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Dad doesn’t need to be fixer-upper

July 28, 2015

Lesson learned: Dad doesn’t need to be fixer-upper

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

The conventional fatherhood box is tightly bound by roles of provider, protector and fixer-upper. I began my own fatherhood journey with this deeply etched in my psyche, joining generations of men who were raised to think this way.

I also welcomed the role of father as caregiver, spending significant time as an at-home father, starting when Zoe, our firstborn, was three-months old.

Each of these roles is fulfilling, but all of them together, I have found, can be stressful. A recent experience in my fixer-upper role has provided new insight on this modern fatherhood conundrum.

Our garage door is an old, heavy, wooden model. A few years ago, one of the windows in the door broke. With our young children rapidly growing and a son who loves to throw objects, I imagined myself replacing each of the four windows multiple times over the next 15 years. So I broke all four windows, replaced them with wood and painted the panels to match the door. Problem solved.

Of course this made the door even heavier, which made the extended reach and the weight more a source of strain on my wife, Lori’s shoulder — an occupational hazard for a physical therapist. So, when Lori recently hurt her shoulder lifting the door, her proposed solution was to hire someone to install a garage door opener.


Mine was to purchase and install a garage door opener myself — not because I really wanted to, but because my default role of fixer-upper told me I should, even though I was already stretched by my provider duties.

My rational was predictable: “This will save us some money” and “How hard can it be to install a garage door opener?” Translation: I am not about to pay a man to come into my house to fix something that I’m supposed to be able to repair myself. It’s not about the money.

I found a door opener at a Big Box store for about $150, complete with a nice colorful picture on the outside of the box and a packet of step-by-step instructions — and the salesman said: “It’s pretty straight forward.”

Arriving home, Adam, a recent kindergarten and Lego camp graduate, was eager to help, and so we set about unpacking the box, reinforcing the time-honored tradition of father as fixer-upper and son as fixer-upper-in-training. Despite my best efforts, 8-year-old daughter Zoe chose not to participate.

We spread the project out over the course of a week or so, Adam waiting with great anticipation for each work session. He repeatedly amazed me with his ability to look at the pictures in the instructions and locate parts for the next step. More than once he helped problem solve when we were uncertain how to proceed. His enthusiasm and excitement were infectious, helping ease tensions as we navigated challenges in the project.

And, I will always cherish the memory of him — wrapped in my body, near the top of the stepladder — helping to drill pilot holes for the header bracket, then cranking lag screws in with a socket wrench, awash with a priceless smile of accomplishment.

Eventually we finished and tested the door, which, to my surprise, worked, mostly — except sometimes the door would not go all the way up or down. Rereading the instructions, I realized I simply needed to program the unit by using control buttons on the motor — easy enough.

Just when success was eminent, tragedy struck! Either I failed to disengage the control switch in a timely manner or the motor failed to disengage — who’s to say? In any case, the entire metal framework began to bow upward and the metal arm that connects the chain drive assembly to the garage door began to bend.

My blood pressure escalated. I bit my tongue and then we took a break to make dinner. When Lori returned from work she asked about the project. I felt a sense of defeat. But, I also felt immense pride for the way Adam enjoyed and excelled at the work.

I said, “Adam and I did a great job. We ran into a problem and we need to get some support from someone who knows more about garage door openers than we do,” something I would never have said — or done — for my own benefit.

But, I was determined to show Adam that while being a fixer-upper can be fun and useful, asking for help is just as important.

It’s also a good strategy for reducing the stress, which fathers (and mothers) can experience when trying to wear too many hats at once — a lesson I hope to remember.

John Engel of Florence is an organizational consultant and coordinator of the Healthy Men and Boys Network of Western Massachusetts. He can be reached through his website

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