There's just something about a guy who knows how to use his hands. What is it? I don't really know, but when I see the labor-strengthened arms and back of a knowledgeable man expertly wielding power or manual tools while fixing a car, truck, or fire engine, or a quietly confident man, seasoned tool belt slung just right on his hips, nails between his lips, rhythmically setting nails into wood with a perfectly weighted hammer, I get a shivery thrill.
Experience is worn in the posture, the gait, the expression. With nothing to prove, there is no preening, no awareness of whether anyone is observing him or not. Who cares? He knows what he's about. He knows what he wants. There's a job to do, a pattern to follow, know-how to practice. Similar to a musician, a man who adeptly uses his hands finds all such work practice. It's what separates bona fide men from weekend wannabes.
When Tom is working on a car he becomes one with it, no barrier, no worry about his clothes, his skin, his hair. I've seen him climb right on top of the engine, worming his way down between hoses and belts for a better look, a hands on feel. He pulls out precision tools which look as if they should be in a doctor's black bag, with fancy gauges and tubes. He bangs to loosen and pulls to move with terrific strength. Focused and determined, he works the vehicle the way I knead bread, subconsciously applying skill, method, and intuition toward the task. It's a beautiful thing.
The same holds true when Tom builds. The sight of him shirtless, tan, his well-formed, lean muscles taut while he easily carries lumber or bags of cement mix on his shoulder causes my breathing to quicken. The speed at which he works, not hasty, not slow, just a well-paced rhythm which gets the job done. Gravity doesn't seem to have the same pull on him as it does on me. He will hoist himself up onto the roof so quickly that I am left to wonder how he did it. Where'd he put his feet? His hands? Hmmm. He seems to just bounce right up!
Today I saw a lean, strong, tanned young man walking out of the building supply store. Wearing a simple navy tee-shirt tucked into leather-belted jeans, along with work boots, and a dark, faded billed cap, he carried his purchases in a brown, thick-papered bag in one hand with an icy bottle of Coke wedged between two work-stained fingers, arm swinging, relaxed. His other hand separated his truck keys making ready to unlock the door. He walked the way I imagine he worked, not hurriedly, not sluggishly, but with measured steps. Not at all self-conscious, he seemed to be doing what I do when I bake, what Tom does when he fixes or builds, he was thinking, planning, getting his stuff together in his head. I wondered if there was an appreciative young woman waiting for him at the end of his long day. And maybe even a baby who would snuggle into the crook of his gentle arm.
It was the observance of this young guy which clarified for me that it is gentle, kind, skilled, physically working men who are at the top of my Authentic Man List. Not red-necks. Not posers in big double-trucks (the kind with the second bench-seat in the cab "for the family"). Not grungy, smelly, dirty-minded, uncouth fellows who really don't know how to do anything well. Not lazy men, no no. Not the big-bellied, smooth-faced, pretty-smelling, perfectly coifed, bit-a-facial-hair type ("I'm sorta baad!"), the tidy dressers who can put together a book shelf from Wal-Mart. Definitely not peacock corporate suit-wearing types. No, I like a genuine man as nature intended.
Tom is perfect that way.
Ben says Tom is the smartest man he knows.
Joe says he's the hardest-working, and 'does only quality work.'
The girls know him as, "Daddeeee. Will you help me? Will you play with me. I love you!" They bring out his gentleness, and he loves it.
Me? I still find myself all aflutter when I see him use his body and mind to work. It puts me right in my place, for I cannot begin to know or do what he does. Awe for him conquers me.
One word describes my husband just fine. Man.