Check Engine


Sometimes I don’t feel like a man.

Let me rephrase.

Sometimes I don’t feel very manly.

Much better. (Or is it?)

On your paternal side, you don’t exactly come from a long line of bookworms. College was mentioned twice in my household growing up. Once because my dad was laughing at a joke I told about wanting to go to college– well, it didn’t start off as a joke, but he laughed pretty hard, so I chalked it up as a comedy win. The second time is something I’ll never forget. After a long summer working for my father’s house painting company, a summer that saw me commit several time-wasting errors, my father turned to me while driving us home from a job site and said, “You need to go to college. Find a job where there’s air conditioning. Find a job where you can use your mind.”

I knew what my dad meant. He was essentially saying that we aren’t cut from the same cloth. My father works 12-17 hour days, often out in the hot Arizona sun. He seems to love it. I didn’t, and it was obvious. An appreciation for manual labor is just one of the many masculine traits that seemed to have skipped me. As a man from Wyoming, I have to carry around the shame associated with never firing a gun, or the fact that I don’t particularly enjoy red meat. Above all my other machismo deficiencies, however, is the fact that I know nothing about cars.

I know you put gas in the “gas hole,” and push the “go button” with your foot. That’s been enough so far.

This week, my lack of a grasp on all things vehicular revealed itself in a big way. This week, I got hit with the dreaded “CHECK ENGINE” light.

The check engine light is only called the check engine light because a “prepare thyself for financial rape” light doesn’t fit on the dash. Mechanics are like lawyers, or maybe more like dentists, in that you can’t navigate certain emergencies without them, so they charge you accordingly. Both of our cars broke down this week, and when we got the estimate for what it would cost to fix them both, we knew we’d be without reliable transportation for a while. That’s when we did something that your kid brains won’t be able to comprehend, and bought a third car. That’s right- we couldn’t afford immediate repairs on the first two cars, so we just bought another. Money is weird when you’re a grown up. You can finance pretty much anything. Just trust that we’re not crazy.

At this point, we’re feeling a little better about our situation- and then the third car, the one we bought just hours earlier, starts to violently shake at a stoplight, then BAM!


As I sat there, chuckling at the absurdity of the situation while feeling as helpless as a turtle on its back, I resolved to make sure you three don’t find yourself in a similar situation. Maybe these are catastrophic engine issues that I couldn’t help even if I did know what I was doing, but the point is I wouldn’t know either way. Whether we are, or are not cut from the same cloth, there is both honor and sure footing in the modern male renaissance. I want you to have a thirst for reading and writing as much as I want you to be able to fix a leaky faucet, or replace your radiator. This means I’m going to have to learn new tricks in order to teach you, and I’m an old dog.

My own check engine light is on, and I hope you can all respect the repairs I make so that I can help drive you where you need to go.




  1. This has nothing to do with being “manly” or masculine or anything else.. It just has to do with the fact that you don’t know anything about cars..that’s ok. you know a lot about other things.. you are a fantastic teacher and parent.. there are other people who are fantastic car people and you turn to them for help//
    I love your candor

  2. When you find out what the ‘Check engine’ light means, can you let me know how to switch it off please? Mine’s been on for 2 years and 10 months – 2 months after I bought it. It got me home that day, so I’ve carried on regardless (I just make sure my breakdown cover is watertight). But it would be good to switch it off and know the car’s not about to explode.

  3. “prepare thyself for financial rape”!!!!! That line was too funny. Another wonderful letter. When ever I read these stories I think back to when I was younger and how my dad must have felt while raising me and how he feels now. There are so many emotions packed into every letter and its fantastic!!!!!!!!

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