Screwed by the holidays

Grumpy dads everywhere dread the approach of the holidays. To us, the gift-giving season means one thing: "ready-to-assemble."

We'll spend the waning days of the year hunched over a random collection of parts that don't fit together so well, trying to assemble them into something useful. We'll try to decipher instructions written in a secret code by someone with only a rudimentary grasp of English, while we simultaneously keep one eye on televised bowl games.

Things will go wrong.

Nothing terrible. It won't be the end of the world, for Pete's sake. But it will be frustrating, enough to edge us dads one inch closer to our inevitable heart attacks, and to make us say "bad words" in front of the children.

Even if you avoid "ready-to-assemble" your whole life, you'll still face minor repair jobs that will challenge your sanity. Things break. You've got to fix them. It won't always go smoothly.

Here's why: The recalcitrant screw. The screw that won't turn properly, no matter what. The rusted nut. The missing gizmo. The broken whatsit.

It's not the overall job that's so daunting, it's the minor complication. That's the part that drives us nuts. So much so, that we dread these jobs. So much so, that it ruins the experience for us. We can't revel in the fact that we successfully fixed Aunt Mabel's lamp. Instead, every time we pass that lamp, we think: "I remember that (mutter, sputter) stripped bolt. That was a dark day."

I got to thinking about the recalcitrant screw recently while helping my wife with a home repair project. Rather, while watching my wife accomplish a home repair project. My contribution was to hold the flashlight, some distance away.

In our kitchen, a fluorescent light fixture had buzzed and winked for, oh, two years. It was annoying, but we'd all sort of grown accustomed it because we were too lazy or ignorant or unmotivated or scared to try to fix it. Mostly lazy.

I have a good excuse for ignoring the problem. As the man of the house, I am terrified of electric shock. The reasons behind my phobia -- why I can barely stand to walk on carpet and touch a doorknob -- are deep and complicated, but let's cut to the chase: Me big sissy.

My wife fears nothing. She looked up some instructions in a book and took the fixture apart and repaired a shorted wire and put it all back together again with a new bulb, and it works like a new one. I witnessed the whole thing. For this feat, she will always be my hero.

However, there was a moment when it didn't look so rosy. When she reached the recalcitrant screw. It was the final one, of course, that last little business before declaring "mission accomplished." The screw went in crooked and stuck there. She had to work it out of the hole, then try it again. Crooked. She started over.

It went on like this for a while, and she never once lost her patience or shouted curses. She just quietly noodled that recalcitrant screw until it fit where it belonged.

Not the way I would've handled it at all, and she wasn't trying to watch football at the same time, but whatever. I'm happy the buzzing is gone.

I've learned one thing from this experience. Come Christmas, my wife's in charge of assembling everything.

I've got to look after my heart.

1 comment:

Hal Johnson said...

Yep, I can relate. I'm married to a fearless woman too. I've tried to talk some sensible fear into her for sixteen years, but it just won't take root.