A long time ago, “do it yourself” wasn’t a marketing mantra for big box hardware stores. It was a way of life. People were adept at fixing things, making things, doing things.
Take my dad, for instance. He would diagnose bone fractures, remove stitches and play barber — buzz cuts were his specialty. He invented remedies too. One time we were skiing in Vail and I got sick on the mountain and blew cookies. I was 14. Dad’s solution: aspirin? No. He fixed me a hot toddy and insisted it would make me feel better. He was right. My fever never dropped but I had a blast two hours later running through the snow in my underwear.
Moms could bake or broil countless meals, knit, sew and check the oil in the Dodge Dart. Back then middle and high schools taught home economics and shop. It was a “can do, will do, must do” way of life.
So the five Keenan kids took their lead. We built a tree house, dug a cave, constructed bike ramps, made fish traps, even a worm farm. We had scout campouts in subzero temperatures and moms never flinched. We were industrious. My brother had a paper route for the Great Bend Tribune, which meant six days a week rolling, throwing and collecting from the customers on his route. He did it alone. His age? 13. We were equal parts inventive, creative, destructive.
Some things we were taught, other things we figured out. So somewhere between Barton County circa 1972 and today the world fell apart. Kids are more likely to know Snooki than Sidney Poitier. They go bowling not at the bowling alley but imitating it in front of their big screen. They know John Madden from a video game, not his years coaching the Oakland Raiders or being at the losing end of the greatest game in NFL history — featuring the Immaculate Reception.
It’s a generational strife that knows no solution.
I like to think my three sons have a modicum of life skills either from frequent trips to my old stomping grounds, hanging around my dad, or from their years in Boy Scouts. Still, there are moments when I know something went horribly wrong. Times when I hear this shouted to me from across the house:
Dad, the cable is out!
Dad, the wireless isn’t working!
Dad, what’s the password for wireless?
What’s the password for Netflix?
How do I order a movie?
The printer isn’t working!
There’s a paper jam!
The computer won’t turn on!
We need more computer ink!
A video I’m working on has an error message!
This dreadful yammering raises one question: when did I become the Geek Squad? Last time I checked, I don’t drive a black VW with an orange logo. I don’t park in the front spot at Best Buy. I don’t have a white shirt with a skinny black tie like Men In Black.
But then I pondered the notion some more. Maybe I should trade places with those guys. They are young, happy and don’t have to check the bags under their eyes with the TSA screeners at KCI. They probably get nine hours of sleep and eat Snickers, not Fibercon, every day. They have regular hours.
I get the Geek Squad treatment at home at one of three times: When I’m watching the Royals and Soria blows a save; when I’m in bed and in the middle of the greatest dream ever … dropping child #4 off at college; or when I’m not to be bothered, like weighing myself a second time to make sure the first number was correct.
It’s not fair to say kids these days have no practical skills. They are capable at texting, sleeping, eating and yawning. Saving the planet? Not in their wheelhouse. At least I can do my share fixing a paper jam.
Matt Keenan’s book, “Call Me Dad, Not Dude,” is available at Borders and online at thekansascitystore.com. Write to Matt at his website, matthewkeenan.com.