EVERY SO OFTEN I have an identity crisis. I begin to wonder exactly what role I play in this drama known as family life.
I used to think of myself as a "dispenser of wisdom." But once our marriage went past the 20-year mark and our kids reached puberty, I had trouble holding my audience.
For a time I was the "beast of burden," the strong back that carried a sleeping child upstairs, or lugged the heavy suitcase on the family trip. But those days of being the dominant male are over. Now, as my two iron-pumping offspring are only too happy to remind me, they are the ones with the large biceps. They do the heavy lifting.
In a few weeks, for instance, one of our two sons is going to pull the air conditioners out of storage and wrestle them into the upstairs windows. This used to be my job. Nowadays my muscle duty is confined to opening the lids of tight-fitting jars.
Chuck Rosolio, a friend of mine who also has fathered two large males, reminds me every time I see him that guys in our situation basically have one job. We are "bank ers," he tells me. Like money machines in malls, dads dispense cash to needy customers. He is probably right. But being a banker is limited duty, especially when you have limited funds.
One morning this week, I stumbled across a new purpose in life. I'm the fixer.
My wife, of all people, helped me reach this new definition of self. She pointed at the front of the kitchen drawer. The wooden front of the drawer had come loose. It was dangling by one screw from the wooden frame. "This needs to be fixed," she said, and hurried out of the door.
Even though my wife had not addressed me as "honey," or "dear" or "Your Majesty," I figured she was talking to me. It was 8 o'clock in the morning and I had only had one cup of coffee, so I was pretty groggy. Just to be sure there wasn't anybody else lurking around who was chompin' at the bit to fix a kitchen drawer, I had a couple more cups. Eventually I went to work.
First, I surveyed the situation. The drawer held rolls of aluminum foil and plastic wrap. That meant the drawer got a lot of action. I couldn't go for my usual quick, flimsy fix - duct tape. Instead, this job looked like a big-time operation, one that was going to require tools and a trip to the basement.
I used three tools on this job - a power screwdriver, a power drill and my brain. It doesn't happen too often, but this time I used my brain first.
I figured out that the broken drawer was the same size as another perfectly good drawer. Moreover, this good drawer held the candles, which are hauled out for romantic dinners. In other words, that drawer doesn't get much use. So I switched drawers.
I pulled both drawers from their tracks. I put the good drawer, now empty, in the slot where the broken drawer once resided. I used the electric screwdriver to tighten the wobbly front of the drawer that was now going to hold the candles. It wasn't a very good repair job, but this would be a low-traffic spot, and I figured the repair would hold.
I figured wrong. As soon as I put the troubled drawer in its new home, its front fell off.
So next I attacked it with the drill. I drilled two fresh holes in the front of the drawer and, using the screwdriver, secured the wooden front to the frame with two new screws.
When I finished, I paused to admire my work. Now the kitchen could either be enveloped with plastic wrap or bathed in candlelight, all at the flick of wrist.
I felt good. Something had been broken and I fixed it. Nobody noticed, of course. I have learned that the good part about being a fixer is that work is steady, but there is not much glory in the role.