I think I’ve changed in recent times. I’m older, maybe wiser but definitely more self-aware. I think the reason for this increased awareness is because a lot has happened in the last few years – marriage, lifestyle changes, moving house etc. Yet although these changes have mainly seemed like a natural transition, my male ego is telling me that something is missing.
Basically, I don’t feel as though I have a great knowledge of ‘man skills’. Would I know how to mend a hole in the roof? No. Fix the car if it broke down? No. Do some essential re-wiring? No. Truth be told, I’m a bit crap and I feel as though my masculinity suffers as a result. As you may well have gathered by now, I’m not what you would call the ‘alpha’ male. Don’t get me wrong, I like to consider myself ‘one of the guys’ – I love sports, beer and fart jokes. I play football, can work a barbecue, mow the lawn, clear lofts and garages and perform basic household tasks relatively successfully. But, other than that, I have many gaps in my ‘man skill’ knowledge.
So why does this matter to me? After all, isn’t the notion of the ‘alpha’ male less relevant in today’s modern and more equal society? Well, yes and no. The role of a man with regards to modern family life appears less ‘traditional’ and stereotypical and more of a ‘partnership’ role with his significant other where responsibilities are shared. On the face of it, this should benefit me as surely it means there is less emphasis on me to solve problems and fix leaks myself? Not entirely, because this new, modern man has not simply left the old ‘man skills’ behind, but instead must acquire new ones as well. Today, it appears as though men must be as equally adept at changing a nappy as they are putting up a shelf. Capable of cooking a chilli con carne with the same level of expertise as they would tile the bathroom floor. It’s pretty intimidating.
So, in my role as husband, joint breadwinner and homeowner, I feel it is my duty to have as many of these man skills as possible.
Take DIY for instance – I’m rubbish at it. It’s not necessarily that I won’t try, but I tend to be concerned that I’ll do more damage than good if I attempt anything more complex than hammering a nail in the wall. For example, when we moved house, my father-in-law very kindly came down for the weekend and did a lot of jobs for us. He is a very intelligent, practical and creative man. Which is something that, when it comes to home maintenance or improvement, I definitely am not. So, when he had finished the comprehensive list of tasks that my wife had given him (Mrs.D is a teacher and, therefore, lives by her lists) he donated his old drill to me. This was very kind but, in all honesty, it is a very expensive drill. Whilst extremely grateful at his generosity, I haven’t yet used it a great deal because I don’t really know how to use it properly. My wife has used it more than me, but this comes from the fact that we are at opposite ends of the ‘taking risks’ spectrum. I will deliberate and procrastinate before using the drill, whereas Mrs.D will drill first and ask questions later – despite the fact there may well be wires directly behind the walls she is puncturing. Anyway, this drill is, I’m ashamed to say, a bit wasted on me. One of my oldest friends, a plumber by trade, quite rightly teases me for this ineptitude and I fear that my father-in-law despairs that his daughter has chosen a drill-deficient husband.
But it’s not just about the drill (so Freudian analysts, you can stop right now). As with any house, there are a number of improvements we would like to make – changing the flooring in the kitchen, replacing the bathtub, removing and replacing the light-fittings. I’m sure that you can imagine my clueless expression when confronted with these potential projects.
Another example revolves around cars. I haven’t got the foggiest clue about them and I reckon I’d struggle to do a good job of changing a tyre. Any engine problems or anything that stops the car from working would not cause me to spring the bonnet open. Instead, I’d be dialling the AA. I have two other friends who take old, broken-down Land Rovers and fix them up to be fully functional road-worthy vehicles. If I were to join in, my contribution would be limited to changing a brake light and going to a local petrol station to increase the tyre pressure.
As for the other new skills that a modern man is expected to learn – I’ve thrown myself wholeheartedly into one of them. About a year ago, I started learning how to cook. I had a lesson with one of my wife’s colleagues and then, when it was my week to cook in the evenings (Mrs.D and I take it in turns), I went about following recipes in cookbooks rather than simply purchasing ready-meals or shoving some pasta in a pan. I have to admit I have really enjoyed it. There is a real pleasure in taking basic ingredients to form a meal that is at least edible. This week, I have taken delivery of a new cookbook (Jamie Oliver’s ‘America’) and, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m pretty excited about trying the recipes out. My competence in the kitchen hasn’t yet expanded to being able to knock up meals from scratch without reference, but I hope I’m getting there and I like to think I’m more confident and competent than I was before.
Should I one day be fortunate enough to become a father, I want to be able to show my children basic skills, teach them sports and generally be a proactive, caring, parent and hopefully a role model as well – the kind of father whose kids come to him when they need ‘dad advice’.
But for the meantime, my quest for self-improvement isn’t just limited to the cooking and I guess what’s happening now is that I am starting a gradual journey towards becoming an all-round modern man. Tomorrow, I am booked on a course at a local college entitled ‘Grow your own vegetables’. Next month, I am booked on a full-day course entitled ‘DIY basics – plumbing’. I’ve also been looking at courses on basic car maintenance. I am under no illusion that I’ll ever become a master of all trades but, by gaining a little bit of knowledge and confidence every so often, I reckon I’ll be happier in myself. Not to mention feel a bit manlier. I am Jonny – hear me roar…