Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Chad's Intergenerational American Male Incompetency Gradient

A couple knives built by my father, who is not a knifemaker but a consummate tinkerer, one of that generation who truly could (and still can) build, repair, or do just about anything with their hands, a generational trait that is, in most areas save perhaps advanced smart phone operation, sadly falling out of favor these days. In fact, some time ago, while trying to gauge exactly how much more capable in all manly things my father is than I, I actually formulated a theorem to that effect, called "Chad's Intergenerational American Male Incompetency Gradient," which states,  "Each succeeding generation of American male is, on average, 25 percent less competent in the manly arts than its immediate predecessor."

Then I realized that, if I'm being honest, I am much more than 25 percent less competent than my father, so I had to revise the gradient to reflect the rapidly accelerating rate of incompetence that began with my generation, and which, judging by the kids I see these days, has now reached Warp Speed.

But I digress. The knives: The one in the foreground was, in a former life, a blade made by the German firm Klaas. My father simply fitted the blade to his own shed antler crown handle, complete with handmade bolsters, spacers, and pommel. The finished product is, hands-down, the most comfortable and attractive handle of all the knives I own. I have large hands and it fits them like a glove. The knife itself does not see much use, not only because it's pretty, but because I simply don't use large blades that much. Neither does my dad, to be honest. He just got bored one day in his shop and made it for the hell of it. But is sure does look pretty sitting on top of my bookcase on a piece of walnut burl in front of a skull-mount buck I shot a couple years back.

The other knife was, in its former life, an old planer blade that my dad shaped into a very thin, very plain, but beautiful recurved trailing-point design, again with an antler crown handle and homemade bolsters and pins. I don't know what kind of tool steel that old planer blade was made of (01, maybe?), but like most tool steels actually used in tools, it's extremely hard, probably extremely brittle, takes an absolutely wicked edge (he convexed it) and holds that edge like a miser holds a nickel. Too thin and brittle for general use, but I do actually use this one to help cut up deer.

These are the first two attempts at knifebuilding my father ever tried. Like most men of his age and generation and social class (working) my dad is always making or fabricating or building something. I, on the other hand, have trouble opening a box of cereal. Oh, I can usually figure out how to do most things, but like the cereal box I sometimes make a damn mess doing it.

Could I do anything like this myself? Probably not. Because I am, according to Chad's Intergenerational American Male Incompetency Gradient, approximately 50 percent less competent than my father, a man who once, on a trip to Seattle, refused to enter the Space Needle. Why? Because my dad, a retired pipefitter and lifelong welder, had been inspecting the base of the Space Needle as we waited in line to enter, which is always a bad sign. Inspection complete, he then declared, "I'm not going up in that thing."

"Why, dad?" I asked wearily, knowing full well that my perfectionist father had probably found some alleged deficiency somewhere. I was, of course, used to it, because finding deficiencies, in both things and people, occurs quite frequently with my father.

"Because those are some of the shittiest welds I've ever seen," he replied, pointing out a weld that didn't pass muster. "Just look at that. Who'd the hell they get to build this thing, the local vo-tech class?" Eventually he was persuaded to - reluctantly - enter the Space Needle, but not without griping, endlessly, about the shameful decline of the American work ethic. You know, typical father stuff.

Luckily for him, since he lives in Montana and I live in Oklahoma, my father doesn't often get the opportunity to see his oldest son's sometimes, uhh...questionable  handyman handiwork. But one of these days, just for fun, I'm going to get him in my truck, get out on the highway, and as the speedometer creeps up to about 75 or so, I'll say, "Dad, you're gonna be proud of me! I just changed the brakes in this truck all by myself! I learned how to do it on YouTube!"


  1. Your dad is like my dad. My dad is now pretty damn old (while I am not even middle age, because he had us kids late in life) so I now have to help him, because at the age he is he does not seem to stop doing stuff. The old man just works calmly and methodically and just gets stuff done. No task is too big, complex or intimidating. He's also retentive and a perfectionist, so stuff needs to be done properly.

    The worst things are, despite his multitude of skills not one of them has anything to do with his job, which is ('is' because the man retired but is now 'emeritus') academic; very little, nothing most likely, comes from being taught by my granddad, who died when my dad was 11, a civilian casualty of WWII. This second thing can be seen in many lights, but let's be upbeat: if you keep a cool head and want to do a good job, you will.

  2. The incompetency gradient is real and in some softer bellied coastal regions the drop off might be a little steeper than just generational. My baby brother is eight years younger and I often shudder at the thought of our birth dates being swapped. I grew up with woodlots, fishing, and nature as my passion because there wasn't much else available, by the time he came along the family had a computer and thats what he embraced. I don't understand what makes him tick anymore than he understands me, but he knows who to come to if he needs a brake job and I know who to call if my computer becomes recalcitrant.

  3. I reckon I'm about the same age as your dad; believe me, the "skills" gap is not restricted to your family, nor is the "just-figure-it-out-and-come-up-with-something-that-works" gap. Damn nice knives!

  4. I too sit and fret over this, my dad thinks he can do anything but is hampered by his reluctance to buy tools worthy of the name. No doubt I'll turn into him soon enough.

    In the meantime here's one for the floor: as I remember it you have two boys, I have one useless son and one born handyman daughter, I shit you not the boy is worse than useless and proper reluctant too, whereas his sister can chop wood, shoot straight, put up flat pack and when I took her to work correctly diagnosed a plumbing problem - she's only 9!
    Has there been a weakening of the gene pool on the male side of late? I've met a few other dads with ballsy daughters and couch potato sons, is this just an english thing? Will our girls turn into us and our sons turn into their mums? It all used to be so simple

    First age of man: My dad is better than your dad
    Second age of man: Dad you're full of shit
    Third age of man: As my old dad used to say


  5. Ibwas talking about this yesterday. I said our fathers learned from their elders. Our elder is YouTube. I fixed my dryer by following a video

  6. Ibwas talking about this yesterday. I said our fathers learned from their elders. Our elder is YouTube. I fixed my dryer by following a video