This is may not be entirely true. I might have an average fixing ability but both my father and father-in-law are engineers so it seems like they've fixed everything. They also come from a generation that seems like it's able to do things. To fix things and make them better. To know how to ground an electrical wire, hang a ceiling fan, change belts on cars. That's what these guy do, it's what they've always done.
What I've always done is listen to music. A few days ago the Eve 6 song Inside Out came on the radio and I did what any other person my age would do. I turned it up (while quickly trying to think if there were any parts of the song that were inappropriate for the kids in the back seat). Inside Out was released in 1998 and isn't a very good song. It's a good representation of songs that were out in 1998 but it would be considered about average. I wasn't average though, I was 16 and in the prime years of building the library of songs I liked.
Metallica, Hunger, Eve 6, CCR, Springsteen. These were the bands that I was growing to love because I was able to drive and listen to the radio as loudly as I wanted. Fast forward to 2004 or rewind to 1992 and none of the song equivalents to Inside Out would get me to pause while channel surfing the radio. 1997-2004 were my music building years where I cataloged my favorite songs. I can develop new favorites - John Prine's Paradise is a recent example - but I don't add to my list often.
In my teens and earlier twenties I developed a taste for music, in my late twenties and thirties I built my fix it library. Inch by inch and mistake my mistake I'm slowly learning all the things my fathers know because that's how they did it. My paternal grandfather was another engineer, running his own construction company and my father in-law's father put on countless roofs and fixed countless homes. For both of these men their chief helpers were their oldest children - my fathers. They spent longer crafting their abilities to fix things but for as wizardly as they are they, they were still novices once.
It used to bother me some that I didn't know how to do things. I would say well I'm not much of a car guy or that's not really cost efficient to fix, two excuses that kept me from venturing down the path of knowledge. I was ready to wander down that path in the Spring of 2011.
We had just purchased our nine acre property when I was serenely looking at the tall trees and listening to the rustling leaves when it hit me like an acorn falling from one of those trees - somebody has to mow this.
Somebody, somebody has to you see,
So she picked out two somebodys, Sally and Me - The Cat in the Hat Comes Back
So we bought a big mower with a big mowing deck and a big snow blower. The mowing grass part and the blowing snow part are mutually exclusive meaning that any plans I might have had to simply leave one on because you never know, I may use it were quickly squashed. I could also call and schedule a service appointment in the fall after the final mowing to have the dealer switch from the mower to blower but this would have cost $150. So I did something I feared, I did it myself. Step by step, slowly and methodically I did it. It took 2.5 hours and some banged up knuckles for the pride I earned that day.
Too often in life we try to become masters of everything all at once. Marriage, parenting, accounting, fitness, computer programming, data entry, travel agents, gift givers, book readers, burger flippers. When we become successful at one thing we forget about the stages of apprenticeship that everything else requires.
There's the folk tale about a guy who can't fix his water heater so he calls and expert. The expert comes, examines the unit, and after a moment of two of observation taps on one certain spot and the unit turns on and resumes running smoothly. As the expert writes the bill the guy rolls his eyes and says "Fifty bucks for that? You were only here for a few minutes!" To which the expert replies "You're not paying me for those few minutes, you're paying for the twenty years of experience which led to this only taking a few minutes."
Last week I installed a dishwasher with my father-in-law. I almost hesitated calling him because I wanted to do it myself but I also didn't want to overlook something that might be important that you only see after you finish your apprenticeship. The machine installed cleanly and he provided the experience while I did mos of the work - and held the flashlight.