Dad of No Trades

This morning Detective Munch handed me an old iPod he’d been playing with and asked me to fix it. I told him I couldn’t, and he wanted to know why.

“You fix my trains!”
“Why can’t you fix this?”

This doesn’t offend me; he’s only three. Plus, iPods aren’t exactly the easiest devices to dissect and MacGyver back to life. But “fixing” his trains mostly involves replacing the batteries, and the truth is he could ask me to fix almost anything and I’d be at a loss. I’m not a handy man.

A common male stereotype is that men can fix things. Kids expect dads to fix things. But – unless you count breakfast, which, don’t, because I can’t even make decent pancakes – I can’t fix shit.

Am I failing my son?

parenting, men, stereotypes, handyman, tim allen, dads, sons, kids, children, home, lifestyle, teaching, development, family, anxiety, male anxietyBefore I had a kid and my brain began to melt, I had a solid memory for entertainment-based trivia. I used to dominate “3 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” in college (the “3” is not a typo. Bring it.). I’m great at movie pong, I know a lot of song lyrics – but only when the song is playing (I can never remember them without the melody), and before the internet took over and the answers were suddenly at everyone’s fingertips, I was the go-to guy for “what’s that guy from?”

None of those “skills” are transferable. In fact, I have so few practical skills that I worry that I’m letting my son down.

I’m never going to be the kind of father who teaches his son how to use a split saw, or how to mount a television, or even how to change his oil. I leave that kind of stuff to the people who won’t accidentally sever their limbs or put enormous holes in the wall or don’t mind getting all gross and dirty.

I’m secure enough in my masculinity to be okay with not being the host of “Tool Time”. But what am I left to teach my son? What is he left to learn from me?

Sure, I can help teach him the same basics every other parent does: how to read; simple arithmetic; good manners; how to dunk an Oreo. But as a marketing professional with a liberal arts degree and almost no tangible skills to pass onto a child, what am I good for? What kid of father am I?

I played a few instruments in high school, and I had some talent, but I haven’t touched them in 20 years. (Plus, one of them was the clarinet and I’m not about to condemn my son to a future in the marching band.) I like to write and I’m okay with words, but I hardly get paid for it and I’m not a professor. Besides, it will be years before I have any idea if my kid has even the slightest aptitude for, or interest in, this kind of thing, and words may well be obsolete by then, replaced by screens full of abbreviations and emoji.

My three-year-old will learn some stuff from me solely by osmosis, like how to be a sarcastic dick, and how to drum along with John Bonham on a steering wheel, and what the best breweries are, and why American football is the best football (even though I never played it and he certainly won’t). He’ll learn about the music I like and the movies and TV I love and the books I treasure, so maybe he’ll be well-rounded when it comes to pop culture, and maybe he’ll dominate “3 Degrees of Joseph Gordon-Levitt” in college. The student (of nothing) will become the master (of nothing). The circle-jerk is now complete.

I can teach my kid “values” out the wazoo, but I’m devoid of practical knowledge. I can’t cook, I can’t carpenter, I can’t even golf. I can’t draw, I can’t sing, and as you’ve probably learned by now, I have no idea how to parent. I am a dad of no trades. (I did try to teach him how to ice-skate, but as you can see below, that didn’t go well.)

I know this isn’t the Middle Ages and my son is not my apprentice. But he is my responsibility, and I am charged with making sure he’s prepared for the world. I’m just not sure I know how.

Values are important, perhaps more important than any specific skill-set, and perhaps even harder to impart. Because there are no instructions for teaching your kid how to be a good person. If there were, parenting wouldn’t be parenting, it would be training. And if you could train children, there wouldn’t be so many blogs complaining about them.

Besides, odds are, if you spend your kid’s childhood training him up to be whatever you are, or whatever you wanted to be, he’ll spend most of his young adulthood rebelling against that. Your job is to give your kids a foundation, not the whole house.

parenting, men, stereotypes, handyman, tim allen, dads, sons, kids, children, home, lifestyle, teaching, development, family, anxiety, male anxietyI imagine some of these anxieties are normal, even for a man’s man, like Ron Swanson. I’ve known since the day my son was born that raising him is the most important thing I’ll ever do, and so, aside from the normal everyday stresses of normal everyday life, his development and his future are the biggest concerns I have. I worry that, aside from keeping him alive until his 18th birthday and giving him my unconditional love and support, I have little else to offer.

Maybe I’m not failing my son. Maybe my love and support are enough. One of the trippiest parts of parenting is realizing that when your kids are born, it no longer matters who you are and what you’ve accomplished. Not to them. To them you’re just Daddy, and the most important thing you can offer is yourself. All of yourself. Because despite how small that “all” may seem to you, to your children it’s everything.

Maybe what I’m realizing is that no matter what I’m ultimately able to teach my son, it’s nothing compared to what raising him is going to teach me.

After all, it won’t be long before I’m asking HIM to fix MY phone.

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12 thoughts on “Dad of No Trades

  1. There’s more than one way to “be a man” or whatever. Stereotypes are perpetuated easily, and not being handy isn’t as uncommon as you might think. It’s for this reason I have my son in Cub Scouts, offering him something I am unable to provide. Let him be comfortable in his own skin and be a good person. That’s winning at parenting.

  2. You’re spot on about the love and support being enough; frankly, it’s a LOT more than a lot of parents give their kids.

    I would point out, though, that there’s no reason you couldn’t use your lack of “practical knowledge” as an opportunity to do something together with your son. Build a birdhouse with him, and figure it out together. You’re not going to be up to hand-carving a rocking chair or anything like that in the near future, but it sounds to me like what you’re really looking for is an experience to share with him, not a skill. 🙂

  3. Glad to see that you answered your own rhetorical question by the end, though I presume you knew all along. I. Couldn’t. Have. Said. It. Better. Myself! (I hear that full stops for emphasis is a thing and wanted to give it a go. Thanks.) And, not that I think I could ever say things better than you, but I must say that if I were to write on the subject myself, my perspective, cultural references, and word choices might have been identical to yours! Kudos, you nailed it. The uncertainty in a certain lack of skills sets. My wife’s dad was a man’s man and I hire those men for transmission work. I would hire those men to hang photographs if my wife would condone it. Sometimes I think my daughters would be better served by someone who could mount an appliance like whistlin’ Dixie but alas they’ve got me. Thanks for the great read and shared perspective. I would add that this At-home dad venture has given me ample opportunity to hone skills on the fly. For my girls and more importantly with my girls. If we don’t know, we look it up. If we want to build a sandbox we hit the library and hope for the best. (Bad example. I hired a guy.) It’s the best we can do and our kids will be better off for the fact that we can admit our perceived shortcomings and strive to improve upon them. The greatest lesson is; we never stop learning.

  4. No shame in being a liberal arts trained marketing professional. I’ll be teaching my son music appreciation, social skills, negotation (he’s already a master at 4) and how not to kill your career on social media. And how to bring your car to valvoline for an oil change… what can you do. For now, he still thinks I’m awesome.

  5. I am the opposite of handy. My wife has more skills in that area than I do. Anyway, I try to do things around the house (like mow the lawn) for my boys to see it is important to do things around the house (beyond cleaning the dishes sort of thing). Anyway, my father-in-law was handy and I hope they inherit his skills. My side is bringing ZERO!

  6. Love and support are absolutely enough well that and sarcasm plus learning to drum along with John Bonham. As a mother of boys looking in from the other side I can tell you that being a father means just that…being a father. Actually being there for the good stuff and the bad stuff. In the end your son won’t remember your inability to fix things (well other than to make sarcastic jokes over a beer with you one day) but what he will remember is the time you spent and the things you were great at. Great post!

  7. Wonderful post, love the honesty.
    Just the fact that you are there for your son and you put him first, love him and care for him and worry so much about his future tells me that you are an amazing daddy. You do not have to be a handy man to raise your son up to be a great man himself!! keep up the great parenting, your son will thank you one day just for the fact that you are in his life!!

  8. Great post. Been through this myself. I still get asked to fix things even though our daughter is 13 now. Normally, phone, diy, tv and stuff like that.
    Im the same with trivia, but my fortay is 80s music. I keep coming up with crap facts about 80s bands.

  9. My kids were fixing my phone before they completed sentences. It’s sad, but wonderful.

    I think the amazing thing about children is how amazing they know their parents are. They are impressed if you hit the backboard. They don’t care if you make the shot. You can soothe their tummy ache with the touch of your hand. Their fears melt away simply by being near us. We, parents are magic to our children. Yes, they age and realize we are not perfect, but some of that magic remains forever. It’s an honor to spread it.

    Your unconditional love and support are all your son needs from you. Those are the most important of the magics we parents impart.

    In some ways, it’s hard to have a parent who is an expert at things. You son might have an advantage, as you can learn to do those things together. After all, he won’t know that you spent 6 hours on YouTube the night before figuring out how to teach him to throw the perfect curve ball or make the best lasagna. He’ll just know that you wanted to spend your time being with him. Nothing is more valuable than that.

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