A Drama of Strenuous Impotence

What a phenomenal title.  I wish I could take credit from it, but I borrowed it from a chapter title of a much better writer than myself, Matthew Crawford, in Shop Class as Soul Craft.  I strongly recommend reading his book.  One of the most formative of yet for me on the masculine journey.

Recently, I received this text from my tenants at a rental property we own (or better said, a rental property that owns us):  “The refrigerator is making some very loud, very strange noise. Can you please come take a look at it?”


In the past, what would have unfolded could have been described as a drama of strenuous impotence. My inner thoughts would have spewed forth in some combination of “Why does this always happen to me? If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Why’s life have to be so damn hard?”  All of these responses rising from a tonic of broken beliefs, agreements with lies, and misperceptions of the story swirling madly in a place of Fatherlessness way down inside.

This time was different, however.

After an instantaneous waive of the old scripted reaction, I shifted to an alternative response: “Father, what’s this about?  What do you have in this?  How should I proceed?”  In our home, we’ve cultivated a culture of “take it apart, get dirty, learn some things. We’ve become the Father’s apprentice as He teaches us.” But this renegade refrigerator was in a little townhome that I rent to a great couple and their newborn baby.  Tearing apart their refrigerator and playing appliance repairman in the middle of their kitchen/living room didn’t seem very wise.

So I called a technician.  And here is the moment of decision:

I need to lean into his expertise, but not surrender my masculinity.  How do I do this? The beauty of free will is that whatever the set of choices in front of us, the option of dignity and masculine restoration is ours to yield or to engage.

Father, I want to engage.  Better said, I choose to engage. You, Father, are not an interruption. 

Help me engage. Hold the places in me that are not fully initiated as a man.  You are my validation. Contain the temptation to pose. Open my heart. Help me receive you in and through this moment.  I choose to be true.

So John and Nick show up from Appliance Repair.  A father/son duo whose division of labor I quickly pick up on:  Nick, the son, does the work while John, the father (picture motorcycle gang senior guy), boisterously tells the stories. And with my eight-year-old-son, Joshua, right alongside me,  we join Nick behind the fridge and jumped in shamelessly with all the questions we could think of: “Are there other panels in there?  Does that motor run the freezer and the fridge?  How long should we expect this machine to last?  If the compressor is going to go out, when would you guess it would go and how would we know that problem was the compression?”

As our questions and engagement escalated, I could see apprehension rise in John’s eyes:  “If you learn how to do this, we’ll be out of a job,” he said.

I smiled and said,

“Don’t worry, John. What I want to teach my son isn’t necessarily how to fix the fridge; it’s how to be a man.”

Jim Aschwanden, Executive Director of California Agricultural Teacher’s Association, makes this observation:

“We have a generation of students who can answer questions on standardized tests, know factoids, but can’t do anything.”


Side by side, father and son, now both as sons, Joshua and I seized the opportunity to learn how to “do something.”

We kept the worn-out part (for Joshua to joyfully destroy later with a hammer) and looked up the cost of its replacement online: 27 bucks and free shipping. Even though the lesson cost a 168.00 repair job that took John and Nick a grand total of fifteen minutes, we no longer felt like victims mired in incompetence, but like sons who just spent the afternoon with their Dad.

In the end, I explained to Joshua that we paid John and Nick $27 for the part and $141 for a Man Scouts workshop (our household term for God’s initiation and validation of our hearts as men).

And that was money well spent.

When something breaks and we don’t know how the hell to even begin diagnosing the problem, how do we interpret our role in that narrative? Are we victims who vault to rage or are we sons who need our Father’s counsel? Must we concede our masculinity or can we risk getting dirty and failing in order to jump in and receive Father’s initiation? What does it look like to reclaim some competency over the machines in our domain? What would it look like to face the mocking voice of our enemy who tells us we are shamefully incompetent and turn instead toward the truth that we are beloved sons of a Father who is unendingly dedicated to teaching us and equipping us as men?

How do you see?

Father, help us to see you. The masculine journey is always frontier.  And it’s not discounted. Father, I’m in for full price.  I want more.