This article was previously published in Sword & Spade Magazine.
Tim Bennett, handyman and father, learns more from a son than he’ll ever teach him.
I call myself a handyman, and I truly enjoy the work that I do because I’m not doing the same thing every day. I often get to be challenged by working through problems that many people cannot do for themselves, and I help people to repair or improve their homes. I love that I get to work with my hands and be physically active while I go about my day. And I especially love my work when it is truly appreciated by my customer. Sure, my work always involves skills that I have used before, but every job is in a new place, the angles are different, the customer wants something unique, or I have to figure out how I am going to do a two-man job by myself. Being able to think through how to get a project done correctly and doing it makes a man feel useful, which helps a man feel like a man. We all want to be needed for a job, and we like being able to see what we have done.
My six-year-old son, Fulton, has Down Syndrome and will likely never be a real handyman. He didn’t walk on his own until he was three, talks a lot but doesn’t use a verbal language that is understood by most, and has no concept of how to use the toilet. Quite possibly, he will never be able to comprehend the instructions for installing a ceiling fan. Heck, he may not even recognize the difference between the various types of screw heads. Yet, he has expertise that has mostly eluded me for over four decades. I have learned some very important things from him, and I’m pretty certain he makes me a better handyman, hopefully a better father, and maybe a better husband.
I like to think that one day Fulton can come to work with me and be my “helper,” but I don’t think I will be billing his time. I believe much of our society probably pities Fulton or sees him as a drain because he does not offer any utility that our culture values or can measure. Certainly, there is a faction within our society that believes he is an unnecessary burden, but they couldn’t be more wrong. He has wisdom and peace that I have been blessed to witness every day.
I am not naturally a patient person, but Fulton has shown me how to become one. He never rushes from one thing to the next and finds joy in the simplest things. He is not wanting for more (except for maybe two minutes of more play every night before bed), and he is in awe of many things that for most would go unnoticed. Yes, he has the luxury of all his needs being met, but most of us do not suffer from a lack of care. I recently spent nine days in the hospital with Fulton, and he was completely satisfied every day by our simple conversations, reading the same few books, and the dozen matchbox cars that he had to play with in his bed. He was so happy to finally walk out of that hospital, but he was also so happy the day before when he made caves for his cars in his blankets. Given the choice, he would have preferred being at home with his mom and brothers and sisters, but he was at peace with where he was and did not think to dwell on what he might be missing.
Fulton is not perfect, but when I watch him go about his day, I am a bit envious. He acts with an absence of worry. He has something that draws in anyone who takes a couple moments to notice him and then makes them feel special and loved just by his attention and his genuine interest in them. By watching Fulton interact with people, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be the smartest guy in the room or have wild stories to share in order to bring light to people’s lives; sincere attention is what most people find meaningful and appreciate. Fulton has taught me that genuinely being in the moment and sharing myself with someone is deeply valuable and not difficult.
Fulton doesn’t really do anything spectacular, except that he has an innate sense of value for the moment and for people. I am extremely fortunate to have him as a living manual that I can reference daily to get some perspective on life. He truly helps me know how to better appreciate time and share myself and it with others. I don’t think Fulton understands everything he does, but he leaves a mess of smiles and love in his wake. For a boy who can do so little, he certainly teaches at least one man quite a bit.