There I was Wednesday morning at 7:45 AM standing in line for new tires. I had a nagging leak in the front passenger-side tire but I knew I had worn out the original factory tires and should replace them all. I posted on Twitter: “At Discount Tire, and none of the manly men in line knew their tire size. I don't either, but I'm feeling better about myself now.”
My dilemma reminded me of a story from a few years ago when my manhood was tested at the local quick oil and lube place.
The oil-change guy sauntered into the waiting room holding some piece of automobile equipment and walked across the room directly toward me. He asked, “Mr. Simpson, here is your air cleaner; do you want us to replace it?” and I was paralyzed.
The waiting room was full of ace mechanics who normally did this sort of work themselves in their own garages with their own tools which they kept in perfect order hanging over perfect outlines on the wall. The only reason they were in a commercial oil and lube joint on this particular day was because they were saving their energy to do some bronco busting later in the day, or maybe rugby, or competition power lifting. They weren’t sitting around the waiting room reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams like I was, they were being manly and strong and virile.
In the brief moment between seeing the air-cleaner man come toward me and hearing his question, I knew I was trapped. What if I said, “Yes, change it out?” and in reality it had another six months of life in it. All those knowledgeable men might look at each other and wink, thinking, “This fool is wasting his money. He has no clue about his car, and he probably wastes money all the time. I’ll bet his family is destitute, all driving ten-year-old vehicles, living in the same house for twenty years, and struggling to pay daily expenses because of his irresponsibility.” It’s amazing what you can pick up just from a wink; I could hear them all thinking those thoughts about me.
But what if I looked at air filter and said, “No, it looks fine to me; let’s wait until next time.” What then? Once again, I was trapped. I imagined those waiting room guys looking at each other and slowly shaking their heads as if to say, “His poor wife. He’s going to be sorry when that dirty air cleaner causes a major engine malfunction and leaves his cute wife stranded on Interstate 20 in front of the prison complex in Colorado City – the one where the two mass-murdering gang members just went over the wire. He’ll never see her again.”
Once again I was haunted by the question that haunts all men: Am I enough? Am I really a man? Can I make the right decisions under fire?
I wish the oil and lube place, or Discount Tire, was the only time I was ever heard that question in my head, but in fact it hits me every day. Every time I’m out running, every time I work out at the gym, every time I try to keep up with a fellow cyclist, every time I teach a class, every time I scribble thoughts into my journal, every time I post an essay and wonder who will read it, every time I pull out my trombone at church orchestra rehearsal, every time I make a presentation to my engineering peers, every time my son or daughter calls to ask for advice, every time I work through our family finances on Quicken, every time Cyndi holds my hand and opens her heart and shares her love with me. Every time. Every day.
Fortunately, I don’t have to answer that question all by myself. What I’ve learned is this: I am a real man, and I am enough, because I was made in the image of the living God who breathed His life into me and saved me by His grace.
Well, back to today and my four brand new Michelin tires. Not only is my pickup happy, but I’m happy. By the end of the day Wednesday my Twitter feed was being followed by four man sites: @MenRealMsgs, @gentlemenqz, @malesenseohumor, and @gentleguyqz. I took that as an endorsement. Maybe I’ll be OK next time I need to change my oil or buy new tires.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32