As a next-door neighbor, Bill was the kind of guy who was always handy to have around. A mechanic by trade, he was forever tinkering away on motors and engines. He certainly knew my wife’s car well and, on many occasions, offered his services free of charge.
Bill and I would often spend many evenings in his garage — heads under the hood with beers in hand — talking about the inside workings of an engine.
Although I did my best to match his enthusiasm, the reality was I was simply doing my best to keep him company. Unlike a lot of guys, fixing engines and motors just didn’t do it for me. My own father was never much of a hands-on tools kind of guy and I guess that rubbed off on me. I always admired fellows who could find their way around an engine and at the same time understood that my own talents definitely lay elsewhere. To the average observer Bill and I had little in common other than our geography and the quiet enjoyment of sharing an after-hours beverage. Little did we know that this was all about to change.
The news that Bill and his wife were expecting their firstborn was a wonderful surprise for us all. Having previously been told that they had little chance of conceiving, at the age of 40 Bill found himself somewhat unprepared for the journey ahead. As much as he looked forward to the birth of his baby, he began to question his approaching role as a father. “Give me a truck, a motor or an engine, and I’m fine!” He told me. “But what use are my skills when it comes to being a dad?”
Like many men, Bill felt challenged by the “softer” skills required for fatherhood. He loved his wife and was desperate to make the transition from good provider to a good contributor. It suddenly occurred to me that Bill had at his feet many talents that he had already demonstrated in this area but had perhaps forgotten about.
I reminded Bill of the time when he helped me put together my boys’ bunk beds that I had picked up from Ikea. Then there were the numerous bikes that always needed fixing and the bookcases he helped me with. I told him that a big part of bringing home a newborn baby was the preparation of the nursery. Oh, yes, there was much to do that needed a guy’s input.
Over the coming months I watched as Bill put his God-given talents to work. He put up curtains and assembled a cot in the nursery, placed locks on the medicine cabinets and installed the car seat in the vehicle that he and his wife would use to bring their baby home from the hospital. Later on, he created a sand pit in the backyard and eventually built a fully enclosed trampoline.
As the months turned into years, I watched with joy as Bill taught his son how to assemble toy airplanes and model cars. As Robbie got older, the model cars became more complicated. Father and son would often sit together for hours into the evening as Bill explained the intricate details of the engine in a certain racing car they were busy gluing together. Robbie’s model car collection became the envy of his friends, and soon Bill found his talents in demand by other boys in the neighborhood. His wife couldn’t be happier as the bond between her husband and son grew. Their love of cars and all things mechanical became a common thread that allowed their relationship to blossom.
Like many men, Bill was unsure at first about his role as a father, and doubted whether he had the “right tools” for the job. I think all men have much to offer their children. We are all different and, therefore, have our own unique talents. The key to fatherhood is to find ways to connect with your kids. For Bill, his love of cars, engines and fixing things allowed him to not only support his wife during the challenging times of pregnancy, but gave him the vehicle in which to play, engage and bond with his son as well.
Every father has his unique life experience. The key is to discover your talents and utilize them in engaging and supportive ways as you embrace the greatest journey of all: fatherhood.
Darrell Brown is the author of the highly acclaimed bestseller Raised by Our Childhood Voices (darrellbrown.com.au).