I used to be married to a handyman. If I ran over a sprinkler head, my husband, Rick, would get down on his hands and knees to fix it. If the garbage disposal puked up last night's dinner, he'd crawl under the sink and unclog the elbow. When the earthquake moved our patio a few inches north, he mixed up the concrete and repaired the damage.
I'm still married to a handyman, but the years have taken a toll on his physical abilities. And contrary to popular belief, 60 is not the new 40. These days, Rick's knees won't allow him to crawl under the sink. His balance makes climbing a ladder precarious, and his back isn't too happy about sliding under anything other than our bed covers.
With age, fortunately, has come the financial means to hire a repairmen, but that doesn't change my husband's need and desire to fix things himself. It's hard to let go of the activities we once took for granted, to say nothing about what defines who we are.
I remember the day my 85-year-old father used his band saw to mend the leg on a coffee table. He was as familiar with that dangerous tool as he was with the back of his hand. But that day, his fingers shook and his mind wasn't 100% on the task at hand. At the time, I couldn't believe my mom let him do it. But she knew. She knew his pride was involved. I was a nervous wreck. Better to wound his self-esteem than lose a finger.
My mother, as it turns out, is a wise woman.
I thought about her the other day when my husband decided to change the ceiling fan. Instead of insisting we ask our fortysomething son-in-law to replace it, I agreed to help my husband. In order to accomplish this, he had to stand on our bed, which was no easy task, as he kept wobbling around. Eventually, I stood behind him, pressing my palms against his butt, also no easy task, as he's twice my weight.
Once he removed the old fan and assured me he had it under control, I left the room. That's when I heard the crash. The new motor had slipped from his grasp and fallen onto the floor.
Rick's face said it all. He was pissed at the years for stripping away his strength. "I just couldn't hold my arms up any longer," he said.
"It's okay," I said. "You've been holding up your arms for a very long time."
Nothing could be more true.
He held up our daughter every year in order for her to see the fireworks. He caught his son summer after summer as he learned to swim. He held up my father when he became too weak to walk. He has held our family together with hard work and perseverance. And he is always there to catch me when my days spin too fast.
I assured Rick that physical work did not make the man. Just because he can no longer hammer and pound nails all day long doesn't mean he's useless. He still possesses the knowledge to repair anything and everything, and with the years has come the wisdom to do it right.
To that end, he finally relented and called our son-in-law. The fan was up and running in less than an hour.