Thursday was a snow day and as I did laundry, peeled carrots and potatoes for the roast I’d cook in the slow cooker, and did the dishes I felt proud of the kind of role model I was for my two sons. Dad does the housework while mom’s out working! I think at least once I muttered, “what would mom say about this” as I reached down to get an apple core Ryan carelessly let fall.
Unfortunately I’m often much better at “women’s work” than “men’s work.” When I fix something around the house it arouses incredulous amazement from my wife. An average 8th grader in shop class handles tools better than I do. Now, when it comes to hooking up computers, stereo systems and things like that I’m good. I do handle the lawn mower and take pride in my shovel/snow blower abilities. When we go somewhere, I’m usually the one behind the wheel. But beyond there the stereotypes end. I tend to take care of the children more (my wife’s job has far more stress), get up at night when they’re sick, drive them places, and I’m the one active in the PTA — a predominately women’s world.
My inability to handle the more manly chores is obvious to everyone. I know that because a few years ago I reluctantly bought a chain saw because of the need to clear some small trees in our back yard. I mentioned this in class and a student looked at me with shock, “don’t do it yourself, let me come and help, it’s dangerous!” If you’re imaging a rugged woodsman like student you’re off base. Her name was Addie and her concern was real.
“Don’t say that,” another student started, apparently worried about my masculine pride. I however was suddenly nervous. “Why,” I asked, “what can happen?”
“Well,” she began, “the big problem is kick back. You have to know what you’re doing and how to hold it…” I got home and read the safety manual carefully and then took a hatchet and got rid of the offending trees. I’m no Ronald Reagan with a hatchet but at least it’s not a motor driven chain threatening to rip open my head.
Of course, everyone here has chain saws and uses them. I’ve seen people with no goggles or head gear cutting down small trees as if they were simply wiping a table. But I took Addie’s warning to heart. My father in law and brother in law have gotten good use out of that chain saw when they’ve visited, but all I’ve used are the goggles that came with it.
It’s not like I’m lazy. I’ve actually kept myself in pretty good shape and exercise. I used to run seven miles a day, in fact — but when I turned 37 I hit a barrier where my knees and feet said, “OK, we’ve let you abuse us for half your life, we need a bit less stress.” Since then most of my exercise has been on machines…step machine, bowflex, nordic track, etc. Now my legs are starting to rebel against the step machine, I can no longer use it in ski season!
Growing up I worked in restaurants. I was a hard worker. I bussed tables, did dishes, made pizzas, prepped food, stocked salad bars, and did books for years. I also worked for a law firm running errands — an experience that pushed me away from law school. My talents are in the kitchen, cleaning, figuring out books and research. I’ve also always been a teacher — even at age 17 I was in charge of training at Village Inn Pizza in Sioux Falls.
My dad was handy with tools and had been a carpenter before he became a businessman. He also was a damn tough football player who despite being small might have had a decent college career if he hadn’t flunked out of Augsburg College his first year and joined the Navy. He renovated the house and I’d help some. Mostly I avoided it, and he didn’t push me. He seemed to realize I really didn’t want to learn how to do all the stuff he was doing and I’d only slow him down anyway. No question from a child gives a parent such mixed emotions as “can I help?” It’s so great you want to, but it’ll double the time the task takes! So beyond steaming off wall paper and a few small projects, I didn’t learn what I should have. I wasn’t into playing team sports, had no interest in the navy, and when I became a ‘professional student’ he tolerated it with grace. As the son of a German Luthern Minister, he didn’t want to put me under the pressure to conform that he grew up with.
In cities you hire people to fix your car, renovate your house, repair a leaky toilet, cut down rouge trees, landscape the yard, install flooring, and do just about everything beyond what requires a screw driver and hammer. That made sense to me — that’s capitalism right? You specialize in something, earn money and hire people to do the things you’re not good at! Here in Maine, though, that sticks out. Doing it yourself is something people take pride in. And, I grudgingly admit, it seems to produce well rounded pragmatic people who understand life a bit better because they do more of the every day work.
I also neither hunt nor fish. I wouldn’t mind killing the animals, mind you. A former girlfriend told me she imagined that ground beef came packaged in plastic that you could pluck from some kind of tree — she didn’t want to think about the slaughterhouses. I don’t harbor such illusions. But to take a dead animal carcass, cut it up, deal with the blood, the internal organs…no way. Same way with fish. I wouldn’t mind pulling them out of the river, but actually handling them? Yuck. I’ll just get my fish wrapped up at the store, eyes, bones and internal organs long since removed.
It’s not like I couldn’t do these things. If I were with a group of hunters and one told me, “cut into that deer,” I’d be able to handle it. I’d probably feel proud of myself and say “that’s not so bad.” My wife’s told me how easy it is to gut a fish. But I set up barriers to getting to the point where I actually do such things — why leave my comfort zone?
And that’s the problem: I’m stuck in my comfort zone. I work on my classes, read blogs and books, follow the news, play with the kids, struggle with my research and do housework. When looked at that way, I come to the awful conclusion that I’ve become a boring person. I do participate in travel courses almost yearly to Germany or Italy — nice, comfortable destinations that I know well. Even my global travel is solidly in my comfort zone! When the semester is not in session I’m teaching overload classes and my hobby is this blog. It’s not that the comfort zone is bad, but it’s become too, well, comfortable!
So this year one resolution is going to be do force myself to engage in new activities. I may not skin a bear, but perhaps I’ll go out and fish, build something or even use my chain saw. I need to get back in the mood I was in graduate school, exploring new ideas and ways of doing things; I need to find my second wind.
When I was younger spending some time in my comfort zone was a luxurious break from building a life. Now that I’m over 50 it’s a dangerous addiction that could cause me to miss out on the things I’ve not yet done. That has to change!