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I traded my dolls for oil, grease, and a pair of soccer boots

The lessons a little girl learned as dad’s apprentice mechanic.

By Dorothy Diaz

Being an older sister was a joy when I was growing up. My dad took me places where my younger sisters weren’t allowed to go.

He would take me to the local pub to shoot pool with him and his buddies, or to work with him at his Auto Body shop, which he referred to as “The Chop Shop”, in Randburg.

My mum didn’t like me tagging along. Not because she agreed with gender classifications, but because she feared for my safety around what she called “unsavoury” characters.

She was afraid I would one day ask her to light a cigarette or hand me a glass of beer. My dad thought my mum was being silly, because he had only good intentions.

He wanted to raise girls who knew the locals and who were smart. But it was more because he needed a “handy-man”, I think.

I have an older brother, but he refused to go anywhere with my dad or do the things boys were supposed to do with their fathers. He didn’t want to get dirty or smell of petrol, grease, and cigarettes, I guess.

My brother preferred to dress up and dance and pretend to be Michael Jackson. I still have pictures of him with his hair relaxed, wearing white gloves and a white suit.

I got to hang around the chop shop with my dad a lot, helping him fix cars and getting my hands dirty.

At the tender age of 10, I could start and drive a car, and I knew where the petrol filter was.

I got laughed at by other girls for having a greasy and oily face, or playing with dolls that smelled of car grease.

My mum would say “just laugh with them and make sure that you laugh the loudest and maybe they will stop teasing you.”

I enjoyed playing soccer more than I enjoyed playing with dolls. And so the defiant little girl with her so-called boyish ways gathered other defiant little girls and we started a girls soccer team.

We played against the boys’ teams for fun. I played Central Midfielder.

I usually ended up being mistaken for a striker as well, because I could shoot the ball hard, straight, and on target. I wasn’t afraid of a bit of tackling from the boys.

My sisters were no different. We enjoyed playing on the grass and in the sand. We climbed trees, we would target shoot at the birds with sling shots, and we all owned a tin of marbles.

Looking back at my childhood, I realise that this is properly why most of my adult friends are male.

I am that chick who will choose a soccer or basketball game over a romantic movie any day.

I laugh at the memory of getting stuck on the M1 after my sister and I got a flat tyre. Many Good Samaritans, all men, stopped and asked if we needed help.

They found it quite interesting that we said no thank you, dressed in formal skirts with high heels while we were changing the tyre.

But this is who we are today, thanks to my dad. I have every tool a mechanic would need in their toolbox. The boys often call me when with they need a tow bar, a shifting spanner, or tools to unblock a drain.

I have become the go-to-guy for my male and female friends. I am the local handyman. My dad still gives me a call if he is short of a tool or needs help servicing his car. If I can do it myself, then I will.

I keep nail glue in my bag, because I’m not afraid to chip or get a bit of dirt under my nails.

Sometimes my partner gets annoyed when I climb a step ladder to change light bulbs, while he sits and watches TV, instead of asking him for help.

I would rather have him do the laundry for me, and I can change the light bulbs. In our house, when I was growing up, a chore was a chore, and you had better get it done when it was your turn.

It did not matter if you were a boy or a girl. We did the garden, took out the rubbish, washed cars, prepared the braai, did the laundry, washed the dishes, walked the dogs.

I have raised my son to do the same. I give him a hand with cleaning the pool, gardening, or taking out the trash. He is not afraid to cook or bake. I look forward to tasting his delicious meals, especially his mac and cheese.

He loves sports, mostly basketball, and appreciates my knowledge of the game. I have become a basketball mum-coach, who screams and shouts on match days, much to the dislike of the referees. I question if they understand the rules of the game.

The men in my house are much better at cooking than I am. I guess modern society has progressed to the point where I can come home after a day’s hard work to a clean kitchen and a home cooked meal, all well prepared by my son or partner.

I am glad my dad taught me to do what I love and what makes me happy, despite what people think or say.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.

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