In my ongoing effort to address Dad stereotypes, I want to remind you that not all stereotypes are necessarily negative. I know we’ve all heard them – certain groups of people are good at math, certain groups of people are good at sports, guys who write blogs about being a dad are handsome. Heard them a thousand times, and they seem complimentary. However, these set unfair expectations that people often feel pressured to live up to. There is one seemingly positive stereotype for dads as well – dad can fix it.
Many times dad becomes the fixer of things not because he is inherently handy, but by default. Why? Because dad can fix it. Right? Sure, maybe he can, but just because somebody is a dad does not mean that person can fix a toy if it breaks, or assemble a play set, or build a tree house. Much like one’s ability to purchase a home in no way correlates to their ability to complete home repair projects, one’s ability to make a child in no way correlates to their ability to fix something their kid breaks. But the expectation is that they can, and should.
To me this feels straight out of the Eisenhower administration. Mom cooks dinner while dad is out in the garage fixing little Timmy’s bike and tuning up the Oldsmobile. And he got a well-paying job without a college degree or student debt to boot! Well, it’s a brave new millennium. Dads can make quinoa and not like to fix stuff. And – brace yourself – mom can turn a wrench too if she wanted.
I would say that I am moderately handy and can assemble/install/repair a decent amount of things around the house. I am no stranger to some assembly being required, and I have amassed a decent sided collection of tiny Allen wrenches. However, there is a big difference between replacing a ceiling fan and replacing the ceiling. This can be a terrible skill level to have. Because I can fix somethings, should it be assumed I should fix all things? Or even most things? Because I can build something, should it be assumed that I even want to? Yes, I own tools and know how to use them, but on most occasions I’d rather take one of those tools and bash myself on the pinkie toe than waste a Saturday using them to fix something around the house. Projects are a necessarily evil. I love the joy the swing set in our backyard brings our kids, and it wasn’t going to build itself, but that is eight hours of my live I can’t get back.
I think the sweet spot for a dad’s handiness skill level is the area of quick diagnosis. I want to look at the toy that isn’t working and quickly determine if it needs new batteries or is now trash. To spend less than five minutes looking at something to see if it is a matter replacing one part (preferably easy to reach), or calling a professional. And let’s be clear, there is no shame in hiring a professional. Tied up into the dad can fix it stereotype is the idea that fixing stuff should be a matter of pride. You know what’s a matter of pride? Being good enough at your actual profession so that you get paid enough money so you can give some of that money to somebody whose profession is to figure out why the hell the furnace keeps making that sound. Between the job of whatever his actual job is and the job of being a dad, let’s not expect dad to be a licensed HVAC technician in his spare time.
How many hours have been wasted, how much needless anger and frustration have dads imposed on themselves, how many kids were introduced to swear words all in the name of dad trying to fix it? And for what? So we can try to fit a role that was thrust upon us. So we can force ourselves to fit the stereotype rather than admit that we can’t fix it. So we can make good use out of that Home Depot gift card we got. Well they sell grills at Home Depot too, so throw on some burgers, crack a beer, and tell Timmy you aren’t going to fix his bike and that he should have been more careful with it. You’ve gotten out of fixing something and you’ve taught Timmy a lesson in responsibility – look at you being a good dad.
Are there dads out there who can fix anything? Yes, and good for them. Are there dads out there who don’t know a channel lock from a socket? Yes, and good for them too. Their Saturdays are their own, and I’m sure their kids aren’t any less happy. I feel like somewhere in between is where a lot of dads are. Walking the fine line between making one more trip to Lowe’s and just throwing that piece of shit in the trash and getting a new one. A stereotype tells them to fix it, their confused pride tells them not to let their kids down, and the YouTube video they looked up tells them it shouldn’t be that hard – you too can fix that thing in just five easy steps! But we aren’t all Bob the Builders and that’s ok. Can we fix? I don’t know, maybe. Let’s go get ice cream instead.