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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Hammer Time

My older boy is ten. He’s infinitely interesting, and not just to his parents. Like many of his peers, the best description of his personality is born old. That is to say: he’s preternaturally sophisticated, and is endlessly interested in adult things, without ever losing that joie de vivre that we all envy the young. It’s interesting to field questions from him now, and try to figure out what’s happening just below the surface of the inquiry. There are no easy questions anymore. And sometimes I wonder if he asks me things just to see if I’ll run out of answers. And the time for making stuff up is over. The world’s not that mysterious to him any more.

We have him help out with the family business a little. Once a week he empties out the various vacuum cleaners, sweeps the floor, bundles the trash, and totes that bale a bit. He gets paid, and tracks this payment on a spreadsheet to determine how much he’s earned. And he cashes it in when he wants something bad enough. It’s a testament to how much times have changed, that often as not it’s software he wants. Sheesh.

He really isn’t interested in what I do. He’s dutiful, and a joy for his company, but he’s not handy. Strangely enough, I’m not really handy either, and have worked my whole life to counterfeit other’s easy ability with tools. In boatbuilding, they use an expression: His mallet don’t ring. What they refer to, is when a man would caulk a wooden boat, he would strike a metal iron with a wooden mallet to set a string in the seam that seals the planks from leaking. A good caulker could gently rock and strike the iron to set the seaming cord almost effortlessly, and the mallet would “ring” as he struck it. It’s like watching someone play a stringed instrument well. For the rest of us, it’s like trying to shove a snake up a drainpipe.

His mallet don’t ring. It’s not pejorative. It’s an assessment. It means effort is required to accomplish the same thing that comes easily to others. It has a tone of awe, sometimes, to acknowledge greatness, born greatness: His mallet rings.

My boy’s mallet don’t ring. But he soldiers on next to his father, and counterfeits ability with effort. Someday he will find the thing that makes his mallet ring. But I shall be prouder of him for the effort he puts in on the things that must be done, than whatever he accomplishes doing what he’d care to do. An Olympic Gold Medal is nothing compared to a Silver Star, after all.

2 Responses

  1. Sounds like you already have the best possible Father’s Day present, a child you can enjoy for who he is, and not just cause he’s your child (I’m sure all your children bring you joy, but I can only comment on the one you chose to comment on).

    Though you don’t state it explicitly, surely some of that character was learned through careful instruction and good examples and not just God-given.

    So if you won’t pat yourself on the back, I will, good job, keep it up.

    (and no doubt, this post of yours also is a testament to your father, and his father, and so on, stuff like this tends to run in families)

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