Winston Churchill, who perfected the art of the clever put-down, once described a political opponent as “a modest little man who has a good deal to be modest about.” The last part of his remark is an accurate description of me — though I can’t say I’m humble, I certainly have much to be humble about! My general ineptness is well known to all who have even a casual acquaintance with me, and that’s no exaggeration.

If you were to speak to any of my friends, they would confirm how I continually surprise them with fresh discoveries of my inadequacies. I even provide them a certain degree of entertainment, especially when it comes to the hands-on and the mechanical.

Needing Help

A while back, someone informed me that my car’s rear left tire — or was it the rear right? — was low on air. Now, in fact, I had no idea how to put air in a car tire. (Really). So I turned to a friend — a close friend, I’ll have you know — and asked for his help.

In such a moment, the godly and servant-hearted response from a friend would be to cheerfully answer, “Yes, let me help you.” Instead, my good friend exclaimed, “I cannot believe it. I cannot believe it! You don’t know how to put air in your tire?”

On and on like this he went, until he faced me squarely and added, “You, my friend, are a moron.”

My friend was merely having fun at my expense, but the truth of the matter is that on a previous occasion I had actually tried, on my own, to put air in my car’s tire. As I knelt to place the air hose on the stem — or whatever that little dealy’s called where you attach the hose to the tire — the extremely loud noise that erupted was an intimidating PHHHHT! PHHHHHHT!

Then a loud ringing started: DING DING DING DING! I was suddenly consumed by an intense fear that my tire was only seconds from blowing up. It’s going to explode, I told myself, and you’re going to die. And at your funeral, all your friends — while wiping away tears in the midst of their mourning — will be shaking their heads and saying to themselves, “What an idiot!”

I’m convinced that the sum effect of my attempt that day was only to let out more air than I put in. And as I drove away from the station with a badly underinflated tire, I could almost hear the faint sound of the station attendant’s laughter following me home.

Against All Logic

Now you might assume that in a normal human being, such ineptness couldn’t possibly coexist with any significant measure of pride. Someone as unskilled as I am would, naturally, be humble, right? However, let me assure you beyond doubt that both incompetence and pride are very evident in my life.  Let me illustrate with another story.

One day my daughter informed me that our car was making a strange noise, so I went out to investigate. She tried to prepare me, but in no way did I anticipate the violent shrieking that assaulted my ears upon starting the car. I immediately turned off the engine.

In such a moment, wisdom demands one course of action only: Get out of the car, walk back into the house, and call a trustworthy auto-repair service.

That would have been the appropriate and prudent response. Instead, I followed the arrogant male instinct, which requires at bare minimum that the male lift the hood and stare intently at the engine. After all, neighbors might be watching, and we want to at least give the appearance that we have some mechanical knowledge.

But given my personal history, what groundless self-assurance could possibly motivate me to lift the hood to examine my engine? The only thing I actually know how to do is check whether the container for window-washer fluid needs refilling! So I checked that — with great authority. (It was more than half full).

Then I shut the hood (also with great authority) and, proud fool that I am, got back into the car and turned the ignition once more — as if my having merely stared at the engine was sufficient to repair it; as if the broken parts were now calling to one another, “He’s seen us! Get back together, quick!”