The Truth, Mainly - 05/04/1992

Male aging angst: Causes and treatment
by Leon Satterfield

"O, O, O," I moan, dropping the "h" to indicate great passion. Anguish in this case.

"What now?" my wife asks. "You look like a Republican who just got trickled down on."

"O sure," I say. "Make jokes about the suffering. Ridicule the sore at heart. Guffaw at the afflicted."

"It's the log-splitter, isn't it?" she says. "You're worried that you've lost your manhood because of the hydraulic log-splitter."

She's right, of course. I've always liked that line in "Walden" where Thoreau says that "every man looks at his woodpile with a kind of affection." I have a woodpile and I not only look at it with affection, I'm crazy about it. I fondle my woodpile. I hum little celebratory hymns to it. I sit on the back porch and look at it long and long.

It's partly because I'm a tightwad and I like to think the woodpile represents stacks of money I'll save in heating my house. It's partly because I've got a touch of pyromania and the woodpile promises fire.

But it's mainly because splitting the wood with my 12-pound maul gives me a tremendous jolt of virility. I raise the maul over my head, then bring it down like a thunderbolt on the log. Thwack-o! And I'm 25 years old again, full of machismo and self-admiration. It's like a goat-gland transplant.

But last month I hurt my back and rented a hydraulic log-splitter instead. No thwack-o. No self-admiration. No goat gland. Just another machine doing the work I used to do for myself.

"So yeah," I say to my wife. "I guess it's partly the hydraulic log-splitter. And my torque wrench."

"Your torque wrench, of course," she says, hitting herself in the forehead. "How ever could I have missed the tragic significance of your torque wrench?"

I gave it to our younger son. He wanted to borrow it because he's still young enough to do his own work on his VW Beetle. So I gave him my torque wrench for his birthday—the kind of gift, my wife says, you'd expect from a tightwad.

"Here," I said, handing it to him and looking melancholy. "The torque is passed from the old generation to the new. Happy birthday."

I hadn't used it since 1977 when I bought it to tighten down head bolts after my older son and I replaced the blown head gasket on my'64 Mercedes diesel. We got so gloriously filthy that it became a male-bonding exercise, and the Mercedes actually ran for a little while after that. It was the high-water mark of the grease-under-my-fingernails stage of masculinity.

But engines don't make sense to me any more, sitting crosswise the way they do and thus throwing off my automotive geography so much that I can barely find the oil dipstick when I raise the hood. I feel like Orville Wright staring at the instrument panel of a 747, an abacus man peering into the innards of a Macintosh: I feel old.

"Is there anything else?" she asks. "Is it just the hydraulic log-splitter and the torque wrench? Or are there other deeply profound sources of your male aging angst?"

"Well, there is one more thing," I say, ducking my head and looking at my shoelaces. "It's…it's the hair growing out of my ears. I didn't used to have hair growing out of my ears. Only old men have hair growing out of their ears."

"There, there," she says, patting my bald spot. "Don't hold back. You'll feel better."

"O, O, O," I say again just before I lapse into the English teacher's last refuge, quoting someone else. "Where are the snows of yesteryear? With rue my heart is laden. Make way for Oedipus."

"Don't overreact," she says. "You didn't kill your father and marry your mother. You only rented a hydraulic log-splitter and gave away your torque wrench. And you have hair growing out of your ears."

"I have heard the mermaids singing each to each," I tell her. "I do not think that they will sing to me."

"OK," she sighs—we've played this game before. "'Tis not too late to seek a newer world. The best is yet to be. Though we cannot make our sun stand still, yet we will make him run. Is that enough?"

I stop whimpering. She knows just what to say.

"You're a pretty good husband," she says, "but you do go on. Now let's eat. I'll cut up your meat for you."

She always knows just what to say.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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