Nicky's Blog

Fragile Masculinity

Our garden is a few stops short from out of control. It's not 'take a chainsaw and a petrol can/scorch the earth' levels of bad, but 'this needs more than a lawnmower and a bit of hard work'.

The grass down the back is now halfway to my knees. Weeds, thorns, and stinging nettles have all found homes there. At the back is the remains of a chicken coop the last owner used to have, and mixed in with all of this is next door's tree, taller than our house and a couple of feet from our fence, meaning the roots are trespassing into our side. Supposedly the tree is protected by the council due to it's type or age, so we cannot damage it in any way.

Then there's the fence. One of the things the seller said he would do would be to repair the storm damaged and badly out of date fence, and he did, to an extent. The sides are great, having recently took on a storm or two unscathed. The problem is he didn't do the back, presumably because of the chicken coop, and we didn't get it in the contract that he would do it, because we took him at his word. Not the best of ideas when you're buying a house, but lesson learned.

We've never had great luck with gardens. Our first place was a rental, and the tiny back garden was thick with four foot tall weeds and junk. Gardening was less like 'make it look pretty' and more like 'make it look less like the dead old lady's'. At one point, I genuinely considered just salting the earth, but that seems a bit extreme for a property that ultimately wasn't ours.

It has left my wife with a bit of a complex though. We own our house, it's ours, and therefore needs to be if not perfect, then presentable. She doesn't want a repeat of the past, and she wouldn't mind being able to let the dog out the back without worrying about whether or not it's gone past our boundary and into the shared walkway and beyond.

However, we don't have the knowledge or the tools. We have a shed that we could put tools in, like our mechanical lawnmower that happily works on the front half of our lawn, but true to form it's a pretty rickety, spider infested thing that appears to have had a wasps nest killed in it once upon a time. It also appears to have what looks to be the old front gate on top of it, rusted away over the years. Not that that stops us storing things in it.

So then, we need help. And therein lies the problem.

I never had a male role model growing up.

Dad died before I hit three months old. Mum had another partner, but he left, supposedly for drink but who knows. She was also in a pretty long term relationship with a woman, but that doesn't really count as a male role model. I didn't really have male relatives other than my grandad and that was a few and far between thing.

I think I overcompensated for that over the years. it didn't exactly affect me growing up; I'm certainly not claiming I'm any less of a man because of it. I was, however, pretty quick to throw myself into the Man of the House role as soon as the need arose, making sure we were provided for and things were settled. I tried to carry that on through a lot of my relationships, the strong stoic type, made all the worse when I failed.

I also at some point started putting a lot of stock in a man's handshake. I know it's a silly thing to even think about judging someone for, but even earlier today a local politician knocked on my door to try and get my vote and I'm almost positive I literally frowned when his handshake was a damp as a puddle.

Anyhoo, lacking any real and constant source of inspiration, I developed my own standard. Typically, this was a hyped perfectionist mess. Hyper capable, able to perform all many of DIY, woodworking, and basic construction and house maintenance whilst also carrying the household on his back and striding his way across the world.

And then I gave up giving a crap and settled when it started to look like a) I was going to be renting for the foreseeable, b) I had no energy to care about that whilst pursuing other things like a career and my relationship (and making sure I didn't screw it up), and c) I had no opportunity to prove or verify anything, and no money to acquire anything even if I had.

It did flare up over the years. We dealt with mould, it making us both a bit sick over time. We dealt with money troubles for a while, especially early on. Even redundancy took a knock to the old masculinity. I should be able to steer us through, to avoid these problems, to provide and look after my family.

Buying a house knocked this up to overdrive. Negotiations to handle, paperwork to manage and sign, several different stakeholders to manage and work with, gentle and not so gentle pushes required along the way. I was in my element, and best of all at the end of it, I would have provided. It was a joint effort, with my wife taking care of some of the logistics and furtniture decisions, and my handling the financial and legal ends. My masculinity was satisfied.

(The anxiety for transferring over £21,000 near close of business and waiting till the next day to confirm it went through is not one I want to experience again for a long, long time)

I through myself into the DIY around the house. New curtain rails, putting together all the flat pack furniture and securing stuff to the wall, filing in some plaster cracks, organising everything. I loved it. But naturally there was some stuff I couldn't do myself.

The bigger things I didn't sweat getting someone in. The roof needed some tiles fixing and replacing, and the chimney needed repointing. There was zero chace I was going to learn that on the YouTube and tackle it myself. Similarly, there was a leak coming from under the sink from the washing machine inlet hose. The machine itself is integrated in what looked like a tight way, and if it was going to be difficult and I were to risk damaging it or the plumbing hidden by boards, I'd rather it be tackled by someone insured to fix the issues.

The garden seems like something I should be able to tackle though. Buy a strimmer, one that'll take out the weeds and grass alike. Maybe drill home holes in the troublesome stump and pack it with Epsom salts. Hire a skip to clear whatever crap is lurking at the back. Hell, I could probably even put a fence together. There's definitely some instructional videos for that, and Trade Point just over the road.

And yet, I can't, and I know it. I have no idea of how to handle it all, and even less of an idea of how to make it look presentable and then maintain it. The shed is barely weatherproof, so any real investment in tools and equipment is going to be wasted pretty quickly. A shed upgrade could happen, but that in itself a pretty costly endeavour. And so on, and so forth.

So why have I spent weeks working myself up to just call a guy?

That was the question I spent my lunch break on. First answer was cost. We have savings but ideally only for the boiler and some over bigger jobs. It seems silly to spend it on the garden. Yet all I'm really looking for is quotes and advice, so that's not the issue.

Next it was looking stupid. If the garden is as simple a job as I think it is, and I've gotten a professional over to essentially tell me to cut the grass and dig some holes, I'm going to look like a tit. That's part of it, and certainly a thought process I'm familiar with, but I've talked about my perfectionism a fair bit already and besides, that's wasn't the end of the matter.

It's my fragile masculinity. I am a man. I should be capable. No, more than capable. This should practically be beneath me, it's that simple. Dealing with the garden? Digging up some weeds and dealing with a tree stump? Easy. Just role my sleeves up and get some gloves.

Calling a guy is admitting defeat, admitting I am what my inner self says I am. A weak, useless, pathetic excuse for a man. Who am I to think I can provide, if I can't even deal with this?

Funnily enough, that was the kick I needed. I fired up Trustatrader, picked the first guy on the list, and called him up that minute. He's coming over in about an hour.

I am a proud and stubborn man, but it works in more ways than just my fragile masculinity. I know men like that. Worse, I've seen men like that carry on as though they know exactly what to do and how to go about it and then cause damages that cost in the tens of thousands to fix. It's stupidly stubborn at best and at worst, just pathetic, and not the guy I want to be.

That moment of clarity is all I needed to see the right path through. I've been putting it off for months, and to be honest would have kept putting it off until I felt it was both the right time and that I was capable of fixing it all myself. All I would have ended up with was a pissed off wife, half a garden pretty much out of use, and a fair bit of embarrassment to have anyone over this summer (my wife has grand plans for a summer BBQ; I can take it or leave it but I would like to be able to play with my dog the full length of the garden).

There's a few moments in my life where I've had that level of clarity. When it was time to make the difficult choice to leave home. When it was time to suck it up and take the call handling job I never wanted in order to pay the bills. When I know that this girl could one day be my wife, my world, my future, if I just got out of my own way. There's also been plenty of times where I knew the path in front of me was absolutely not the right one for me at that moment, yet I took it anyway.

I'm not going to be so full of pride and ego and say that I'll strive to put myself in a place where I can have this absolute clarity daily, and to walk the righteous path at all times, free from vices and temptations of all kinds. But I can strive to be more mindful of my thoughts and feelings so as to put myself in a better position to receive them when they come, and maybe make the call I need to before the situation gets worse. Else my life will end up like the garden, and that's not a pretty sight.

And maybe I should stop judging people by their handshake while I'm at it. Might be best to retire that one.

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