Man Skills

Husky Chainsaw

Image by The White Elk via Flickr

While fighting with a piece of yard equipment last weekend I began to think about the things that a “true man” should be able to do. Before I even get started yes this column will use old and antiquated stereotypes. It will discuss ideas about manhood that are holdovers from decades gone by. That said, they call them the good old days for a reason. In this modern society men are continually being told to suppress their masculine sides, or at the very least masculinity is being redefined and many of the skills our fathers had are no longer considered valuable. In the interest of preserving the traditional male role I have compiled a list of skills every man should have.

Change a Tire. This is the most basic of man skills. Even the most progressive of us scoff at the man on the side of the road with a flat calling for help on the cell phone. In urban areas help is but a phone call away, however pathetic the call is. What happens when the family is loaded into the SUV on that cross country road trip and you hear the tell tale flap flap flap in the middle of nowhere? Should you hike to the nearest high spot arm outstretched looking for that extra bar that will allow the call to go through? How about just rolling up your sleeves and learning a skill that could someday get you out of a jam in those parts of the world where cell coverage is spotty at best, or get you to that board meeting on time back in the city. The grease stain on your tie will impress your coworkers, I promise.

Build a Fire. The first thing that comes to mind here is probably a couple Boy Scouts with their three matches trying to get their merit badge. While this is not a bad skill to have, and any self respecting male ought to be able to start a campfire, I am not talking about a fire in the woods. How many times have you seen somebody trying for that mood effect of a crackling fireplace only to fail miserably as newspaper after newspaper is fed to the tiny flame? I saw this at a Christmas party last year, and have seen it many times before. A man should be able to get a fire going and keep it going if they are roasting marshmallows or trying to set the mood. If you’re one of those who use the tv fire you may already be a lost cause, but I suggest you get out there and start rubbing two sticks together there may be hope for you yet.

String Christmas Lights. It’s hard to believe, but the holiday season is fast approaching and we have all seen far too many yards filled with plastic reindeer, or worse, the inflatable Santas that come complete with their own air pump. Even if a yard lacks the tacky plastic decorations the lighting is sadly askew or overdone. Since the outside is traditionally the man’s domain and we are dealing in traditional stereotypes here I maintain that a man should be able to string up some Christmas lights in a neat and visually pleasing way. It’s not that hard really, just take a little time, use the minimalist approach, and throw those little bulbs that make everything blink right into the garbage.

Sharpen a Knife. Again I am not speaking in terms of your Bowie knife, just the stuff you use around the house day to day. If you are going to be a modern man and prove your worth in the kitchen you have to be able to keep knives sharp. Ever cut a tomato with a dull knife? Or, the ultimate in male domestic duties, carve a turkey? Without a sharp blade you just make a mess of things and look foolish. All the relatives, especially the old men, will be looking at how that turkey is carved off the bone. This is your chance to prove yourself, but you don’t stand a chance without a sharp knife. Of course if you do have a Bowie knife it should be sharp enough to shave with. Why else do you own it Rambo?

Rebuild a Carburetor. So rebuilding carburetors might be a bit extreme, but I am sure it got your attention and it’s not a bad goal to shoot for. The point here is there are a lot of small internal combustion engines around the typical house. Most would at least have a lawn mower and weed whacker, and you can throw a snow blower in for those of us in the northern states, plus whatever hobby equipment a man might own, ATV, snowmobile, ice auger, etc. Do you really want to pay $50 an hour to the local small engine repair guy every time one of these machines hiccups? If you bought your lawn mower right you can quickly exceed the cost of a new one by taking it the repair shop. Every man should be able to troubleshoot a simple engine. If you can’t tell if you have water in your gas or if you have fire at the plug, and especially if you have no idea what I just said, find a class and learn a little something. It will pay for itself the next time the lawn mower needs its blades changed.

Change a Light Fixture. This is another category were the skill might be too specific, but it is part of a larger point. Any man should be reasonably handy around the house. Our traditional role is that of a “fixer” so what good are you if you can’t fix simple problems around the house? And yes, changing a light fixture is a relatively simple task. You can keep a lot of money in your pocket if you have the wherewithal to tackle household problems yourself.

Use a chainsaw. The chainsaw is the top of the heap when it comes to power tools. Powered by a gas engine with a fully exposed blade rotating in front of you the chainsaw can bite you if you don’t know what you are doing. Certainly if you live in a place where a chainsaw would be practical you should learn to use one. There is nothing more pathetic than one man watching another man break a sweat doing a masculine task because they don’t know how. What will you do the next time a tree falls down on your property? For those of you thinking “what the hell do I need with a chainsaw,” take a look at the larger point. Power tools are the stereotypical and traditional domain of the male, and you should know the basics about the most common of them. Once you gain the confidence to replace that light fixture you’re going to want to know how to use this equipment. Take a simple woodworking class, your wife will thank you when that new book shelf appears for her to display those Danielle Steel novels collecting dust under the bed.

Catch a fish. Almost every child at some point becomes enamored with the idea of catching fish. If you can’t take your kids to the local pond and help them catch a few trout or sunfish, or if you can’t tell the difference between a trout and a sunfish, it’s time to take serious stock. I am not saying you have to be a master fisherman to be true man, but it shouldn’t look like you are wrestling a six foot stick when you are rigging up the rod either. If you don’t know the first thing about catching a fish I suggest you take a day, get out there and try, because you are spending way too much time at the office. Your kids will thank you for it.

Discuss Current events. Part of being a man is being a productive member of your community. You can only do this if you pay attention to the world around you. Nobody expects an expert on foreign policy or health care, but being able to name your city councilors or town selectman would be a start. Another consideration here is respect for others’ opinions. If you are up on current events and are strongly aligned with the political philosophy of one of the major parties you can still listen and be respectful of others positions. I have lost friends because of my political opinions. Taking political discussion to this extreme is absurd. A true man will be able to make informed decisions at the ballot box, and be always respectful of other opinions.

Be a dad. Any stiff can make a baby, but it takes a man to be a dad. If you are going to have children, act like they are a gift from God because, well, they are. The rewards you receive from playing an active role in raising your children are difficult to put in words, but suffice to say it will leave you warm and fuzzy on the inside. Your children’s benefit will be immense. Kids need both a male and female influence in their lives and you are half that equation. In this era of divorce and the redefinition of the family it is more important than ever for men to play an active role in their kid’s lives. Even if you are divorced you can still be a father to your children. Never put the kids into grownup fights, even if the stresses of parenthood led to the separation, it is still not the kid’s fault, and they should never be used as a weapon against the ex Mrs. Take the high road, leave the kids out of your problems, and be their dad. Who do you want teaching your son to be a man? You or the schmuck the ex is shacking up with? Men step up at critical times and this is one of those times.

Childhood Obesity And The Walking Playground

Chips (BE), French fries (AE), French fried po...

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I am married to a school teacher and am forever amazed at the absurdity that pervades her daily work. I am sure most of us can remember time spent on the school playground. It wasn’t all that long ago that when it came to the playground survival of the fittest was the word of the day. It was a jungle out there and everybody knew their place in the system. Now I am not going to say that everything was sunshine and roses back then, and if you were one of the “weaklings” you know exactly what I mean, but how far the other way are we going to go?

The other day I made a comment to my wife that our current first lady has made childhood obesity her priority. I support her overall cause, but was very disturbed to hear of school systems banning bagged lunches in favor of “healthier” school provided lunches, and efforts to take legal action against restaurant chains that provided a toy with their fattening meals. I asked my wife who spends her entire day in contact with real children what she thought about it. Her simply reply was “why wouldn’t kids be overweight they don’t let them play anymore”. Now I had been aware that our local schools had banned tag and other “chase” games as they singled children out and had damaging effects on self esteem (or so some expert somewhere says), but this seemed a broader statement. “What do you mean they can’t play?” I asked. She replied “We have a walking playground”

I think things have officially gone too far. We cannot protect our kids from everything. Sure when we were young childhood could be pretty brutal. I was both victim and perpetrator in these childhood games, and looking back I think the playground environment we grew up in made us all stronger. We all learned at early ages that not everybody is good at everything, that you will lose, not everybody is going to like you, and most importantly life is not fair. I understand that in the modern era with use of technology what was once relatively harmless teasing can become brutal and relentless attacks that lead children to make horrible and drastic choices, but do we really need to ban tag?

The progressive mindset is often reactionary and in this case, as often happens, they are reacting to a set of circumstances they helped create. In an effort to protect the psyches of our kids the left has isolated them from anything that may hurt them. You can’t play tag because the slow kid is always “it”, you can’t play dodge ball because the kids that can’t catch and throw are always the first to be out. You can’t play on this or that because you might fall and get hurt, and on it goes until you have the walking playground. I am not entirely blaming the left for America’s childhood obesity problem. Most of that blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents who let them sit in front of one screen or another only exercising their thumbs, but this mentality that we need to protect our children from ever bump and bruise both physical and mental did start with progressive thinking and has led to a generation of inactive and overweight kids.

Now faced with this population of unhealthy children the left has found a new boogey man… French Fries. The irony here is too thick. The left has brought us both the walking playground and the fight against fattening food. What about personal responsibility? Too much to ask of a kid you say? I don’t disagree, that’s why kids have parents.  Parents are supposed to help kids make healthy choices. There is nothing wrong with fast food once and a while, but if a parent can’t seem to find the time to cook their kid a meal, and takes them to the local fast food chain daily is that the restaurants fault?

The first lady wants to fight childhood obesity and that is a laudable goal, but childhood obesity isn’t the disease it’s a symptom. We have created a society the puts a bubble around our kids. We don’t let them act like kids anymore. Everything has been sugar coated, there is no winning and losing, there is no failure, and there is no pain. Learning to deal with these things is part of learning to be an adult, and the ways we used to teach our kids these traits have all been banned as too dangerous or detrimental to their development. The result is a fat and lazy generation that expects life to be easy, and feels they are entitled rather than learning to work hard and overcome life’s obstacles. It is time to find the happy medium between today’s walking playground and yesterday’s jungle. We need to get our kids up off the couch and experiencing the highs and lows of life. The result will be a happier and healthier generation of American’s.

Bryant Gumbel Loses His Mind

In the final segment commentary of his HBO program “Real Sports” Bryant Gumbel stepped over the line into very dangerous territory. In commenting on the NBA lockout he likened NBA commissioner David Stern to a Plantation owner, and accused him of treating the players as “his boys”.

For those who don’t follow the game the lockout is in place because the deal between the players and the owners has expired, and with 23 teams in the league losing money the owners feel they need to renegotiate. Now admittedly the particulars of the dispute become more complicated, but in the end it boils down to money and who gets how much.

Drawing a comparison between this situation and slavery is obscene. It disrespects the horrors and miseries endured by generations slaves. Men and women were ripped from their families and communities in Africa, forced into cramped and dirty spaces aboard ships where they endured a torturous journey across the Atlantic. Once here they were paraded across trading blocs like cattle and sold, officially the property of another man. They and their descendents endured under the reign of a population that considered them less than human with none of the rights we hold dear today.

How Mr. Gumbel can compare the relationship of the players who have been made multimillionaires by the sport Mr. Stern manages, to that of slave and owner escapes me. What did the slaves receive from their plantation owners? No more than food, shelter and the most basic of necessities, the quality of which undoubtedly varied from plantation to plantation. Slaves certainly never had the option to sit across a table and negotiate for their compensation. No federal mediators were assigned when and impasse was reached.

David Stern is known to be a tough negotiator and has certainly raised some hackles over the years, but would a black commissioner have acted any differently? The negotiations are in the interest of the game, it is not Mr. Stern’s job the make the players happy. If there are legitimate complaints of racism they should be investigated, but as the players and team owners  argue over  divvying  up their millions it is absurd to draw any parallel to the slave and owner dynamic. In the memory of those that truly suffered Mr. Gumbel owes an apology.

Classroom Chaos

So happy =)

The behavior problems in modern public school classrooms are stunning. If you are the parent of a school age child it would behoove you to try and find a way to observe your kids classroom. I will almost guarantee you will be shocked at the obstacles to learning placed before your child by their own peers. While not a teacher myself I am married to a third grade teacher, and I have had cause to spend a great deal of time in early elementary classrooms (grade 3 and under). I am continually amazed and the challenges faced by teachers and students alike.

It appears there are two types of parents whose kids seem to contribute to these problems. The first group consists mostly of those with poor parenting skills who are looking to apply some learning disability tag to their kid to explain away the behavior they have created through their own parenting strategies, or lack thereof. Sadly in today’s school systems there is always somebody willing to enable this process and get a kid, who really only needs parents that will provide the consistency and structure they crave, a label that allows for special services and customized education plans. These kids don’t really stand a chance. Their parents have failed to give them the skills they need to cope with life, leading to attention and behavior problems that are more a function of nurture than nature. The school or doctor applies a label allowing the parent to duck taking responsibility for their kid’s problems, and point at the school systems inability to meet their child’s “special needs” to explain their failure.

The second type of parent refuses to accept that their child might actually have a problem. Some kids undoubtedly suffer from legitimate learning disabilities, but have parents who refuse to believe there could be something wrong with their kid. These kids receive only minimal services from the school.  If the parent would acknowledge and deal with the problem they could get their child the help they need and give them a fighting chance at success. Without help the child will continue to fail and become frustrated leading to further acting out in the classroom. Of course the parent who refuses to accept their kid might have a problem can point to the school not “getting” their kid as the reason behind their struggles.

Regardless of the size of your kid’s classroom, or where you are in the country, it is very likely that your child has one or two of each of these kids in their classroom. These kids consume and inordinate amount of the teacher’s time leading to interrupted direct instruction, and creating distractions throughout the day. In the end all the kids suffer by being forced into environments that, despite the teacher’s best efforts, are not conducive to learning. The failures of a handful of parents can lead to a chaotic educational experience for an entire class.

Teachers have a front row seat to the decay of American society and it would be an eye opening and worthwhile experience for most parents to get a taste of the challenges faced by their children and their teachers on a day to day basis. These classrooms are a view into our future as a civilization and the view is scary.

An Argument for Lower Taxes

Tax by definition

Image by alancleaver_2000 via Flickr

What is so difficult to understand about the concept of keeping money in the private sector to help our economy grow? When people have more money they spend more money. It is not really any more complicated than that. Increasing government revenues by increasing taxes is the intuitive approach, but history has proven it ineffective. Given a little thought it is not hard to see how when faced with a higher government burden both individuals and business’ will spend more time trying to hide their revenues than spending it on new equipment, employees, or in the case of the individual, the host of nonessential purchases that makes our economy work. When businesses and individuals are allowed to keep more of what they earn there is more money circulating in the private sector where wealth is created.

Those at the highest levels of our government in the Democratic Party, including our president, believe it is the job of the government to ensure equal distribution of the nation’s wealth through taxes and entitlement programs. Anybody who doubts the president’s philosophy on this simply wasn’t paying attention during the ’08 elections. Despite the presidents recent attempt at compromise many liberals fail to see the larger impact of these programs on the economy as a whole. The government can’t simply tax the successful and redistribute money through government programs. The approach fails on two levels. First when it comes to wealth the government is a Black Hole. The money doesn’t simply pass from one hand to another, but disappears into bloated government bureaucracies never to be seen again. Second faced with a higher tax burden the private sector doesn’t just stop growing, but contracts. As productions and revenues drop so does the amount of money flowing into the government’s black hole. In the end you end up with a downward economic spiral. This economic approach is simply not sustainable. Anybody who doubts this need look no further than the failing European States, or the many unfunded government liabilities that exist within the Federal and State Governments. It is truly ironic that as some in the United States wish to move us more towards the European Model, much of Europe is trying to escape the crushing reality of their system.

The only way to effectively “redistribute wealth” in our society is a strong private economy that provides jobs for our citizens. In this system the rich do get richer, but so do the middle class and the poor. As the wealthy accumulate resources they reinvest in their or others business’ to keep their assets growing. Money continues to circulate through investments and wages. For those willing to work hard wealth naturally redistributes itself. With the security of a strong economy entrepreneurs are willing to take chances on their ideas because the consequences of failure are less severe, the chances for success are higher, and investors are easier to find. If an idea fails you can always integrate back into the work force. In a weak economy when jobs are hard to come by failure could be catastrophic, and people, both entrepreneurs and investors, are much less willing to take chances.

In a healthy economy the pressure from citizens for the government to provide entitlements drops at the same time that money flowing into the treasury increases. With strong private sector businesses tax revenues increase even with lower rates. The concept is simple. A low percentage of a very large number is greater than a high percentage of a small or negative number. When business and personal income is high even a small percentage of income flowing to the government amounts to a lot of money. When the economy is shrinking you can raise tax rates all you want, but a high rate applied to small or nonexistent private sector revenues will not produce a lot of income for the government.