I opened the sealed box and gently pulled out my new wooden stereo system, complete with old-fashioned turntable.
The directions booklet stayed inside the box, tucked inside its plastic bag, sealed and untouched.
The same routine with every gift I received this past holiday season. And every new appliance or gadget I have purchased, too, in recent years.
Somewhere along my life’s path, I stopped reading the directions.
I’ve been winging it.
For better, or usually worse.
How does it work?
I’ll figure it out. Or not.
A rare moment of personal reckoning. I thought to myself, “No wonder you can’t get anything to work? And why you can’t fix anything.”
Why have I stopped reading directions? Lack of time or patience, I’m sure. Maybe I think I know it all. Or if it doesn’t come easily or naturally, I’m not interested. If it doesn’t work, I will buy a new one, or someone will fix it for me.
Sure, there are some guys who can get by in life without reading directions. They’re Fixers. Fixers fix everything, naturally. Electricity. Plumbing. Holes in the wall. Construction. Landscaping. Doors off a hinge. Their garages are neat and organized. Every tool has its home.
But I’m a Breaker. Tools jammed into a kitchen drawer. Favorite tool is a hammer. And a tube of Gorilla Glue. Read a manual or directions? Just another guy’s opinion. Thick, ham hands. Easily distracted.
As a Breaker, I can wander around Home Depot or Lowe’s for hours because I’m not sure which tool I need for my project. I usually end up explaining my dilemma to the clerk. Often, he looks at me and says, “You should probably call someone to fix it for you.”
If I’m lucky, he has a local fixer’s name and number.
I’m not sure when I quit reading directions, but probably about the same time I quit leaving or listening to voice mails on my phone, too. And quit reading good books and magazines at a free opportunity. Started reading newspapers online.
Pressed for time, you know.
So much going on.
I’m not going to blame my genes for this one, either. My dad was one of the greatest Breakers of all-time. He couldn’t fix much. But Dad always read the directions. Always had the sheets of white paper carefully laid out in front of him. Often made his own step-by-step directions to complement the official directions.
Dad loved to tinker with our old cars. The problem was that he rarely knew how to fix them. Our garage was in the basement. Into the wee hours of the night, I’d wake up to a slammed car hood and a stream of cusswords that were never meant to be said together.
“Get the car fixed?” I’d ask Dad the following morning. I knew the answer.
“Not yet,” he said. “Finish it tonight.”
There was always one of those very large, hardback fix-it manuals on the kitchen table, with pages bent and sections highlighted.
A year or so before he died, Dad and I tackled installing a new basketball pole and basket in my old driveway. We carefully measured the area and sorted all parts on the driveway. We poured as much concrete in that hole as they used to build the old Busch Stadium.
“You can never use too much concrete,” Dad said many times. We tempted the rule on this project. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. We attached the basket and then discovered the goal was only nine feet high.
Dad reasoned. “We are a foot shorter than most guys. Our hoop can be a foot shorter, right?”
I can remember my Dad saying to me that Saturday afternoon many decades ago, “One mistake: We should have followed the directions.”
It’s time for me get back to basics. I’m not into making resolutions. But my promise to myself is I’m going to start reading the directions again. Listen to the experts. Stop winging it. Take time to read the fine print in my life again.