Friday 15 June 2012

Childish Things

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man I put away childish things.
I Corinthians 13:11

My right wrist hurts. Seriously, it’s fucking wrecked. I really think I might have strained something. We got our first dial-up internet connection when I was 16-years-old, and even all the opportunities for self-abuse that presented didn’t result in my forearm hurting this much.

Now the wank gag’s out of the way, I’d like to segue seamlessly from playing with myself to playing with other types of toys. Remote control cars, to be precise. I never had one as a kid, even though I always really wanted one. I suspect I would have become disappointed with it pretty quickly though, as I got frustrated with my own lack of control and terrible manual dexterity [wank gag #2 goes here].

There’s a family living across the road from us. At a guess, I’d say that the parents are about our age, but they’ve got three kids to our one. For christmas these kids bought their father a remote control car. I’m assuming; it might have been a present to himself, or more likely it was from the kids in the same way my son ’bought’ my wife some cake for mother’s day (i.e. she dropped sledgehammer hints until I couldn’t ignore them any more). Either way, he gets this new toy and indulges his new favourite solitary pastime with increasing regularity [#3] on the only large flat surface around – the road outside our houses [#4, worryingly].

My mum and sister were visiting in January, and they both found this hilarious. A fully grown man, a father and husband, playing about with a kid’s toy at all hours. We’d hear the whiny little motor start up just after sunrise as he put in seemingly endless hours practicing hand-brake turns, or whatever the equivalent is if you don’t have a hand-break. Mum and Sis both initially stared open mouthed, almost as if he really had committed a social gaffe on a par with public masturbation. Frankly, I didn’t find it that surprising. Nor, in all honesty, did I think it was all that funny or worthy of ridicule.

This isn’t a piece about the parlous state of Japanese men. God knows there’s more than enough to be written on the subject (in all honesty I’ve been kicking around some stuff of my own, but still can’t get it to quite work. Hey ho, I’m sure you’ll cope without it). But just as I’m now not entirely sure whether terms such as ‘barrier free’ are real English or wasei eigo, this is another situation where I don’t know if my expectations and responses have been conditioned excessively by my time in Japan.

A Barrier

‘Kidulthood’ is a Western phenomenon as much as a Japanese one. One that, if TV commercials and sit-coms are to be believed, affects men far more than women. Spend an hour watching a commercial channel during prime-time and you’d be forgiven for thinking that all Western men had Asperger’s; idiotic lumbering sacks of meat, incapable of communicating anything except their most basic needs, which they do by way of grunts and hand signals and encompass alcohol, alcohol, pints, alcohol, rancid artificial musk, alcohol, mates, charred fat, footy, and alcohol.

These self-propelled flesh mannequins are kept in check solely by the calm wisdom and selfless forbearance of their hyper-competent wives and girlfriends, who are all that prevent their menfolk from alternating between wallowing in shit-stacks of pestilent filth whilst watching footy on TV with their mates and committing face-meltingly humiliating social faux pas whenever they’re allowed out in public [#5]. The question of course is how women that intelligent and aware ended up with goons like that in the first place. Not so very smart after all, are you Missy? Who’s laughing now, eh, bitches?

I digress. Advertising and most sit-coms are degrading and humiliating experiences for everyone involved. I should think that’s taken as a given and I probably didn’t need to labour the point quite so much. I mean, some of my best friends work in PR, but I wouldn’t want my child to marry one of them.

In more concrete terms, we’re taking longer and longer to acquire the traditional trappings of adulthood. We’re getting married later, reproducing later, starting careers later. The degree to which this is a choice our generations are making for themselves, or whether it’s a direct consequence of choices made by previous generations, is besides the point (in this instance, at least).

The degree to which these delays/postponements are good or bad things overall is also not really worth discussing. Whatever works for the individuals involved. Raising our son is the hardest thing either my wife or I have ever done (which speaks volumes about how fortunate we’ve both been, I know). We’ve both come to it later than our parents did, who came to it later than theirs. This means we’ve both got a decent amount of financial, professional, and personal capital to fall back on, and we’ve still found it immensely taxing. I can’t imagine how tough it would have been if we hadn’t had the time to build up those reserves beforehand. But that’s just us. A couple of my friends from school have kids who’ll be starting secondary education soon enough themselves, and they seem perfectly happy with their lot.

Which is why I’m not so quick to judge Tonari-san and his remote-controlled car. It is a touch childish, but it’s no worse than the hour or two I sometimes manage to carve out for myself at weekends to play Civilization IV. Or the model train sets some of my friends’ fathers had in their lofts when I was a kid. It’s harmless, he seems to enjoy it, and doesn’t seem to be precious about letting his kids have a go when they want. Of course he’s only got daughters so they’re not interested all that often.

I have no idea what goes on behind their front door, but I somehow doubt it’s a heaving shrine to Muscle Cars and Professional Wrestling. The RC car is certainly no more immature than some of the things Western men are encouraged to aspire to, and as an outlet for his masculine ego it actually seems pretty restrained.

Fair play to him, I say. It’s all very well harking back to an earlier golden age when men’s pastimes were those of proper adults: reading the newspaper; listening to the wireless; discussing the re-introduction of the gold standard; digging over their allotments; oppressing women. The good old days, eh? Men were men and women knew their place.

No. It’s better now, for the most. Not perfect, but better. There’s a difference between clinging on to lost youth and the occasional healthy indulgence [#6].

I’ve obviously been unable to enjoy my indulgence of choice recently because of my screwed-up wrist [#7]. It’s fucked up, not because of any RSI from the constant right-clicking on individual units (stack-attack automatic selection is rarely the best choice, don’t you find?), but because I spent the weekend laying a lawn, and getting the ground level was a fucking nightmare. I had to shift a good few hundred kilos of dirt around and reckon I must have wrenched something.

Worth it though, because now it looks exactly like this.

Clearly I was feeling like a proper man as I was doing this. This is what fathers, this is what men, do. They accept their responsibilities, dig holes, and improve their family’s home and surroundings. But mainly they dig holes. Maybe drill some holes as well [#8. No, wait..]. Or knock holes into a wall or cut them into a goddamn plank of wood.

Holes being very much the theme here.

So you can imagine the slight internal snort of derision I experience when I hear a whiney little electric motor start up across the way. Here’s me, being all mature, adult, and just damned manly, and he’s dicking around with his toys again. Imagine my surprise when I stick my head over the edge of the fucking massive hole I’d been digging, only to find it’s not his little car making that noise, but a drill. A proper drill in some proper wood and he appears to be making some kind of Wendy house for his kids, from scratch, like a proper man.

Credit where it’s due. If you can step up and do it for the people who matter to you, when it matters to them, then who cares how ‘immature’ your amusements are the rest of the time? And really, that's not 'being a man' so much as just 'being an adult.' Tonari-san seems to be a considerate neighbour, a devoted husband and a loving father, so I’m inclined to cut him a bit of slack with his choice of hobbies. He can keep his childish things and I can keep mine; no need to put them away as long as you’re doing the important stuff first.

The whiny little motor still pisses me right off, though.


  1. A Japanese man using power tools? (I don't think there's even a Japanese working class that does: don't foreign visa over-stayers fill that roll?) Odds are he's worth befriending, or I should say the odds look better than with the regular middle-class Japanese husband-twink.

    When I was dating my J-wife in Toronto I put up curtain rods for her. She was surprised at how nonchalant I was: size-up, mark with a pencil, stand on a chair, drill into concrete with a hammer-drill and carbide bit. She'd never seen a, so-called, 'educated' man do that, or even know the vocabulary, much less have the tools. And for your readers I am sure it is no big deal, even if they had to borrow a drill from a friend.

    1. I certainly can't claim to be an expert at all this, but I am surprised at how often my wife will assume we need to call someone, when I'd assumed I'd just give it a go myself. And not in the typical sit-com idiot male way which inevitably leads to a flooded kitchen. Just simple stuff.

      That said, I'm still a little wary about putting up shelves in our house. I miss bricks and mortar, I really do.

  2. I'd comment about being a proper man and all, but I'm the twice-divorced guy who quits his job every couple of years and goes to Macau and Vegas to play poker full time only to get bored with it and come back to Tokyo, which surprisingly enough always seems to welcome me back.

    I do envy you having the yard to work on, though...

    1. Lots of ways to skin a cat. You still enjoy making holes in stuff though, right?

  3. "Delays/postponements are good or bad things overall is also not really worth discussing" - no they are not. Discussing can start to sound a lot like complaining or lamenting when it comes to why 'we' waited to start our own little dysfunctional families. Why pour salt on that wound?

    "Because we can!" suggests a voice off the shoulder.

    Okay, before this comment goes 'totally whack' with the "How to Get Ahead of Advertising" references, we'll sober up.. but just for a minute.

    In our neck of the woods, there are plenty of folk who know how to build stuff that works, mostly. Only thing is, they tend to be retired. Just across the street, our neighbor had a beautifully maintained industrial-green table saw big enough to hold a full sheet of plywood. God, that thing was hot. Well, he passed on a few years ago. And our sky-walking neighbor, he had a very nice chop-saw. Okay, now I'm getting a little depressed.

    Digging in the dirt will probably always be fun for the male drone. That is what we do. As well as setting mole traps, rat traps, stucco walls, build decks, barns, shacks, fences, and the like with very little formal woodwork training. And we break things.

    But nothing ever really prepared us for parenthood.

    1. While we're on this whole trip, since his retirement my Dad has amassed an arsenal of power tools and other more traditional kit. I'm not really sure how much he actually uses any of it, but it seems to comfort him to know it's around. It's almost like he was waiting for us all to clear off before he splashed out, though. Make of that what you will...

  4. I just read another post with this:
    "even though I am no longer into nun songs."

    I thought for sure it was "sentence of the day" until reading this:

    "These self-propelled flesh mannequins are"

    How quickly the mighty sentences fall!!

    BTW...I wanna exercise my right forearm looking at that bEAUUUUTIFUL Lawn!!! Man that is sexy!!!Seriously. I miss having a nice lawn.

    1. Thanks, though that first sentence has a pleasingly disquieting history all of it's own. Which blog was it on? I really want to know why they fell out of love...