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Jackie Gleason died on June 24, 1987, at the age of 71.

June 24, 2017

My son Wynn turned three this week, and we’re having a little birthday party for him this afternoon. As tends to be the case with three-year-olds, we got him way more stuff that his brain can really quite comprehend — this is definitely my fault rather than my wife’s — and he’ll forget we even own half his presents by the time he wakes up tomorrow morning. We are not indulgent with our children, but when it comes to birthdays, I’ll confess, I can’t quite help it. It won’t be long until these kids are teenage snots who we’ll have to bribe to even come to their birthday parties. I’m gonna enjoy seeing them be happy to spend their birthdays with us as long as I can.

The signature gift is a bike, though it’s not really a bike. It’s a “Critical Cycles Cub No-Pedal Balance Bike for Kids,” which is a bicycle in that it has two wheels but in no other particular way. It looks like this, except blue:

The point, I guess, is that he can push on it and feel like he’s on a bike, to get him used to the real thing. Whatever, he wanted a bike, this is a bike a three-year-old can fart around on in the backyard for a while until he gets bored and wants to watch Moana again.

Anyway, this morning I put together this bike in our basement. This is a fundamental job description of dads, I think, to be able to put birthday presents together, and I took a lot of pride in it. So I opened up the box, rolled up my sleeves and got ready to get to work. Dad Duties Activate. Except, if you look at that bike, it’s pretty obvious that, well, there is hardly any assembly required at all. There’s an adjustable clamp that goes around the handlebars, and an adjustable clamp that goes around the seat ... and then you’re done. It requires about as much hard labor to construct as filling an ice cube tray.

This did not stop me, of course, from swaggering up the stairs and braying about, all cocksure and grunting, a big strong dad building a big strong bike. I did something similar when I put together William’s train set last year, which required a little more work, but only a little. It is the same thing I did when I change a light bulb, take out the trash, fix the toilet or carry something heavy up the stairs. I am a conqueror of all I survey! Your manual labor is but mere rubble under my feet!

This is of course an aggressive overcompensation. I am one of those Generation Xers who are almost entirely unhandy at anything helpful or practical. My father built the house I grew up in and then, when the kids were out of the house and Mom wanted a different home, he built her another one right across the street. His father, my grandfather, built half-a-dozen houses around Mattoon, Illinois; when I was a kid, Dad would drive through town and point them out. “Grandpa built that house 40 years ago,” he’d say as I struggled to figure out a Lego, “just using his truck and lumber he cut down in the fields beyond our backyard.” He spent most of my high school years completely reconstructing and refinishing a 1967 Chevy Camaro. He turned it into something so gorgeous that it now only gets taken out twice a year, and only for car shows. I got to take it to Homecoming and prom and otherwise wasn’t allowed to look at it.


Now that he’s retired, my dad spends his time doing odd jobs for doctors at my mom’s old hospital, wiring, minor construction, putting in a new bathtub, that sort of thing. He’s always out in the garage diddling on something. He is a genius at handyman labor in a way I will never be a genius about anything.

Dad did his best to teach all this to his son, the way his father taught it to him, but try as he might, he just couldn’t get it to stick. I was just too interested in Nirvana and Woody Allen and Stephen King and the Cardinals to pay enough attention. I would do the jobs he gave me adequately enough, but had no impetus to pursue anything more than that. This had to frustrate Dad to no end, but it is to his credit that he ultimately made his peace with the fact that his son just had other interests and would have to find different venues in which he would peddle his wares. It must have driven him crazy, though.

A few things stuck. I can change a tire, I can change a car’s oil, I can dig you some mean holes in your yard and I found that in New York — where no one ever does their own labor — I was the go-to guy for putting together DIY furniture. (I remember a friend being astounded that I could name an Allen wrench on sight.) But not enough to make me actually handy, and certainly not anything that approaches Build A House For Your Family level. If anything, my wife has a greater proficiency and interest in this realm than I do, something my father has certainly noticed. It is to both of their credits that they don’t rub my face in this more than they already do.

This used to bother me, this inability to live up to my father in this way, but as one gets older, and more familiar and comfortable with one’s own shortcomings, I’ve come to terms with it. I’m never going to be able to do what he does, but I have other things that I am good at. (I hope.) I know the basics — I am your one-stop shop for all your toilet needs — and anything I can’t do, I’ll find someone who can. (Sometimes it’s even my dad. He loves it, and he’s great at it. Why stand in the way of a man’s happiness?) Sure, it leads to me getting way too excited about being able to complete basic, obvious tasks that my father (and anyone handier than me) would find so easy they’d barely remember doing them. But life is fleeting, and we should take our victories, however minor and silly, where we can find them. I’m not as handy as I wish I were. Add it to the list.

That said, if I take out Wynn’s bike for his birthday and the whole thing falls apart in my hands ... well, damn cheap Chinese products, they just don’t make them like they used to. I think I’ll probably go with that.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. Should the Warriors Visit the White House? Sports On Earth. This is part of the Of Two Minds series I love doing so much. We’re going to start making them into videos, which will mean they’ll be about 99 percent less comprehensive and thoughtful but be seen by about 10 times as many people. (Or at least sell 10 times as many ads.)

2. Review: “Transformers: The Last Knight,” Paste Magazine. I generally resist the notion that it’s more fun to write about bad movies than good ones ... but this is an exception.

3. Being a Knicks Fan Is Getting Tougher and Tougher, Sports On Earth. I am so glad I didn’t have to give up being a Knicks fan, which I’d promised I would if they traded Kristaps Porzingis. Though they still could. What a stupid franchise I cheer for.

4. The Many Ways Baseball Has Changed in 20 Years, Sports On Earth. We lost some good stuff from this piece, but it still had some fun business in it that escaped.

5. The Rockies Had a Signature Moment on Sunday, Sports On Earth. And of course they’ve started losing since then.

6. Craggs & Leitch, Volume Two, Smile Politely. This one was a little dated, but I will talk to Craggs about anything at anytime.

7. Which MLB Teams Have Gone the Longest Without a No-No? Sports On Earth. I was amazed the Cardinals weren’t in the top 10. Bud Smith’s no-hitter — just days before September 11 — feels like 100 years ago.

8. Playoff Odds Report, June 2017, Sports On Earth. Speaking of the Cardinals ... they’re toast.

9. Dive Dive Dive, Sports On Earth. I’ve been trying to get into the WNBA more this year. Sure beats watching Mike Matheny’s Cardinals.

As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the three podcasts I do. You don’t even have to listen to them! Just download them. Here they are:

Grierson & Leitch, an all-new-movies show of Cars 3, All Eyez On Me and Rough Night.

The Will Leitch Experience, Alyson and I with a spirited show this week, I thought.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, a very fun show this week. These usually are, because of the bourbon. (There is a lot of bourbon during these shows.)

Have a great weekend, everyone. Here is Wynn, who is now three but still pretty awesome.