Assembly Required

Bryce is good at getting gifts.  And people are good at being generous to him.  Often the generosity of others means things for my time.

For instance, when Bryce was given a mini car—the kind he would see at the playlot and never release for others to play with—I had to put it together.  Of course, Dawn hadn’t explained that that was my responsibility until Christmas Eve night, before I was set to preach at church the following morning.  I wouldn’t have given my mechanic that thing, it was so complicated.

Here are a few things I don’t quite like when assembly is required.

  1. The box is so deceptive.  It’s shiny and colorful.  The picture of the thing is inspiring.  It touches the imagination of the boy so that he goes on and on about the car or the big wheel in the recent example.  But the picture never tells the story, does it?
  2. There are so many pieces.  Looking at the box, you’d think the thing could be put together without so much drama.  There I am, holding the instructions, opening small plastic bags, and trying to keep my son from walking through three piles of variously sized implements.  Slowly I begin to appreciate inventors and builders and craftspeople.  After I use other words under my breath.
  3. I always have to read the directions.  I’m a reader.  I’m happy about that.  But I secretly want to be one of those men who open up a box of boards, screws, and tiny pins and who make something by looking at the picture only.  I never claimed to be one of those guys.  I’ve only envied them.  And secretly hated them too.  While I like reading, it’s a different experience reading something that explains something else, when it takes you reading it fourteen times to grasp the point.
  4. I hate sweating.  Putting things together makes me sweat.  It requires a kind of concentration that I’m not used to.  I am fine with paying attention.  I’m good at listening and am even all right with taking cues, but putting pieces together is a large, monstrous task to me.  It makes my armpits stream, my forehead shine.  It makes my butt hurt for sitting in the same spot for longer than I really should.  I get up and have to change my clothes, like I’ve surfaced from a workout.
  5. The noise is unhelpful.  There’s pounding.  There’s language I wouldn’t generally use in public.  My son is walking around in circles singing about a new this or that.  I imagine my neighbors, trying to be nice because they know I’m hard at something for the boy.  But they tire of the hammering.  They’re exhausted because I’m racking at the kitchen island since it substitutes for the flat surface of the wood wedge I don’t have.
  6. It always takes more time than less.  This is probably the most pressing concern.  Reading those instructions, following the rolling screws and picking the right screwdriver; these things take time.  More time than skill.  And those are moments you don’t get back.  They are moments that add up into the invisible math of being a good parent, or trying to be.  You add pliers.  You insert a snap or a click.  And you don’t know what you’ll get.  All of a sudden putting together a chair two weeks before your son is born becomes an act of faith.
  7. There’s too much room for wrong.  Nothing tells you early that you’ve put something together wrong.  It’s not until the picture unfolds, right?  Then you know you’re stupid, that you’re illiterate, that you’re unlike your big brother, or that you should have called Karlos Dodson before you got started.
  8. I really feel like I should get it done.  I’m not one of those guys who cannot admit defeat.  I gladly do and will.  But when I know I’m on the way to finishing up, I can see it.  I see the end.  I see the thing shaping up.  Of course, there are a dozen setbacks, but the abiding feeling is some version of guilt.  That cracked voice that says you really should feel good about doing this because it’s for the kid.
  9. People aren’t good at encouragement.  Dawn is great at coming in when I’m three quarters finished and asking if I need help.  Bryce is great at walking around picking up little screws and asking if his big wheel is ready.  He’ll look at the box and say, “Where’s the car?”  I have to quiet them.  Usually with my eyes and the slight shake of my head.  They know I’m in my zone, the space that is uncomfortable; they know I’m resisting badness.  Thankfully, they leave.
  10. The thing I’m putting together isn’t for me.  This gets at one of the hearts of the matter for me.  It feels like the thing will belong to my son, that I’ll get no pleasure or benefit from all the hacking, screwing, and sweating.  Assembling a thing is an act of generosity.  It’s inherently gracious because it involves me making a gift available to my son for his pleasure and play.  But that can be transformational.  It can change me into a different man, a man who learns to receive pleasure in someone else’s.

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