Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Father-to-Son Advice: Hold Your Mouth Right
Look past our similar size, appearance, mannerisms, dispositions and personalities, however, and clear differences emerge. Chief among them would these would be the interests we have taken and the talents we have cultivated.
For years after I learned to drive, I would notice problems in the performance of my vehicle: The air conditioner would release nothing but hot air in the summer, the windshield wipers would make loud noises when used, or turning the steering wheel would acquire such a degree of difficulty as to be considered a form of resistance training.
Within days of acquiring such problems, I would adapt to them by rolling down my windows, turning up my stereo to drown out the wipers, or by stretching properly before attempting to turn the wheel. I assumed that the problems were beyond my ability to solve, and soon came to see such ordeals as the natural costs of automotive transport.
Then, one day the person I call “Dad” would examine my car; he knew me well enough to realize the extent of my maintenance skills, and knew that if he didn’t look it over important parts were likely to start falling off soon.
Not long after that, he would tell me that he had added some variety of fluids to my car and that I would see a difference. Indeed I would, as artificial air would be flowing through my vehicle, the wipers would no longer provide acoustics, and the steering wheel would not provide me with my daily exercise.
Years earlier, the person I call “Dad” had attempted to teach me about the parts of the car and which fluids were the appropriate solution to a particular problem. It didn’t work so well; even when he showed me the right bottle to use, I could never get the cap off. I would strain to open it, I would try pressing down and then turning, or I’d hold it under running water before attempting rotation.
All I’d get for my efforts would be a bright red face and little lines on my hand matching the shape of the cap. Defeated, I’d hand the person I call “Dad” the bottle, telling him it was impossible. He’d look at it for about two seconds, clutch the bottle with his left hand, the cap with his right, make a minimalist gesture with his wrists … and the cap would come off. He’d hand it to me, grinning, and say, “Must not have been holdin’ your mouth right.”
That was all the indication I needed that this person I’d been calling “Dad” all these years had not shared his genetic information related to mechanical skills with me. I went through the motions for a time, trying to take out bolts which seemed welded on (which he could remove easily), draining liquids whose fumes I could sense were destroying my brain cells (which he seemed immune to) and trying to put the bolt back in while wondering why it never went on straight (though it always seemed to when he put it in).
Though this person I call “Dad” had a set of skills that seemed wholly alien to me, there were probably times when he felt the same about mine. For example, whenever there was news about a major political race, I could effectively, and in great deal explain why one candidate’s chances were better than another’s.
“Candidate A has to convince those who voted for him in the primaries that he cares about low taxes, but has to convince moderates that he cares about balancing the budget without cutting the social programs they care about,” I’d explain.
“Meanwhile, Candidate B just has to convince his primary voters that he won’t recklessly invade foreign countries while convincing moderates that he won’t take any guff from the people in those foreign countries. That’s going to be an easier sell in this election.”
The genetic information that helped me reach this information obviously didn’t come from the one I call “Dad.”
“Both of them are no good, and they don’t care about us,” he’d reply. “So it doesn’t matter.”
Granted, our explanations aren’t that different in substance, but don’t word choice, the number of words used and the appearance of engagement count for something?
In a couple of months, my son will be born. Like me and the person I’ve been calling “Dad,” he’ll probably be tall; somewhere between point guard and shooting guard height. Like us, he may prefer reading to speaking, and have a preference for one-word answers when describing his state of affairs.
But will he lean toward the mechanical or the analytical? Or, will he demonstrate a set of skills that leave both of us scratching our elevated heads?
Ideally, he would combine the two into a single, unstoppable combination of traits. Then, he can effectively, and in great detail, explain the proper way to hold one’s mouth when handling power steering fluid.
If you're holding your mouth as in your photo, Dad's right.
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