The Hard Hat

Raising the Barn and Lowering the Blood Pressure

Back in the mid 1800s the idea of “leisure time” was a foreign concept. Most people worked, finished the work and started some other work. There was very little down time or time for anything that didn’t directly involve making a living. The majority of households were farming families of one kind or another and working from sun up to sun down was the norm not the exception. Even for kids old enough to understand and be taught there were chores to do each day. Women worked not only outside the home, as in out in the barn, out in the fields, out in the garden, but they also were “housewives” that cooked and cleaned and canned and washed and…well you know the story. Even their supposed “leisure” activities involved things that were important to the household and meant a better life for the family. Things like quilting, candle making, knitting and sewing. Everything that went on was for the survival and betterment of ones family. It was not an easy life by any means.

Fast-forward a hundred years to the mid 1900s. Almost all the tasks that were once done by hand and took days are now done by machine and take only hours and in some cases only minutes. This new industrial age of faster and easier made leisure time a common thing in modern America. Farming became automated and took half the time, clothing and blankets could now be bought in stores as well as bread and milk. Candles and gaslights were replaced with electricity which was quickly followed by television, the family car and telephones.

Leisure time took on new meaning and with it came the birth of the country club, social organizations, neighborhood organizations, travel, resorts and of course the good ol’ backyard cookout. Families got together for birthdays, neighbors had each other over to talk about world affairs. Card playing clubs met regularly and of course there was the yearly family vacation. Leisure time was as common as breathing.

Now fast-forward a mere fifty years to our present day. We have come full circle. With the advent of bigger better faster everything our lives and time have now become overwhelmingly over scheduled. Cell phones, computers and email, iPods, Blackberries, 978 cable channels all scream 24/7 for our attention. The advent of wireless communication makes anyone, anywhere available at any time to everyone. Once again, we have no leisure time because instead of needing to work hard to survive, we need to work hard just to keep up and meet all the demands we have placed on ourselves. At this rate in another fifty years we will be completely obsolete, as humans and the world will be run for us by our machines. Zager and Evans had it right with the song “2525”. Don’t remember them? Think, “I, Robot”.

Not surprisingly the incidence of stress and stress related diseases has gone up ten fold since our forefathers time as well as suicides, bankruptcies and divorce. We pop more pills, drink more spirits, eat way too much, don’t sleep nearly enough let alone exercise at all and then wonder why we are sick and tired all the time. The tragedy is that we have done this to ourselves folks. We have crammed our lives so full of gadgets, stuff and running from one thing to the next that we have forgotten about people and connection and time to relate to those around us. You disagree? Ok, when was the last time you actually wrote a letter? Not an email, a letter. You remember, the things that people used to do with the stationary, a pen and stamps, in your own handwriting. An actual letter to someone you care about. I sure can’t remember the last time I did. And guys, have you ever written a love letter? Yeah, me neither. At least not that I can remember. My communications with my wife now amount to a quick phone call during the day, when I can fit it in, and a quick “how are you, yeah fine here, ok, love ya, bye”. That is the whole conversation. Ironically, she has a handful of letters, yes, love letters, yes, from someone else, that she received almost 20 years ago. Why does she keep them? And I quote “because they are proof that he took the time and made the effort to tell me how he felt.” She and this guy have been best friends for many years now so no, I am not offended or worried. She keeps the letters as tactile, solid proof that once someone took time to say how they felt. Wow. You can’t tie a cell phone call in blue ribbon and read it again later, can’t even do that with an email because it is not the same. And their friendship has endured. Interesting.

When was the last time you took the time to say how you felt or just sit and watch the rain or listen to some birds out the window? We have modernized our lives to the point that our machines now run us. We interact more with them than with people. Which brings me to the Hard Hat Brotherhood. The reason our organization is so vital to men’s lives today is precisely because we live such crazy frenetic lives. The Brotherhood is a way to build in one day a month where you interact with people, without appliances, face to face and enjoy some leisure time together. We offer the good old fashion barn raising type of socializing where everyone met for a united purpose to achieve a common goal. So what if that goal is to watch a ballgame, outside in the open air and yell and cheer until you are hoarse? So what if the “barn” we are raising is actually a cold one in between laughing at the guys fishing stories of the one that got away? None of that matters. What is important is that we are making time, for a few hours a month to share ourselves and our time with others of like mind and do some serious relaxing. What matters is that we are choosing to connect with other human beings, not machines. The rewards are beyond measure in how we will feel when we do have to return to work, our family responsibilities and our crazy lives. Even a little leisure time pays great dividends in distressing and reenergizing our minds, body and spirit. So find a crew in your area or start one of your own and reconnect with yourself and others in a relaxing, leisurely way at the next Hard Hat Brotherhood event.

Now, where did I put that pen and stationary

©2007, Andy Smith

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Source: Andy Smith, HHBrotherhood Central, 8449 Parkridge Drive, Dexter, MI 48130, or 734.846.2283 or or

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