On Tuesday, our family of five returned from a 10-day trip to Mexico City. We had a great time going places none of us had ever been before. We stayed in a beautiful apartment 8-stories above a busy Centro Historico street. We went to museums. We got lost looking for an ATM. We toured pyramids. We went to the zoo. We ate expensive food in restaurants that was bad and cheap street food that was amazing. Our 6-year old won too many games of Uno. In a frenzy we put together a puzzle before we caught our flight.
Yes, we are those people. In 2016, we got chickens. Spontaneously.
And you know what? It’s more fun than we thought it’d be.
Late Monday, we came back from our annual summer 2-part vacation.
Part one was at the Wawona Campground in Yosemite. This was our first time at that particular campground… and we certainly liked aspects of it. (Good: It’s right on the river. Bad: No views of the valley, and it’s hot.) Due to some car trouble we actually never made it into the valley. So that’s a first. We went all the way to Yosemite but barely saw what most people would call Yosemite. Ah well, it was a blast.
Part two was at one of our little happy spots… a beach house in Cayucos. We take it from the mountains to the Central Coast. While camping is relaxing in it’s own way it’s still nice to just put your feet up and do nothing. Well, “do nothing” means we probably walked 15 miles a day on the beach! Murray liked the mountains but he LOVED the beach house.
“Daddy said I was the right guy for the job.”
~ Jackson, 5
If we ever buy another house I’m going replace all of the fixtures on the first day. Light fixtures, faucets, shut off valves, and every piece of the sprinkler system not underground. Why? It’d save time versus the way I’ve been doing it— one by one as they break.
On Sunday I spent most of the day on some repairs to our irrigation system. In the morning I swapped out a number of sprinkler heads in the backyard, replacing older inefficient ones with adjustable ones to save water. In the afternoon I began rebuilding zone 5 in the front yard from the valve onward. It was poorly built to begin with and crumbling from years of exposure to the sun.
Nothing sexy but a little project which had to get done.
Want to help?
Late in the afternoon Jackson, our 5 year old, came back from the park with Kristen. Together we hung out in the garage while I put together the parts needed to replace everything. [Since we got baby chicks a week ago the garage has become a favorite place to hang out.]
Jackson bubbles with energy. He’s the most social McLane kid who constantly wants to play with his siblings, his parents, the dogs, the iPad, while watching Netflix on the TV. He’s game for everything… which is both really awesome and sometimes difficult to manage. He’s five. His world revolves around what he’s doing and thinking in that exact second. We adore our youngest but we have to admit he wears us out, too.
Gathering up all of the parts and tools I’d need to finish up my front yard project I looked at Jackson, who’d bored of the chicks and was busy telling mom the ten thousandth detail of Pokemon she’d soon hope to forget.
“Jackson, do you want to help me with my project?”
“OK, I could use an assistant. Can you be in charge of holding onto the tools until I need them? It’ll be a big help.”
“I can do that. I want to help. I like helping.”
“Good. You’re good at helping.”
So off we went. A screwdriver in one hand, a PVC cutter in the other, both of our pockets full of parts.
We got about five feet.
He’d taken off his shoes and we have prickly things in the grass right now. So I picked up my helper and carried him the rest of the way.
For the next 10 minutes or so JT held onto the tools I wasn’t using, swapping out what I didn’t need for what I needed. He told me stories. I tried hard to listen. He wandered and had me watch him jump off of stuff. He was doing his best and I was doing my best.
When we got it all connected I ran over and turned the valve on to check for leaks. There were none. We shared a high five then started tidying up.
“Did I help you daddy?”
“Yep, you were the right guy for the job. You were a big help. Thank you.”
“Will you carry me back to the garage?”
“No. But I’ll show you where to step so you don’t step on prickly things.”
Two minutes later, as I was putting all of the tools and parts away in the garage, Jackson was relaying the details of our little project we’d done together to mommy mixed with stories of the Pokemon he’d seen along the way.
“We cut the tube and then daddy put a part on the end and then I got to help squeeze it together and then we turned in on and it didn’t leak at all.”
“That’s great, Jackson.”
“Daddy said I was the right guy for the job.”
The Right Guy for the Job
I don’t care if you’re five, fifteen, forty-five, or twenty-five. A son needs to hear from his dad, “I think you’re the right guy for the job.”
A few years back my dad pulled me aside, “I’m proud of you. I don’t understand everything that you do for work but I know it’s good. You’re a good father and that means a lot to me.”
I lived off of that affirmation for a long time.
I can’t even explain what that meant to me.
McLane men are critical. We don’t affirm cheaply, it’s earned.
I didn’t know I needed to hear that but I did.
I think every man needs to hear that from his dad.
The truth is sometimes I don’t know if I’m doing a good job. Sometimes I don’t have a clue if I’m doing the right things or if I’m royally screwing up. I often feel like I’m just making it up as I go along— pretending to be a dad when I don’t have a clue if anything I do matters.
I see what other dads do and feel inadequate. Most of the time I feel awkward in the role, like I’m wearing clothes that don’t fit. Who am I kidding? I’m wearing clothes that don’t fit both literally and figuratively.
Beyond parenting a man gets beat up by life. We put on a hard exterior that everything’s OK. We convince ourselves we’re doing the best we can. We fake it until we make it… so we tell ourselves so that we can keep going.
We provide. We protect. We nurture. We try. We fail. We try again. We are good at work. We suck at work. We coast at work. We hustle at work. We brag about work. We lie about work.
Everything is great. Everything is terrible. We know. We don’t know. We’re OK. We’re not OK.
We know who we are. We have no clue who we are. We try to be ourselves. We try to be someone else.
We get a thousand compliments from our friends or comments from “friends” we don’t really know. Our spouse tell us we’re doing a good job. We align and justify our actions (or inactions) to match up to what we think is expected of us.
We overthink it. Sometimes we dramatically under think it.
We hold our emotions in. We explode in emotions.
We’re confident. We’re guessing.
Sometimes being a man, being a dad, is hard.
Sometimes a son needs to hear from his dad, “You’re the right guy for the job.”
By Sunday evening, things were calming down on our weekend home improvement projects, Kristen went to run errands, and I had a little time to reflect.
In the search of wire cutter I opened a giant Rubbermaid that had tools poking out of it. As I started pushing things around I realized that I put all of these tools away in their new place instead of searching through the bins each time I needed a tool.
Over the next hour I unearthed three more tool bins to put away, unpacking each into a giant set of drawers labeled: Hand tools, tool sets, power tools, and hardware.
Place, Restoration, and Hope
Unpacking my tools was oddly emotional.
I hadn’t seen most of these things for more than seven years so it was like Christmas. Each tool was something I didn’t have to buy! Most of them I’d thought we’d left in Michigan, lost to the final stages of packing for a cross-country move, or our frantic garage sales, or one of many Craigslist binges. I still regret leaving a bunch of tools in one of the garages simply because I couldn’t figure out what to do with them in time.
With each bin came a flood of memories about our house in Michigan. Using those tools on projects, learning to do things I never thought I’d do, and looking at the tools filled me with thankfulness for the many men from our church who’d helped me figure stuff out.
I realized as I was putting these tools in their new spot that I’d packed away a lot of emotions about owning a house… for the past seven years we’d been forced to trade place-making for temporary shelter.
As much as we loved our years across the street at the rental house– it was never ours and we’d never really unpacked. Kristen and I were sharing on Saturday night about how we’d coped with a house that wasn’t “ours” by spending as much time as we could not at home. We went to the beach, we went to the bay, we went hiking, biking, running, kayaking, spent endless hours at the zoo or Sea World or Balboa Park– so many of our weekends were spent trying to get away from home.
There was something good about that. But there was something deeply wrong about that too, which we’re only starting to realize.
Buying this house is more than merely finding a new place to live or the discomfort of moving.
In many ways it is an act of justice– standing up for ourselves to make things right. How things ended in 2008, how that was a place of hurt and anger, lacking any sense of closing, not knowing what to do with the shame of foreclosure that wasn’t really our fault, all of that is now being replaced by this new house [itself having been rented for the last 20 years] and starting a process of becoming the home we’ll finish raising our kids in.
So now, as we unpack, we’re also beginning to unpack those emotions of home and place. Putting things on the walls isn’t “I hope the landlord doesn’t get mad about these holes” but instead becomes “we want people to come here and feel connected to our family.”
We’re unpacking tools but we’re really unpacking the unknownness of our future. We’re no longer wondering how long we’ll stay in San Diego, we have made the decision that this is our place– our city– for the foreseeable future.
Another emotion ran over me as I put away the tools. Hope.
The physical act of spending the weekend adding gutters and painting exterior stuff brought out a hope-filled energy I’d not felt in a long, long time. Again, it’s one of those emotions that’d been packed away somewhere deep that was starting to come over me like a ducked wave.
And so, two weeks into home ownership, I’m remembering the crazy mix of physical labor… of the sink breaking and having to go to Home Depot to get parts… but also the emotional attachment of turning a commodity such as a house into a part of your family, that connection we call place.