Creating Your Own Normal Curve

Gender stereotypes in construction explored

green and white typewriter on black textile

Pro Bowl football player Rosey Grier changed my life forever but not the way you might imagine.  Yes, he was large (6’-4” and 285 pounds large).  Yes, he played a physically demanding and hard-hitting sport.  Yes, he looked every bit the image of a defensive lineman (he was an original member of the LA Rams Fearsome Foursome).  In 1968, he was a bodyguard for Robert Kennedy during his Presidential campaign and captured Sirhan Sirhan after the assassination.  And he did needlepoint.  Even his name (actually Roosevelt) belied this incongruence between vocation and avocation.   This early exposure led me down a path that, even had I known it, probably was taking me down the “road less travelled” made famous by Robert Frost.  It is only recently that I have become to fully understand and embrace this concept of willingly breaking the gender stereotypes.  We are probably a very typical family from the out side – – 2 kids, 2 working parents, a mortgage, 2 cars (1 minivan required), and lots of noise at home.  However, in many ways we are not the picture of the typical household as Deborah does most of the business travel and I am often tasked with helping out the kids on school projects that require a trip to Michael’s Craft Store and time spent at my drafting table in the basement.

While I might not have understood my own interests at an early age, I suppose my mother did and encouraged some less than typical activities.  Make no mistake, my childhood was filled with Little League games and soccer, and camping trips and Matchbox cars that have survived and are being attended to with similar care by my own son.   But I was also lots of other activities in my house.  All types of handicrafts including needlepoint, crocheting, knitting and sewing.  My mother got it into her head that needlepoint would be a good activity for an 11-year old.  At 11, I had no idea who Rosey Grier was except that he sang “It’s Alright to Cry” on the Free to be You and Me record for those of us who recall vinyl and record players.  I had no idea if he actually did needlepoint but it was a great story and a way to introduce a non-traditional activity to a pretty traditional household.  In fact, not only did he do needlepoint and macramé, way back in 1973 (who remembers the polyester shirts and striped pants?) he wrote a book called “Needlepoint for Men” which put him way out on the edge of traditional male hobbies.  Truth be told, I did not keep up with needlepoint but it did encourage me to be crafty and that has continued throughout the many years.

Over the past 12 years I feel every bit as crafty and, despite the financial ups and downs and frustration over job dilemmas, have embraced a less traditional role.  I do not spend every Sunday of the football season glued to the TV, though I do enjoy catching the Giants when I can, nor do I agonize over fantasy football teams.  When Jacob asks “can we bake bread?” the response is generally “what kind?” as I start rummaging for ingredients – – cranberry scones? Raisin-honey challah, anyone? – – you bet.  And when Sophie is looking for a teammate to practice basketball with, I’m usually headed for my sneakers and out to the backyard.  I am no saint, they do sometimes get a “no” or “later” but with kids of all ages (myself included) active and creative hands make for good results.  My crafty side goes back as far as to when I was my kids’ age and my mother taught me how to needlepoint – – she proudly pointed out “you know Rosey Grier needlepoints.”  Deborah reminds me that crafty can also be meant as clever or sharp or innovative.  When people ask me what I “do” and they mean in a professional manner, I have a challenge.  I have worked as an engineer, a business manager, a planner, a construction manager and a program manager.  I recently had a conversation with an executive at my company where I boiled it down to “I’m the mousetrap guy.”  After a few seconds and a quizzical look, I explained that I’m the guy who figures out a way to do things better – – build a better mousetrap.  It has been a consistent theme in my professional life though there is rarely a job title of Mousetrap Designer but a position I continue to find.  My job would be easier to fathom if I were a lawyer or doctor or stock broker.  But it would likely not suit my personality.

I have come to understand that sometimes you choose your path and sometimes your path chooses you.  I don’t subscribe to a fatalistic approach or an abdication of personal responsibility in career development and life but recurring themes often support a nature over nurture philosophy.  The enduring message for me is that there is room for the traditional and non-traditional and that stereotypes are just that – – stereotypes.  When math comes up in our house, Deborah groans and Sophie lights up.  Having taken lots of math classes in high school, college and business school, I liken this to statistics.  Explore the area beyond the first standard deviation or even the second. 

Go where most don’t go.  Or better yet, create your own “normal curve” and discover your own hidden “craft” in your work, life and family.