I’ve been sensitive lately about gender stereotypes. Why is “soccer mom” the preferred term? Why is it assumed that moms should have that loathsome duty? Of course, I might never have thought about it if I hadn’t become a “derby dad” this year.
Our six-year-old Cub Scout – let’s call him “Doodlebug” – brought home his first Pinewood Derby kit last December. But when he emptied the box, I thought we’d been had – there was no car!
Instead, there was a seven-inch block of pinewood, four nails, and four wheels. When I realized the implication, I looked at my wife and said, “Good luck with that.” But she wasn’t buying.
It’s just assumed the dad is the right man for this job. But I’m not a handyman. I replaced our kitchen sink last fall, fixtures to pipes, and am still proud of that – but I’ve tapped my handiness quota for life.
I didn’t even have the tools to make a pinewood car. We tried a coping saw; apparently, we couldn’t cope. Having bent its blade beyond recognition, I did what any dad would do – bought a power tool. Sort of. It’s a handheld Dremel rotary tool.
Some handymen prefer to work with a stationary Dremel, so I also bought the customized Dremel vice. I clamped it to our kitchen table, locked the Dremel in place, and took the pine block to it – whereupon it took the pine block from me. Turning at an approximate speed of 35,000 rpm, the blade catapulted the block across the room, where it scratched my new sink.
Reversing the handyman’s preferred setup, I clamped the block in the vise and held the tool. This worked better, although the Dremel came close to going airborne a few times.
Doodlebug took some turns with the Dremel and we bonded over the shared use of a power tool. Too bad he didn’t believe me when I tried to tell him the vacuum cleaner is another power tool – I got stuck cleaning the inch of pine dust from our kitchen floor.
After reducing the block to arguably a car shape, Doodlebug picked a design scheme – black with astronomy stickers. Painting and finishing progressed without incident (involving neither power tools nor me) and “The Comet” was born. At only slightly more than our out-of-pocket costs from when Doodlebug was born.
The night of the race, I realized how far the Derby has evolved since I was a Cub. Kids were transporting their cars in metal cases designed to immobilize and protect the contents; I looked at Doodlebug’s brown paper bag and mumbled an apology as we walked in, only to realize car designs have also changed.
My generation chose from making a red car, a yellow car, or a black car. The really creative kids daringly opted for a blue car.
Today’s Cubs shape their cars like anything but cars; we saw animals, pencils, coffins, guitars, hot dogs, skateboards, androids, and golf courses (complete with players, trees, sand traps and beer carts). Ours looked like … a black car.
Two designs really stood out, the first being a tub of popcorn. That’s an inside joke among Cub Scouts; it’s akin to a Girl Scout building a car that looks like Thin Mints.
I’ve come to refer to the other notable car as the “Second Amendment Special.” It looked like a military humvee, but mounted on its roof was an actual bullet – .308 diameter, 150-grain, flat-base Sierra. Standard sniper round, so I’m told. But it was loaded into an unfired brass, with nothing to set the charge off; therefore, the owner assured me, it would neither harm spectators nor give the humvee an unfair speed advantage.
The final difference from 30 years ago is in the races themselves. The winners used to be deemed by human judgment, often resulting in disputed calls and occasional fistfights. That actually happened in my pack; I still can’t believe one kid’s dad punched the Cubmaster.
Today’s races are monitored by state-of-the-art technology; sensors in the finish lines determine the winner of each heat. They convey this information to a computer that displays finish times – no disputes, no bruises.
The Comet clocked in at 2.35 seconds from start to finish, or 209.2 mph – tops in his den. According to the by-laws, the winners’ dads have to serve on next year’s race committee – and build the track.
My wife is still chuckling about that, but she won’t be laughing much longer. Doodlebug just signed up for soccer….