The message, of course, was that you don’t want to trust idiots to work on your car. If I recall correctly, the ad was for an auto service chain that was promoting the value of qualified mechanics.
What’s interesting to me is how the idea driving this commercial — “Don’t force it” — has stuck with me into adulthood. I credit a lot of this to my father, who seems to be able to fix anything despite the fact that he’s always dropping screws.
My dad loves fixing things. Never fails — he’s either working on something, or he’s thinking about something that needs to be worked on. Just yesterday, my mom called me to wish me a happy birthday. When she handed the phone to my father so he could do the same, he was fixing their dishwasher.
“Boy I wish you were around to help me get this back together,” he said. I laughed and said “Why, so I can hold your tools for you?”
That’s how it’s always been with me and my dad. He’d be crawling around on his hands and knees, working hard on his “project of the moment,” while I stood nearby keeping track of his tools and the small pieces that he always managed to lose.
I learned a lot just by watching him. He’s a bit of a perfectionist, but that’s part of his charm. While some dads might just grab a shovel and dig a hole, my dad was a lot more thorough: After using the shovel to turn the garden, he’d not only clean the dirt off the shovel, he’d even rub some oil on the blade to keep it from rusting.
He and I have pulled apart cars in junkyards together. We’ve painted rooms, reupholstered furniture, and built science projects together. We’ve chopped down countless trees, and stacked the resulting firewood to “set” for the season so we could use it in the wood stove the following year.
No matter what kind of odd repair job we were doing, I always appreciated riding with him to the hardware store. Among all of the possible choices in all the different aisles, he always managed to find exactly what he was looking for, or at least something that “would work.” My dad, the unstoppable fixer of things.
What sticks out to me most, though, are the times when he’d put down the drill and let me take the reins for a change. After we’d covered the topic of safety, then double-checked that we were being safe, he’d give me a one sentence pointer about the task at hand, and then remind me about safety just in case I’d forgotten.
“Now, if I can make a suggestion…” he’d always start. Maybe it was how I needed to keep both my feet on the floor when steering a power saw. Maybe it was how you always wanted to retract the blade of the knife when you were finished with it. Maybe it was how you always wanted to measure twice, and cut once.
And often times it was a simple, elegant suggestion: “Don’t force it.”
He could have been talking about a single screw to prevent it from stripping or re-threading. He could have been talking about the oil filter on my car of the moment. He could have been talking about the garage door lock that just wouldn’t open. Whatever the case, the advice rang true.
Whenever he said it, my mind brought back that image of the mechanics monkeying with that guy’s battery. “Don’t force it” was a recurring theme for doing things right.
What I’ve found as I’ve grown older, is that his simple advice goes beyond home repairs. “Don’t force it” can be a mantra for making new friendships, meeting a significant other, and doing work you love. You can’t force friendship, or love, or fate. Sometimes you’ve got to take another look at what you’re holding, or what you’re trying to accomplish. Look with patient eyes. Really analyze the situation, and find out what’s stopping you. Then, instead of trying to force it, you fiddle with it. If you’re still having trouble, walk away for a while and try again later.
I’ve found the act of NOT forcing things to be one of the most empowering processes imaginable. Instead of trying to hammer out a piece of music in perfect tempo, you can enjoy the musical process. Instead of worrying about everything going according to plan, you can relax and enjoy the party. Instead of trying to arrange everything you want in life into a distinct order, you can truly live.
After telling my dad about my birthday plans, he asked how everything else was going. I told him that I expected to have a bit more about my life figured out by now, and that I was still frustrated with the slow-going status of my career. He told me that he was well over 30 before his career really started, and reminded me not to force it.
I won’t. Thanks dad.
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