Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fixing Things

I was celebrating not long ago. 

It all started when my wife was mowing the lawn. She came into the house with the news that the self propelled component wasn't working. This was an emergency! She says she can't push a mower, that if she's going to mow, the mower needs to be self propelled. In other words, the mower needed to be fixed quickly or I would end up finishing the job, pushing the mower myself. I'm not aware of any emergency small engine places in town. My  experience in the past has been waiting more like a day or two, or six. Given all the rain predicted, this couldn't wait.

I'm not known for my ability  to "fix things." Nevertheless, not seeing any other options, I took my new tool kit out on the lawn to see what I could do. My guess was that  the belt had come off. This proved to be correct, so I set out trying to find the easiest way to get it back on. After two or three false starts and removing more coverage than I had initially hoped, I "fixed it." My wife was pleased and surprised, but not nearly as much as I was. I quietly celebrated.

Like I said, I'm not known for my ability to fix things. When you live in a 123 year old home, there are usually things to fix. Often my efforts at plumbing end in tragedy and the plumber we call has a larger problem to solve. My wife still reminds me of the time I put the screwdriver through the web between thumb and index finger, instead of in the screw head. I'm still not sure how that happened.

An old friend often reminds me of the time he and I took the family Volkswagon apart. We were going to fix it. We never quite got the pieces back together. Then we moved. We borrowed a friend's car to get to our new home. A mechanic I knew gave me a few dollars for all those car pieces and hauled them out of the new owner's garage.

I've come to the conclusion there's something in the male psyche, perhaps because of our conditioning process, that we are to be "fixers." If something's broken, we should be able to fix it. If life is not going so well, we should be able to change it. Some men take to this role with enthusiasm while others of us have modest or no aptitude. But whatever the aptitude, there's always that pressure, "you need to fix it."

I realized mid way through marriage that my wife didn't always expect me to "fix" things that weren't going right for her. I always thought, "she's not happy about this. I need to fix it." Most of the time all she really wanted me to do was listen to her. I didn't have to "fix" her feelings. Usually she managed to do that just fine on her own, especially if she had someone to listen to her and share her concern. 

Then there are the demands for "quick fixes." We're under pressure to get the blood pressure down, so we opt for an enormous pharmacy, ignoring lifestyle changes or a search for the cause. Or, we don't want to spend money and men on  war derailing a tin horn dictator, so we flaunt international conventions and laws with assassination attempts, ignoring any promise of diplomacy or reflecting on the causes of our impotence.

When I worked at a college in Maryland a donor had given money for an outdoor pool. A date was set when it would be dedicated and the donor would be honored. It was a rainy spring and summer. The pool was way behind schedule and the dedication fast  approaching. I was at the meeting when the President told the staff member in charge of buildings and grounds he didn't care about the rain and problems of concrete setting. The pool was to be finished for the presence of the donor. Period. Weather be damned. Fix it.

For me, men having to "fix things" is just another one of those stereotyped gender roles. My wife is better at fixing things around the house than I am. So is my son. We all do much better when we listen, understand what's broken, consider our options with others, assess skills and liabilities, and then choose the appropriate solution that will actually "fix it" for the long term. 

This is a suggestion for all those intent on fixing things, like budgets, relationships, torrential rain, international conflicts and lawn mowers. It's called using common sense and the nonviolent wisdom we all possess.

Carl Kline

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