When he was little, our son 4M (now 16) was into ‘working man stuff’ – tools and machinery. One summer, the city re-worked our sewers, which meant that the street was torn up all summer, and a whole menagerie of heavy equipment passed in front of our porch the whole time. 4M was in juvenile testosterone heaven.
Hammers, in particular, held a kind of ‘Jungian archetypal’ fascination for him. A hammer was like a symbol of power for him – “I hammer, therefore I am”. Molly bought him a little tack-hammer, and he carried that hammer around with him like it was the Mighty Hammer of Thor. Of course, this also got us into the realms of parental nonsense – “I gave you this hammer, but don’t hammer anything.” I eventually gave him a little 2-foot chunk of a two-by-four, and a little box of nails, so he could hammer away to his heart's content.
One time I was working on some minor maintenance project, which required the use of my hammer. I brought 4M along with me, thinking that I could give him a few small hammering jobs where he could actually be helpful, and he was. But he also noticed that Dad’s hammer was bigger than his, which made perfect sense to his four-year-old cosmology – Dad was bigger and more powerful than he was, so it only stood to reason that Dad would have a bigger hammer. And it was hard to miss the vaguely (or maybe not-so-vaguely) phallic aspect of it.
That year, for Christmas, we went to my parents’ house for the holidays. One day while we were there, the wheels got to turning in 4M’s head – if Grandpa is Dad’s dad, then. . . He went to my dad and asked, “Grandpa, how big is your hammer?” My dad didn’t understand, and asked him to repeat the question.
“How big is your hammer, Grandpa?”
My dad gave a little chuckle, got up from where he was sitting, and went down into the basement, calling over his shoulder as he went, “I’ll be right back.”
A minute later, he returned, carrying a 12-pound sledge-hammer. 4M’s eyes bulged out of their sockets. “Oh, Grandpa – you’ve got a BIIIIIG hammer.”
“That’s right,” my dad told him. “And don’t you forget it!”
While we all rolled on the floor laughing.