The minister I lived with after my parents died believed there was boys’ work and girls’ work. He loved to make and repair things with his own hands and expected his sons and the other boys who lived with him to take an interest. After all, they each had an X chromosome. Unfortunately for him, they had no interest, no desire, probably no aptitude for the work he loved. They loved cartoons, bikes, comic books, ball games, and food.
On Saturdays when he pottered in his workshop in the cellar, his voice could often be heard shouting for one of the boys. Unless he called for a particular boy by name, there was no answer even if one of them was in the kitchen near the cellar door. When he shouted a boy’s name, eventually, that child would appear at the top of the stairs.
Eyes shining, the minister would speak as if offering a great treat, “Do you want to come with me to look for parts?”
“I haven’t finished my chores.” Each gave the stock reply in a voice like lead. They knew any other excuse meant not only being hit and forced to accompany him, but also hearing a long sermon that evening on being a dutiful child and taking an interest in their father’s work as the girls mutely giggled. (Those boys who were not actually his sons probably rejoiced in silence. They had no genetic responsibility to be interested in his work.)
On Saturdays, the cellar, which housed balls and other play gear, was a dangerous place. “Come here and hold this 2 by 4!” the minister would shout to a ball carrying boy who had completed his chores and only wanted to play. “Don’t hold it that way!” the minister would shout, rarely explaining the way he wanted it to be held. “Put your back into it! Hold it tightly!”
At dinner that night, the minister would crow and regale us with exaggerated stories of some boy’s failure to be a real boy and do a man’s work. We remained silent, only laughing at appropriate intervals.
I, being without an X chromosome, was not allowed to help. When I offered, I was sent to work on my embroidery or to engage in some other activity suitable for girls.
But I was more than interested. I was intrigued, so intrigued, I’d make my way to his workshop when he was away and invent communication devices, spy tools, and all sorts of other neat things. They didn’t really work — there was no internet to teach me the things the man wouldn’t. Since I broke a number of items, including the minister’s workshop television, it was probably for the best that I was born before the advent of the internet. Occasionally, I was allowed to ride along with him when he went to find parts. It’s one of my favourite memories of a man who left me with so few fond memories of him.
As an adult, I enjoy embroidery and all sorts of things the minister would call girls’ activities. And though I still lack an X chromosome, I also love hardware stores, tools, painting, mathematics, repairing broken things — all sorts of boys’ activities. It’s such a shame he never knew that one child living in his house would have loved to learn about his interests. It’s such a shame he denied himself so much.