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Men of Reparation

This article was written by Soren Johnson, and was first published here.

Men repair stuff. I know — I’m resorting to stereotypes. But I don’t know any guys who find happiness by waking up day after day to a bunch of broken things.

And yet, according to a friend of mine who oversees facilities for several dozen (yes, I said “dozen”) buildings, we are witnessing a crisis of men who can actually make repairs.

This friend is the guy you want to be if you have ever struggled with a “honey-do” list. He once oversaw several hundred men in a Navy construction unit. He’s the “blink” man of building and home repair — in the blink of an eye he can diagnose the overall state of a home’s roof, mechanical systems, A/C, heating and more. He sniffs out the issue. I shudder to think of him visiting my house and handing me a report card.

But repair is simple, he says. His straightforward approach comes down to three principles.

First, there are “good” repairs and “silly” repairs. If you’re drying out your flooded basement for the 50th time, you are engaged in a “silly” repair. That’s called patching. You actively evade the “good” repair by not installing a sump, resealing your foundation or regarding along the foundation wall.

His second operating principle can be called the concept of the “right” repair. Any man knows the lengthy Saturday morning to-do. The needs are infinite, but resources are finite. How to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

The “right” repair is the right first bite. It is the right repair, given the infinitude of battles that can be fought at 9 a.m. on Saturday after that first cup of coffee. Time is short. Money is limited. A hierarchy of home repair needs confronts him.

The man can rush pell-mell into his list — tightening screws and door knobs at the low end of the hierarchy at precisely the moment he should be re-flashing his roof to stanch a leak. If he doesn’t “get” the hierarchy — the “natural law” at work in his home — he chooses the life of a patcher and tinkerer who operates outside the reality of the “right” repair. Good luck with that.

My friend’s third principle is to distinguish between maintaining the status quo or taking on an “upgrade.” As drab as it sounds, the man’s first duty in his home is to maintain the status quo, those core systems which undergird the home. Status quo is not a pejorative phrase for my friend — he utters the words with a respect bordering on reverence. An “upgrade,” on the other hand, is a home improvement that my friend likens to improving the home’s “self-esteem.”

When men don’t grasp the distinction between “good” and “silly” repairs, and cannot ascertain the “right” repair, they are prone to leap for “upgrades” prematurely. They do not understand the home’s status quo — or worse yet, disregard it.

Just imagine this friend of mine — this living conscience of homeownership — knocking at your door. With one quick walk-through, he would grasp your home’s systemic flaws and all of the self-esteem boosts you’ve doled out to compensate; all those places where you focused on facades, when you should have been patching the leaky roof.

Before I left for college, my father taught me some things, including: how to frame a wall; drywall and tape; paint; build a deck; sink a post; install an electrical socket; refinish furniture; and change the oil in the car. (Do not ask my wife when I last did any of the above).

But today, my friend finds too few men who can actually use their hands. To them, he has choice words: “I’ve got news. Life is going to be very expensive for you.”

Today our broken culture calls for a renaissance of repair. We need men who make good repairs; the right repairs; and who excel in maintenance before undertaking any upgrades. We need men who teach their sons how to frame walls, rather than how to outsource.

To the point: We need a renaissance of men skilled at accepting their powerlessness to “fix” any relationship — or our own soul — alone. These men of reparation instead call upon the Lord to, in His mercy, make those repairs. Out of love for our spouse, children, colleagues and neighbors, we need to make “good” and frequent confessions and the “right” first acts of mortification, in union with Christ’s one repairing sacrifice. Before considering any “upgrades” in the spiritual life, we need to excel in maintaining the basic virtues.

If we persist in being patchers and tinkerers in the life of faith, then it’s time for us to realize that the words of one facilities manager are directed to us: “Life is going to be very expensive for you.”

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