This was written in 2012 for Dads Roundtable. Dad’s gone now, dead at 87. The cottage has been sold. Dads RT has been shuttered. Aaron now drives a sweet Honda Accord fastback that he, and the bank, now own.
Sitting in my car at the auto repair center (remember when they were called gas stations and garages?), my phone rang. I found myself talking with my Dad. He’s 81. I am 54. We talk a lot these days; his son my brother’s death, my brushes with death via melanoma and several pulmonary embolisms, his age — our shared sense of mortality energizes every conversation. We were talking about the electric bill.
My parents have a beautiful cottage in Northern Michigan; rolling wooded hills, just enough off the beaten track, a great view. The electric bill was four times higher than it should be. I volunteered to head up with a meter and see if I could sort out the electric leak. My Dad said he had a friend who was a contractor who would be taking a look at the problem.
I said, “So, you gotta guy?”
“Yeah,” said my Dad. “I gotta guy.”
“Good,” I said. “It’s always good to have a guy.”
“You don’t gotta guy,” said my Dad, “then you gotta problem.”
Last summer, my son Aaron was driving me somewhere. I’d just gotten out of the hospital and my doctor didn’t want me to drive for a few days. Aaron’s brakes needed work. They juddered. They squealed. He drives an old Chevy Cavalier that belongs to his Mom and stepdad Larry.
“You need new brakes, kiddo.”
“Sure do, Dave.”
“I can drive in two days. Follow you to the garage.”
“Nah, I’m good. Larry’s gotta guy.”
“Larry’s gotta guy? But didn’t Larry used to be a mechanic?”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t work on cars so much anymore. So, he’s gotta guy.”
“Yeah, he’s good. Pretty cool, actually”
“Nice. It’s always good to have a guy.”
“So I’ve heard.”
Being the guy is an honor. You get respect: for your skills, your judgment. The ultimate test of guy-ness: Does he get things done? If you are regarded as the guy, you are the one. The guy settles questions. He solves problems. He negotiates deals. His handshake and word count. The guy has honor.
When you’re six, you’ve ‘got a guy.’ Your guy’s your dad. Whatever goes wrong, he can handle it. At fourteen, you spend a lot of your day sulking about how your Dad refuses to treat you like an adult. But when your world comes crashing to a grievous halt, you know you gotta guy. By the time twenty rolls around, you appreciate the Hell out of having ‘a guy.’ Girls, bills, cars, grades — you gotta guy.
As a high school teacher, I always told my more favorite students “Your teachers? We’re just you grown up.” No surprise, I am still as baffled by life as I was at six, fourteen and twenty. Different stuff, sure, but still baffled. At 54, I am thankful every day that I still gotta guy. The same guy. It’s good to have a guy.
’Cause, you know, you don’ gotta guy, then you gotta problem.
A note on gender: I am a son of a father. My only child is my son. That’s why I write from a ‘guy’ perspective. I’ve given this matter much thought over the years and I’ve concluded that to try and write from a non-gender or all-gender perspective would be disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. So, here we are.
Tags — Fatherhood, responsibility, guys, work, positive masculinity