As a result, like my brothers and sisters, I grew up with no skills to repair it other than to whack a recalcitrant gadget with the flat of the hand in the hope that I would get it back to working order. This isn’t something I really thought much about until I later became a homeowner and discovered how often things break or just give in to exhaustion. I suddenly felt ill-equipped to fix things like crooked fence posts, loose gutters, cracked drywall, stuck doors, faulty appliances, and the like—especially since my toolbox contained little more than a curved hammer, a screwdriver, and a
catastrophe of loose nails and screws.
My feelings of inadequacy were reinforced by my father-in-law and a partner. The former, who came for dinner, often put down his knife and fork and cast his eyes around our crumbling building declaring that something “must be done”. He would show up days or weeks later in overalls and do it himself, while I made him tea and tried to convince myself that my feelings of emasculation were a social construct.
My father could, or at least never did, replace a light bulb. Nor have I ever seen him wield a hammer or operate a drill.
My friend, Greg, a mechanical savant who grew up watching his dad take things apart and put them back together, would service our car or bikes in a spotless workshop he built himself, and kindly suggested that some of the repairs what he was doing I learned to do myself. “If I could trade my skills, whatever she for yours,’ I said to him admiringly, ‘I’d do it in a heartbeat.’ We then discussed whether being handy was a matter of nature or nurture, and we decided it was a bit of both. No doubt, just as Mozart was born with a gift for musical composition, some of us were born with a natural aptitude for fixing broken toasters, malfunctioning circuit boards and leaky radiators. “But you can teach yourself a few simple things,” Greg said encouragingly.
Over the years I’ve done just that, with varying degrees of success, though things are progressing positively. Appropriate tools make things easier, but half the battle is being judicious about which jobs you choose in the first place and having the patience to work through things without taking shortcuts. What also helped a lot are YouTube tutorials uploaded by modern day heroes. Some are so thorough that I’d feel confident removing someone’s gallbladder if they were there to talk me through it.