After the age of 50 men are supposed to “putter around the house” and possess the unique skill of being able to build and fix things. Actually, all men are expected to be able to fix things and old guys are supposed to be better at it. On the Y chromosome there is an allele called the “Fix It” gene.
We are supposed to be able to lay flooring, fix roofs, build fences, create patios, fix lawn mowers, and mow the lawn.
We buy little boys “Bob the Builder®” sets so they become indoctrinated into the American tradition of building and fixing things.
My father could fix things and was a gifted carpenter. As a child I would rise early and go somewhere to get out of being roped into helping him build or fix something. Among things I got out of doing is building a patio, putting in a lawn, making flower boxes, constructing fences, pouring concrete, and painting the house. I did, however, get roped into rebuilding a six-cylinder Jeep engine, tuning said car, replacing its wheels, and replacing its springs.
I learned one thing: I hate fixing and building things. I even got D’s in junior high woodworking and metal shop. Luckily, my high school had pretentions to exclusivity and did not teach anything remotely useful — no auto shop, woodshop, graphic arts, or home economics. (On my own I learned to cook because I like to eat and my wife is not a fan of the culinary arts. But I digress.)
I decided at a young age I would have to attend college and probably graduate school to make a living. I ended up first being a journalist and later a lawyer. Neither field had any useful practical purpose, which was fine for me because I didn’t have to build or fix anything.
I must confess, though, I love tools, especially ones that are finely machined and shiny.
There is something cool about the way they fit into their cases as though they are begging to be used. I even have tried to use them. My dishwasher leaked two inches of water on my kitchen floor. I decided to fix it. The result was six inches of water on my kitchen floor. Our Chihuahua, Taco, almost drowned.
Other people, especially men, assume old guys like me both know how to fix things and enjoy it. My neighbors, most of whom are younger than I, believe I can fix lawn irrigation systems (aka sprinklers), bathroom drains, and other things around the house. It will only get worse. When they see that I don’t go to work every day, I will be expected to be the neighborhood fix-it man.
The situation has reached a near crisis. I have lived in my current home for twelve years. The fence that separates my neighbor and me has an expected ten-year life span and should have fallen apart two years ago. When I suggested to my neighbor we hire a fence person to replace the posts (I’m told that’s all that needs to be replaced), he looked at me as though I was going to pay someone to cut my food for me. The neighbor gave me the famous we-are-men-and-can-fix-our-own-stuff look. I don’t know how to tell him I don’t fix things even though I have a Y chromosome.
It will come to a head, but so far we just stare at each other when we meet, while each of us quietly wonders on whose side the fence will fall. If it falls on my yard, I at least have the tools. I hope he can fix things.