Real Men Use Plungers

By Michael

Today, I took Jill to Home Depot to get stuff I needed for a few projects I’ve been meaning to get to, fulfilling my manly duties and showing her my version of the Nordstrom Sale. (Except, of course, that my purchases are much more practical and essential to our existence, unlike shoes and accessories and, um, shoes.)

When I got back to the house, I installed a wireless garage door opener and got the gas grilled fixed just enough to figure out what part I need to order, located a place that has the (made in China) part in stock, found a spot to hang the outdoor thermometer so that we can read the temperature without having to go outdoors and figured out why the coffee maker wasn’t working.

In my little world, it doesn’t take much to create a testosterone frenzy.

My most valuable contribution of the day was unclogging a toilet first thing in the morning. Which, of course, reminded me of my daughters.

“I’m just calling to thank you for making me the man I am today,” Stephanie said in a call from college.

She was immensely proud of herself, and all her roommates were relieved, because she had learned the correct way to use a plunger. Four high school graduates, soon to graduate from college, and only one of the four had a clue how to do one of life’s less pleasant but very common chores.

I was reminded today that I have yet to show them how to change a tire, although they now know how to change their windshield washer fluid. Little tasks that we take for granted are like rocket science to many young adults I meet today. Change a tire? Call AAA. Sew a button? Take it to the dry cleaners. Unclog a toilet? Call dad.

I’m seeing this with young men as well as young women and I think many in my generation erred by skipping some pretty fundamental stuff. I’m hoping the newer moms and dads on this site won’t repeat this mistake.

What are the basics that every child should know before entering high school or getting a driver’s license or moving out on her own? It’s probably not a long list, but it should be much higher on our agendas.

Or so I think, now that the toilet is working again.

Michael Rosenbaum is 5 Minutes for Parenting’s first dadblogger. He is a business consultant, playwright and author of Your Name Here: Guide to Life.

Michael blogs on life issues at Your Name Here Guide to Life and manages the Adult Conversation discussion group on Linked-In.

11 Responses to Real Men Use Plungers
  1. Meredith
    March 16, 2010 | 8:29 am

    I think the list of things children should know before they move out on their own is actually pretty long. My brother moved out and was helpless to cook for himself but for Ramen noodles and mac n cheese. I’ve worked at places where 17 year old’s didn’t even have a clue how to use a broom, mop, clean counters or wash dishes. Seen examples about college kids getting themselves into massive debt because they don’t have any idea about how credit really works and don’t know how to figure their money.
    So my list:
    ~Clean up after yourself (washing, laundry etc)
    ~Cook healthy but simple meals
    ~Vehicle maintenance (changing tires, checking fluids properly, and simple repairs)
    ~Money smarts (balancing a checkbook, knowing how to budget, calculate best prices in a grocery store, and how your money works for banks and credit cards)

  2. Hannah
    March 16, 2010 | 9:24 am

    (raises hand guiltily) I HATE plunging toilets and sometimes leave them for my husband to do, so I’m afraid I’d better shape up before I can teach my children to do that task! Although my son already shows promise in that department …
    I agree that life skills are often lacking in our generation, which makes them that much harder to teach. I wonder if our parents just got used to doing them themselves and forgot that that information isn’t passed along by osmosis.

  3. Kelly
    March 16, 2010 | 11:32 pm

    I’d have to say:
    1. Laundry. (I didn’t really have a clue.)
    2. Cooking. (Again – no clue.) (Unless you count scrambled eggs and a phone number for Domino’s.)
    3. Money management.

    Those are the essentials for me.

    But I have to say, I wonder how much Google will help the generation now in college. (Do they have a name yet? Generation past-Z?) If they lack a skill or knowledge, they can always Google and get something close to the right answer. It’s amazing what you can learn online.

  4. Mary
    March 16, 2010 | 11:48 pm

    We have rented a room in our house out to university students for many years. Often living with us is the first time these students have ever lived “on their own”.

    There’s a definite lack of life skills.
    They don’t know how to shop for groceries, how to budget or often how to cook the things they buy. Many students buy a fridgeful of vegetables which they then let go bad while they dine on fast food. Then they ask me how to tell if their food has “expired”.

    Typically they don’t know how to do laundry nor has anyone ever explained that the labels on their clothes mean something. (Favourite comment ever came from a young lady who suddenly realized that she did NOT need to diet but instead stop drying her cotton clothing on high heat.)

    I almost always have to explain how to write a cheque in their brand new chequebooks. And then I usually keep their receipts until the end of the year after month two because they have lost the first one.

    We have no expectation that they would know how to deal with something like a plugged toilet; we just work on teaching them when they should notify us about something going wrong. For instance: if there is water pouring out of the ceiling, moving the garbage can under it and leaving the house without talking to anyone about it is not a good idea. Particularly if the water is pouring out of something electric…

    I think parents expect too little in terms of basic living chores from their kids now, and it’s not doing them any favours!

  5. Mary
    March 16, 2010 | 11:52 pm

    Sorry for the double comment but I have to respond to Kelly’s google comment! We have a nice young man who is living with us right now who recently lost a button on his shirt. His mother tried to explain how to sew it back on over the phone, and then he tried to look it up using youtube and google. There are actually some great tutorials, but he still couldn’t figure it out. So he asked my sister (who also lives with us) and she not only kindly showed him how to sew on a button, she also taught him how to tie a knot!

    Seriously not kidding.

  6. jenna
    March 17, 2010 | 1:14 am

    My husband still doesn’t know how to put the toilet paper on the roll. We’ve been married for 7.5 years and I don’t think he’s ever changed it.

    These are all very good things, and I’d just like to have one of those lists when it gets compiled.

  7. Anitra
    March 17, 2010 | 10:15 am



    Basic mending (sew on a button) and car maintenance (check fluids, change a tire).

    Kids should know the basics of budgeting and how to use a checkbook by the time they’re 13, in my opinion.

    Maybe it’s because I went to an engineering school, but all of my female friends in college had their own toolboxes and could do basic maintenance. On the other hand, I didn’t realize I didn’t know how to cook until I was out of the dorms on a study-abroad program. I didn’t have the money to eat out, so I had a lot of PBJ, spaghetti, and stir-fry.

  8. Kim
    March 23, 2010 | 2:57 pm

    I have to agree with the above posters – laundry is my #1 life skill to pass on! My sister in law lived with us for a year and (seriously) thought that clean clothes magically appeared in her room each Sunday night and fresh sheets walked themselves to her bed. She was baffled when we took a vacation without her and she thought she “lost” her favorite jeans. no hon, they’re in the dirty clothes bin!

    Basic cooking skills. Grill a burger, cook chicken so that it won’t kill you, actually GO to the grocery store, and find things without that “deer in the headlights” look on your face.

    I have to say, I’m terrible with money, even though I had a part time job at 14 and my mom was so good about showing me how to balance my cehckbook and only pay with cash for things. Its just not my forte, though I could get by, if left on my own…

    Basic manners! What happened to using please and thank you, ma’am and sir, respecting elders and holding doors open for the mom with the stroller, older person with the cane or person on crutches? Even adults today are so caught up in their world’s they let the door slam on someone (in more ways than one!) who needs some extra assistance.

    I hope I can teach my children enough to fend for themselves – well, when they are on their own!

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