My wife was at home and I was in the car, but she could hear that something wasn’t right.
“Nothing – I just left Home Depot.” I could sense a sigh of relief from the other end of the phone, but it also came with an understanding.
Home Depot is one of my least favourite places to go. Not because there is something wrong with the store. As far as I can tell, it has everything you need for a home project.
No, Home Depot is a store I generally dislike going to because of how it makes me feel when I am there.
I feel exposed.
I should know exactly what I am after: nails. But when you get to the aisle with nails, there are about 1,400 different kinds. This is when I usually resort to the tried-and-true tactic I employ when I am at a loss of what to do next.
Stop and stare.
Part of me figures that if I stare long enough, someone will notice and ask me if I need some help. You might think it would be easier for me to ask someone in one of the orange aprons for help rather than stare at the shelf for an unreasonable period, but in the moment, the staring comes more naturally.
On this day, someone did find me staring and came to my assistance. He was not wearing an orange apron though. He is one of my closest friends and had come to help me navigate some deep waters where I normally feel completely alone and ill-equipped.
Masculinity, according to John Eldredge, is bestowed. A boy learns how to be a man in the company of another man or a company of men. It has been this way for centuries. Cultures throughout history have had set rites of passage for their boys to go through on their journey to become men.
In North America, we do not have cultural rites anymore. You turn a certain age, and you can vote or buy alcohol and are considered an adult. There is no formal training or testing that awaits a boy before becoming a man, which has left many boys uninitiated into manhood. The result is that many may look like men, but without men in their lives to show them the path they will stay boys.
We see the process of initiation in the Gospels. Jesus trains His own disciples for ministry. He gives them explicit instructions on what to do and how to handle different situations as they are sent out to spread the Good News.
I am blessed to have a dad who showed me a lot of what it means to be a man and continues to be an example for me today. Many boys do not have a stable male role model and search for that example in other places and other men. And even with the best dad in the world, each of us will have places that remain unfathered and uninitiated.
In my own adult life, a regular struggle has been my inability to do handy work around the house. When a task requires more than hitting a nail into a wall, I have been more than willing to outsource it. Often, I feign disinterest or play up my busyness in areas where I do feel competent. Underneath the façade, however, is an insecurity and a deep desire to master basic home improvement skills.
As a man, a husband, and a father, I want to come through for my family, and not knowing how to do that in work around the house has long been a sore spot for me.
My friend (who is also named Sean) had offered to help me build the shed knowing that I needed some help and guidance. When he arrived at my house on that afternoon after leaving Home Depot, he brought all his tools and we got to work.
On projects that I have worked on in the past with guys who know what they are doing, I often play the role of helper. I pass the tools or materials and stand by and watch as things come together.
This was not the case on that Friday afternoon. Sean guided and directed me at times, but he was very deliberate to make sure I was doing the work. I felt confident using tools I had never used before, knowing that if I were about to make a grave mistake, he would warn me.
The afternoon’s work carried into the evening, and it was clear that the shed was going to need a second day. With the skills I had gained on the first day, Sean gave me some instructions for the next morning. He suggested that I could get a head start on some of the work on my own before he was able to come back.
On Saturday morning, I set out to work on the walls and siding of the shed, with the assistance of my older son and daughter. I felt completely different. I was far more comfortable working than I had been 24 hours earlier (when I would have likely just stared at the skill saw while trying to figure out how to operate it without cutting off my hand).
By the time Sean returned, I am happy to say I surprised him with the work I had gotten done in his absence. From there, we worked together and while we did not finish it, he had given me enough instruction and initiation. I was able to finish the project (again with the help of my kids) on Sunday.
If you have a basic competency with power tools, this story may not resonate with you, but I know we all have those unfathered places in our stories. Maybe the struggle is with personal finances or how to throw a spiral. Things we feel like we should know how to do, but do not. Areas where we are uninitiated.
Over the course of two days, Sean walked alongside me and brought me into something that changed how I felt about myself once I had gone through it. It unlocked something within me. I no longer look at all the potential projects around my house as things to be avoided at all costs.
As I reflected on the experience over the weekend, there were a few key items that led to the growth I experienced.
First, I had a desire to learn and was willing to submit myself to another person’s expertise in a particular area. I was very upfront with Sean that I needed help. It takes trust to admit that to a friend, but other than trying to serve my ego, it made no sense to pretend otherwise.
Second, Sean never made me feel stupid, even though I am sure there were opportunities. Instead, he created the space for me to grow into and learn a new skill. He balanced providing guidance with giving me enough leeway to make mistakes.
Finally, because of the miles we have covered in our friendship, our egos were left out. There was no need for him to prove anything or how much more he knew than me. There was no need for me to pretend I knew more than I did.
There are so many other situations I have encountered in my life where men feel the need to engage in one-upmanship. We do not like to expose areas of weakness or concede that someone else might be better than us in a given area. The problem is, if you walk around pretending you know something you don’t, you deny yourself the opportunity to grow. It is only a matter of time until you get found out.
My backyard project provided me with a lot more than a new place for our family to store our bikes. Over the course of two days, I was initiated into an area that had for many years been a source of insecurity for me. Sean taught me a lot more than how to use a skill saw and square off framed walls. I see him as an older brother, but he fathered me through the experience.
On my own journey, it has become clear that growth is not always linear. Places will remain where I feel behind or uninitiated. God’s timing for initiating me in these areas is often different from my own, but He continues to show me that His hand is in all of it. He brings forth good from places that I sometimes struggle to see it.
By acknowledging the areas we need help and inviting Him into it, the Father can take those places of weakness and grow them into strengths, helping us become the people we were ultimately created to be.
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