A friend of mine tells a story about a phone call she once made to her brother. Her 5-year-old nephew answered the phone and she spent a few moments chatting with him and then inquired as to whether his father was nearby and could come to the phone. Since she grew up on the West side of Cincinnati, she phrased the question like this: “Is your dad handy?” Her nephew replied, “Nope, Mama says he can’t fix nothin’.”
That’s one of those amusing family stories that gets told and retold and I would have found it funnier if I hadn’t known that the brother’s lack of handiness was due to his being an unemployable alcoholic. My vision of the poor nephew growing up in poverty and squalor dampened my appreciation of the humor.
But I tell the story here to support my belief that dads are expected to be handy, in the sense of being able to build things and fix stuff, which I am not. My wife and daughter are not handy either, though it doesn’t matter for them; they are women. Not that women can’t do that stuff; many do and I say, “More power tools to ‘em.” It’s just that women in our society are not expected to do those things, but men are.
Contrary to this norm, I don't fix the car or patch the drywall or mend the child's broken bones. We must resort to hiring professionals for these tasks. Oh, I can accomplish some repairs: I recently overturned a lifetime ban from household plumbing, which was imposed by my wife after an unfortunate run-in I had with the kitchen pipes, resulting in a large roto-rooter bill. Last month, I replaced the faucet in my daughter’s bathroom and, if it remains leak-free one more month, I am allowed to try and figure out what’s wrong with the garbage disposal.
Some household repairs are fairly easy, like replacing a doorknob. Nevertheless, when the closet door in the entryway got stuck closed last week, I found it more challenging than expected. I’ve replaced doorknobs before, so I knew that the first step was too remove the old knob. However, this closet doorknob did not have any visible screws, bolts or latch springs: things that are essential to undo in order to take off the knob.
In the family we bought this house from, 20-some years ago, the husband was handy. In fact, he built the closet I was dealing with and put the door in. Perhaps for aesthetic reasons, he put the knob with the screws accessible on the inside of the closet. I took smug satisfaction in knowing that, if I had done that, it would not have been from a misguided sense of style, it would have been ignorance!
So the task seemed hopeless, but I am resourceful; I removed the hinge pins, thinking the door would just open on the other side. Unfortunately, you need a little room, such as is afforded when the door is open, to remove it that way. The door was still stuck.
It was like one of those puzzles we heard or made up when we were kids: “You are in a room with no windows and no doors. There is a table in the room with a mirror on it. How do you get out?” The answer is, “You look in the mirror and see what you saw. You take the saw and cut the table into two halves. Two halves make a whole and you use the hole to get out of the room. That was brilliant when I was seven, but homonyms were useless to me now.
With the hinge pins out, I did have a little more room to see the broken latch. I stuck a screwdriver in the space between the door and the strike plate and was able to press it against the latch and lever back toward the door. The latch moved! Two more such moves and the latch slid out of it’s hole, the door opened and the broken latch flew out onto the floor followed by a spring and a random piece of metal.
Strangers assume that, because I’m tall, I must have played basketball in school. I did not, because, while I love playing, I lack most of the required skills other than proximity to the basket. One time in college, playing with my buddies, I got the ball at the top of the key, dribbled down the lane, avoided defenders on either side of me and laid the ball up and in. My friends were astounded. I, too, had no idea how I’d done it, but I was thrilled with my performance.
That is the same high I felt when the closet door popped open. That feeling was short-lived. You may recall that I had removed the hinge pins. With no connection on either side, and with the door frame built to prevent it opening in, the door had nowhere to go but out toward where I was crouched down with my handy screwdriver.
Hearing a loud noise, my daughter, who is home from school for Summer and happened to be handy, in the sense of nearby, looked up from her book, saw me supine under a slab of wood, and asked, “Dad? What are you doing?”
In a somewhat muffled but sarcastic tone I stated what I thought was obvious, “I’m fixing the closet door.”
With perfect timing, she paused, said, “Good job,” and went back to her book.
I may not have taught her to be useful around the house, but I’ve passed on some comedy skills, which can be handy in a crisis. I could not have been more proud.
Inept handyman = Man, end thy pain
Humor blogs fix anything
the image above is from t-shirt humor