Collar and Cuff

Print This Page

First Posted: 1/5/2015

My dad loved working on motorcycles.

After grueling shifts as a long-haul trucker, my father would come home reeking of sweat and diesel, throw a steak under the broiler and retreat directly to wrench sets and engine oil. Lightning-fast cafe racers, war-era roadsters and brutally loud Spanish oval-track bikes; nearly everything on two wheels passed through our garage, and some of my fondest memories are rooted in the time I spent watching dad tinker his nights away.

Any man between the ages of 16 and 40 is likely no stranger to restlessness and anxiety. As gender politics and the feminist movement have ushered in progress and doubtlessly changed the world for the better, modern society has left many men struggling with crises of identity and purpose. While women are encouraged to reclaim their identity and embrace gender positivity, little attention is paid to the question, “what does it mean to be a modern man?”

I was always baffled by the fact that my dad chose to toil away in our garage after work, rather than lounging in front of the TV or turning in to bed early. It was only in my 20s, as I lay awake agonizing over debt, politics, the economy and my future, that I finally understood why my father spent those long nights in the garage.

To him, engines made sense. There were manuals and schematics, parts to be disassembled and reassembled in sequence. He wasn’t sure if business would pan out, if he’d be able to pay the mortgage on time. He wasn’t sure if he could’ve salvaged a broken marriage. He was damn sure, though, that replacing some fuel lines and flushing a carburetor would make that ‘71 Norton roar to life again.

Men are biologically wired to build and create, harnessing tools and resources to realize something concrete. Today, we spend our days in offices and lecture halls, working toward distant, seemingly abstract goals, before restlessly drifting off to sleep at night. In an age of thinking and planning, I believe the antidote to this crisis of masculine identity is as simple as doing.

You don’t have to be a mechanic or a lumberjack to work with your hands.

Plant a vegetable garden. Build a ship in a bottle. Try your luck at canning and pickling. Teach yourself to knit, sew, paint or sculpt. Practice some card tricks. Refinish an old coffee table. Even learning to write simple code is a useful skill, and will leave you with far more satisfaction than beer and Netflix binges.

Take back your free time, and make something to show for it.

The biker gene seems to have skipped a generation in my family, and I’m about as mechanically inclined as Karl Lagerfeld must be. Still, as I sit at my workbench and painstakingly rebuild the coils on my e-cigarette, I’m reminded of my dad, forearms blackened with grease as he pored over parts manuals and tightened lug nuts well into the night. In that garage, amidst old tires, bikini calendars and fuel-soaked rags, I learned an invaluable lesson: Even when the universe seems cruel, random and indifferent, a man can always pick up the pieces, put them back together and make things work.