I Can't Do One-Quarter of the Things My Father Can
Or: It's not a competition, but you're losing

A highly speculative and unscientifically conducted survey indicates that most American males between the ages of 18 and 25 seem to be incapable of performing many of the chores and duties commonly fulfilled by their fathers.

The activities in questions would not initially appear to be directly related to having a child, though the presence of one may thereafter necessitate their constant use and development.

As young men in this age group approach their thirties, it is increasingly less likely that their fathers will be in a position to pass on their knowledge, leaving the next generation of fathers hopelessly at the mercy of more qualified personnel.

Taking Care of Things

Fathers born in the 1940s or 50s--and please bear in mind that this will not apply to all of them--seem to demonstrate with much greater frequency the ability to 'Take Care of Things'.

Being in possession of this blanket set of skills crucial for the operational fluency of daily life, they become indispensable to the family unit, developing auras of respect and--notably--competence.

They include, but are not limited to:

With general practical knowledge of:

And the ability to speak in a commanding tone of voice to:

In Comparison

Many of the fathers of current 18-25 year olds became so during that stage of their own lives; several years younger than is typically seen today. But an examination of the skill set of current members of that demographic reveals a startling discrepancy; we can't do one-quarter of the things our fathers can.

We are generally capable of:

With general practical knowledge of:

And the ability to speak in a commanding tone of voice to:

  • Other children

Skills within the group vary, of course, and some in this age group can take care of many more things than others. Nonetheless, preliminary studies suggest that at the same age, we are much less able to Take Care of Things than our fathers.

How Did This Happen?

Obviously, it is theorized that the environment in which current 18-25 years olds grew up was vastly different than that of their parents. The 1960s, according to most media sources, was a very turbulent decade that changed the course of parenting and the common perception of appropriate responsibilty. Young men who worked in their teens, saw their own fathers go to war and faced the horrors of Vietnam naturally developed the ability to Take Care of Things at an earlier age.

That's as may be. However, it still does not really explain why so many young men cannot operate a drill press, band saw, or angle grinder, and are absolutely stuck when the air conditioner breaks down or toilet backs up. The phone company and car mechanics can charge willy-nilly with little or no resistance, and the house can crumble around our ankles while we wait for the landlord or contractor to do something about it.

Many an older father would not and did not stand for such things, whereas many people now at the same age stand for pratically everything. It is by no means common knowledge what it costs to install a dishwasher. Yet somehow, Fathers seem to have an almost innate sense of when they're getting ripped off. How do they know? When did they learn?

More grant money will be required to further research the phenomenon.

What Becomes of Us?

Certainly, times are different; things come a few years later than they were once wont to do. But in what context now can these skills be learned? Shelves still need building, the basic principles of miniature golf and astrophysics need explaining, the light switch still has to be rewired. The additional time taken between college and family seems not to be providing these lessons, and we are at, past, or fast approaching the ages at which our Fathers had us.

And all things being equal where Taking Care of Things is concerned, we still persist in deferring to the authority of our Fathers, who, if nothing else, can at the very least lie convincingly about what they know, and make a good show of trying.


The few things that seem to travel in the blood-an unflagging faith in duct tape, the ability to make a sandwich out of virtually anything--are insufficient.

The many young men out there both twenty-five and fifteen at once must take action. Attend training seminars, tinker with electrical sockets. Learn the ins and outs of the fuse box, build a table or spice rack. Clean out the gutters, buy a studfinder.

We cannot have our eighty year old Fathers up on the roof every time the TV Antenna goes on the fritz.

Take care of things.

I am one of those that does not possess a quarter of the skills my father had a deep command of. However, though I don't know how to fix a toilet I do know how to use google to find a plumber. I don't consider fixing a door hinge the kind of activity that I can add value to as the pater familias . People that are trained to do that and can positively ensure that the door will not fall off or the toilet will not overflow do add value to the process of fixing whatever it is that needs fixing.

There are however, skills that my father possesed that go beyond self reliance in small appliance repair. I suspect that my experience applies to all those of us who had fathers who lived through profound upheavals such as wars. That seems to be the piece of the puzzle that we are missing. In my father's case, it was the Cuban Revolution and later exile.

My father always had the respect of the entire extended family, a deference in decision making that he had earned through hard work and leadership. This does not mean he was a tyrant, rather the contrary, he listened to all points of view (kids did not count) and then he made the decision. He did not waffle before making it and he followed through though not blindly. Many times the decisions were counter to his own well-being either in additional working load or loss of what little he could call his own.

My father was the consummate ranking adult. The one that would face the hard decisions and perform the most emotionally devastating tasks while remaining the calm in the storm. Whenever a kid was seriously injured, he would be the one to staunch the blood flow, fix the dislocated shoulder, drive to the hospital, etc. Whenever someone was seriously ill, he would be the one managing the care and dealing with the doctors. Whenever somebody died, he would be the one to deal with the details, stay with the body if needed, pick the casket, etc. His hand would be the steady one that we could always hold on to.

These are the things that matter, this is where I think many of us feel we will fail if ever tested. I imagine though my father being thrust into it and rising to the occassion when all eyes were upon him. I can only hope I will be a quarter as good at it as he was.

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