Dad_Skills

Who Are People Learning Their ‘Dad Skills’ From?

Hint: It’s almost certainly not their dads

Millennial men aren’t fixers. Changing a flat tire, quieting a running toilet or even knowing what a circuit breaker is, let alone where it might be located in your apartment in the event of a power outage, is simply not in the millennial man’s, um, tool box. In June, the New York Post reported on a poll by Alarm.com, a security service, that basically put the millennial dad’s ineptitude when it comes to DIY skills in perspective: “Many millennial dads reported not owning a cordless drill (46 percent), a stepladder (49 percent), a set of screwdrivers (38 percent) or even a hammer (32 percent) — an item owned by 93 percent of Boomer dads,” per their report. 

Now, it may well be the case that these polls are trying to prove a point by only surveying millennial, middle-class “coastal elites” who mostly, let’s face it, can’t change a lightbulb if our lives depend on it. But, as one redditor angrily but rightly puts it, there’s also the simple fact that most millennials — at least the ones who’ve managed to move out from underneath their parents’ roof — are still renting. “Why the fuck would you own a stepladder if you don’t own the property?” he says. “Why would you do any work on a rented property when damages come out of your deposit?” 

In other words, surely, knowledge of DIY skills comes with age and home ownership, the latter of which is so far out of the reach of the average millennial as to seem like an absurd pipe dream.

Another redditor claims that the glaring deficit in millennial men with “dad skills” can be attributed to the fact that Boomer dads sort of gave up on their sons. “I think this just points to bad parenting by Boomers more than anything else,” he writes. “I know my dad never taught me how to do any of the DIY stuff I learned. My grandpa sure as shit taught his kids at a young age though.”

But let’s say you’re the sort of guy who wants to buck the trend. You’re tired of having to call someone every time the garbage disposal breaks or the shower drain gets clogged. In fact, maybe you’re like me and you’re yearning to learn a few dad skills so that, when your plumbing is on the fritz, you can at least grab your wrench and temporarily fool yourself into thinking that you’ve got this. 

Where do you turn to?

The obvious answer is your dad — after all, who better to learn a dad skill from than the guy whose name is in the descriptor? “I grew up in Pittsburgh, where you really didn’t pick up the phone to call a handyman to do something, because either a neighbor, a brother, an uncle or a dad fixed it,” Mindy Kanaskie, a handywoman in L.A., tells me. Kanaskie, like most people of a certain age, learned these very DIY skills from spending time around her dad. 

If you’re lacking the appropriate parental instructor, though, there are other outlets to help you become handier. Mary, a single mom who relied on her husband to take care of things around the house before she got divorced, regularly attends Home Depot’s Do It Yourself workshops so that she can become more independent when it comes to home repairs. “As women, we’re interested [in learning to become more handy],” she says. “We don’t want to rely on men so much, which I’ve done in the past.” 

Ironically, then, if you’re a guy looking to sharpen up on your “dad” skills, you’re likely to find yourself surrounded more by moms than potential father figures. “Older women are more interested because they realize the value of it,” Mary says. “The younger ones who are around me, they have boyfriends who are happy to do it.”

Mary’s right — I attended two of Home Depot’s Do It Yourself workshops, and the only other people in those classes were middle-aged women, who’d come for a variety of reasons. “I’ve watched a ton of YouTube videos,” says Amanda, a human rights lawyer whose burgeoning interest in woodwork brought her to a class. “I’m here to get some more hands-on experience on how to build things with my hands.” 

YouTube, as Amanda suggests, has largely replaced dad’s role as the teacher of things in many respects. My colleague C. Brian Smith has previously noted that another classic dad skill, shaving, is being taught to more men via YouTube videos than through dad’s wisdom as well. “Like everything else, the internet is revolutionizing the way guys take care of themselves in the bathroom,” he writes. “Fax machines and porn magazines have become obsolete — now so too is dad’s grooming advice. And once guys went online to learn how best to manage their undercarriages, they discovered a whole new set of (anonymous) grooming influencers to replace their girlfriend’s advice, too.” 

With all of this in mind, maybe it’s time to do away with labeling these things as “dad skills” at all — really, they’re just plain old life skills. “Most of the people coming to these classes are women,”  says Jaycee, a Home Depot associate (and not a dad!) who runs the monthly workshops. He adds that he, too, is a self-taught handyman. “I watched videos online and just took an interest in learning how to put things together by taking them apart,” he explains. 

And that’s just it — the key to learning such life skills is merely taking an interest in learning them. You don’t need a handy dad to be a handy man or woman. In fact, in attending these workshops, it became abundantly clear that it’s really not too hard to learn how to install a smoke detector or unclog a garbage disposal. Which makes sense because, sure, your Boomer dad knew how to fix a toilet, but he still can’t figure out what a meme is, or when he’s being fed bullshit by Facebook. So it’s probably time to look for our teachers elsewhere anyway.