Monday morning began with the familiar aches and pains that normally usher in the work week and somehow were mysteriously absent a few scant hours prior while I was still in official “weekend” mode.
As I took my first sip of cafe and opened my door to fetch my newspaper, I noted something different about my car — the back left side seemed unusually lower to the ground.
My rear tire was flatter than a squashed state fair pumpkin.I had not changed a tire since the late 1980’s when I was driving around in my ‘79 Monte Carlo. For a moment, I thought about calling my car club (the one with the three letters) but I then reflected upon what my guy friends would think when I would tell them that I was unable to change my own tire. Surely I would be the epicenter of their ridicule and my “man card” would be instantly revoked.
Motivated by my self induced peer pressure and the fact that I had things to do and places to go, I began to change my tire. The process was all too familiar. It was like riding a bike. The lug nuts were predictably tight and I remembered Pepe (my father) telling me, as he did thousands of times when I first began to drive, “to loosen them before lifting the car off the ground.”
As adults my friends and I make fun of the silly, “macho” teachings we received from our fathers. These essential “man” skills ranged from being able to perform
perfunctory chores around the house, rigging your own fishing line or fixing your own flat tire.
I always felt that my handyman training was a little much. In the summer time, when I was off from school, Pepe would leave a list of chores that included painting the house, changing sundry plumbing fixtures and carrying out all the landscaping work that was needed around the house.
To my parents’ credit, and to my great benefit especially when I went away off to college and was on my own for the first time, Raquel, my mother, would also get in on the litany of to-do’s. She demanded that I learn to wash and fold my clothes and prepare my own meals.
“We needed to know that you would be able to get along on your own,” my Dad recently commented.
I’m still not completely certain how key it was to learn how to unclog the trash compactor but to “el viejo” (the old man) this was essential knowledge that he needed to pass on to me. It was also his subtle way of spending time with me and checking in on what was going on in my adolescent life.
My friend Mike, from North Broward, called me as I was in the process of jacking up my car. I, of course, pre-empted whatever he was going to tell me by explaining how I was successfully and efficiently performing the task. He then tried topping my accomplishment by bragging about how he had “impeccably” installed a shower head over the weekend.
As I continued to struggle to mount my new tire, our conversation shifted from our handyman feats to our kids.Mike proceeded to tell me about his baby boy, Josh and his first steps.
I shared how my daughter Celia was adapting to kindergarten.
And right then and there, as I finished putting away the last wrench, I realized that the most important lessons our fathers had taught us (as imperfect as they may have been) was to be active participants in our kids’ lives.
Being a man was not about lug nuts or shower heads, after all, but, rather, it was about being responsible fathers to our children.
I am happy that I was able to change my tire last Monday. It afforded me the opportunity to safely drive Celia to the park after school that day and that is what continued my father’s legacy and secured my man card.