(Published on June 12, 2014 at Catholic Exchange.)
St. Joseph: WD40 and a Craftsman Wrench
American country music singer and songwriter, Toby Keith, wrote and recorded a favorite song of mine that I played continuously when I was camping last weekend. It’s called “Made in America.” Perhaps you’ve heard it, but on the off chance you haven’t, here are some of the lyrics:
He’s got the red, white, and blue flyin’ high on the farm
Semper Fi tattooed on his left arm
Spent a little more in the store for a tag in the back that says ‘USA’
He won’t by nothin’ that he can’t fix,
With WD40 and a Craftsman wrench
He ain’t prejudiced, he’s just made in America.
As my wife and I were camping in our trailer, I was constantly fixing things as I usually do. You know, like adjusting the level of the camper, making sure the water, electrical, and sewer hookups were perfect, repositioning the awning and hanging festive lights off of it, checking the propane, tightening a screw here and there or a nut and a bolt. Not to mention chopping firewood, gathering kindling, and making sure there was plenty of wood on the fire at all times.
I’d look around the campground and see most of the guys doing the same things. We were on vacation, but we were busy doing stuff – tweaking something, getting it just right. It’s part of our DNA. We just can’t help it.
We’re the husbands and fathers of those we love. We have to provide. We have to use our labor, our God-given talents as men to shelter, protect, and defend our families, even in the most trivial ways and on camping trips. And, yes, most of us are driven the same way on behalf of our country, our homeland, our communities and churches.
Give us a job to do and we’re happy, satisfied, complete. If we didn’t get dirt under our fingernails, then we would feel empty. It’s really that simple. Why men are psychoanalyzed and researched over and over again is a waste of time. Men need to do what men are meant to do – what they were created by God to do: they need to work or they can’t sleep at night. They’re tactile creatures. Using their hands to do a job is innate.
And my wife, who knows how to relax, is seated, comfortably, on a nice camping chair we just bought, like a princess on her throne, sipping from a glass of much deserved chardonnay, and looks at me doing non-stop odds and ends, shakes her head, completely befuddled. I wonder if she thinks all men are as crazy as I am.
Sure, I do take time in the early morning, when the sun’s just up, and you can see your breath on a brisk, cool morning. I love to hear the sound of a cold mountain stream or brook skipping its way over a stone-strewn bed and cast a fly. I love the way it feels as I release the line using my fingers to control its distance, to place my lure exactly where I want it to go. Every man wants to do that. To place things exactly where they want things to go, when it’s the right time, when it feels natural.
Men are control freaks. I don’t like flying in an airplane, because I want to fly the plane. I want to control my own destiny. I enjoy sailing only when I control the canvas and rudder. I never like it when someone else drives the car, because I want to be in command of the wheel. It’s always I.
Not because I’m an egotist (better ask my wife that question). But, because I need to be the director of my own play – nothing is more sacred to me than my wife and family, period.
To put these things into someone else’s hands would be the ultimate betrayal.
Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth, had to have felt the same way. Maybe he didn’t have WD40 and a Craftsman wrench (and duct tape, I couldn’t live without duct tape), but he had his tools: his saws, his mallet, his plane, his hand drill, his plumb bob and A-frame mason’s level. These were the tools of his trade. This was how he made a finished product from a piece of timber or raw wood. The same wood his foster-son would later be nailed upon.
And he must have instructed his son the only way he knew how – in carpentry. He taught him how to steam and plane a stave so that it could be fashioned into a barrel, strapped and secured with wooden hoops, before the age of the cooper. He taught him how to build a table or a chair. How to measure twice and cut once – all the necessary things a father teaches a son, which always have immeasurable value in any life-changing decision.
His decision: the girl, Mary, is pregnant. Not by him. She needs his help. He knows how to fix things. That is what he was born for. He has a dream. Everything in his life up to this point tells him to use the law. To banish, if not have her stoned to death. It is his right to do this. But, he had this dream. He was given his orders.
Joseph, poor and simple, strong, with forearms and hands and shoulders twice the size of most men, doesn’t hesitate. He believes. He is a soldier. A soldier who takes upon his back, and upon his heart, an unbelievable job. He accepts. He actually, without a moment’s pause, accepts. He is now the hand-servant of the Lord. It is his fiat – his “yes.” He now participates in the redemption of all mankind. But only because he said “yes” – because Joseph took it upon his own muscular shoulders to carry the burden which would eventually become our salvation.
Mary said “yes.” That was the first part. She said “be it done unto me.” But Joseph also had to say “yes.” Not vocally. Guys don’t have to use words. Deeds are more important. If he didn’t return the salute, if he hesitated, if he weighed things in the balance of his plum line, what would have happened?
Okay, there was certainly no WD40 and a Craftsman wrench, or duct tape, in Joseph’s time; although I really think he would appreciate these things.
After all, a carpenter can never have too many tools.
And, I think, Toby Keith would never compare himself or his own father to St. Joseph the Worker. No man in his right mind would. Nobody would want his job. You have to be called by the highest pay grade to do something like protecting and raising The God-Child. But, men can certainly relate to a guy named Joseph the carpenter. He’s the fellow next door. He doesn’t ask too many questions. He sees the situation for what it is and gets the job done. Fathers can identify with that. Good soldiers can, too.
Semper Fi. And have a great Father’s Day.