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.