Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Suburban Man: Innocence Lost

By Rick Kaempfer

Have you ever had a joke get away from you?

It started innocently enough.

When my oldest boy Tommy was just learning to talk, I used to tell a joke every time I fixed one of his toys. Keep in mind I only told this joke if his mother was within hearing distance.

The joke: “Remember Tommy, Dad can fix anything.”

My wife laughed every time I said it because I’m such a mechanical moron.

I’m not just being self-effacing here. I’m really, really, worthless. When we got married, one of the first things my wife purchased for us was an actual tool box to replace the Marshall Field’s box I used to store my four tools (screwdriver, hammer, pliers, and pointy metal thing.) She also bought some more tools, and she even knows how to use them.

As Tommy grew older (he’s 12 now), I said the joke less and less because his toys got more and more complicated. Pretty soon, I was able to fix almost nothing. Instead of even trying, I would send him to his mother. At some point I assumed he had figured out that his mother was the mechanical one.

He hadn’t.

We were going over his latest report card the other day, and Tommy was a little concerned about his grade in gym class. I told him not to worry about it. “Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, and you did well in all the academic subjects. That’s your strength. Gym just happens to be your weakness.”

“But you don’t have any weaknesses,” he said in all seriousness.

“Are you kidding? I have tons of weaknesses.”

“Like what?”

“Well, for one thing, I’m not exactly mechanically inclined.”

His mouth dropped open.

“What do you mean? You can fix anything.”

“No I can’t,” I said. “That’s a joke. I only say that to make your mom laugh, because she knows that I can’t fix anything.”

He was crushed. He didn’t say a word for several seconds as he processed this bombshell.

“Are you OK buddy?” I asked.

He nodded, but I could tell he wasn’t.

“So,” he said tentatively, “when you call yourself Mr. Rand McNally…”

I nodded sadly. “Remember when I got lost trying to find the Cubs Scout outing? And the time I got lost in Ikea? And that night we looked all over the parking lot for our car? And…”

He held his hand in the air. He had heard enough.

I probably shouldn’t have copped to this the same week we had our little talk about Santa Claus. A young boy can only handle so much.

This article first appeared on the blog of "NWI Parent," a publication of the Northwest Indiana Times. I'm now a regular columnist/blogger for them, writing a weekly column called "Father Knows Nothing"