My basement at home has two sides: one is a finished section with a big television, computer desk and ping-pong table. A door leads to the other side, which is unfinished, poorly lit and filled with old paint cans and a tool bench. I usually spend my time in the former, but over Winter Break, I started a construction project with my dad and spent a lot of time woodworking. The dark side of the basement was remarkably appealing, but I was a stranger to it. I can work with wood and paint but without the same poise and confidence with which my dad does it.
I became aware of a generational gap between my skill set and my father’s. Throughout my childhood I remember my father spending his Saturdays working on his car, painting or fixing plumbing and lighting around the house. He’s no Carpenter by any means (get it?!) but he has always been competent enough to fix and build things without calling in a professional. I suppose his father taught him or maybe he learned them throughout his young adult life out of necessity. So either he hadn’t taught me anything or I needed to start learning how to do “Dad” things.
But it seemed like a daunting task. My dad is gone most of the week and I barely go home anymore so I wasn’t sure where to even start. When I wanted to know about epoxy coating, I went to my Mecca for information: the Internet. I found some websites that showed a step-by-step process of how to lay a polyurethane finish on a table. And sitting there in the finished part of the basement I had my realization: my skill set was in electronics.
While I cannot speak for everyone at Middlebury, I feel that most Middlebury students are not adept woodworkers with stellar home improvement skills. But most students are likely somewhat well-versed in working with computers or electronics. Growing up with technology and learning its nuances at a young age have put us years beyond our parents’ ability. I may not be able to hear that my alternator is malfunctioning in my Jeep but, unlike my dad, I can type with more than two fingers.
However, I don’t take solace in my generational skill set. It seems pretty lame. I can picture my future wife asking me to fix the leaky faucet and my response sounding something like, “Sorry, babe. Can’t do that but I can totally install the Microsoft Word update on your Mac.”
Of course, I may be jumping the gun. It is entirely likely that I will pick up these repair skills out of necessity when the time comes, and my son will think I’ve known them forever. Or, by the time I’m a father, everything might be run by electronics. Maybe I’ll have to look at the computer in my space car and my incompetence with alternators will prove inconsequential. But at this point, it is more a question of pride and value than necessity.
I want to know how to fix my lawnmower. I want to learn how to build a wooden playground. I want to learn how to replace a faucet. And I don’t want to call a professional for every household problem I encounter. So either I need to force my dad to teach me these things or I need to look them up on the Internet. I realize that turning to the Internet might be slightly ironic given my resistance toward my electronic skills, but I would rather build a crib correctly instead of making it a sitting death trap for my child.