http://ago.mobile.globeandmail.com/generated/archive/RTGAM/html/20070720/wwente20.html. I liked this article, in part because I identify. I grew up with handy parents, and I learned some things from them - cooking, chopping wood, making do - but I also missed out on others. Even though my step-mother is a talented woodworker, I never learned. Even though she does plumbing repair, I didn't pay attention. My father hunted, but I wasn't interested when he might have taken me and taught me to be a good shot. My grandmother and aunt were remarkably talented at knitting, sewing and crocheting - I've had to painfully learn those skills over myself without them. Can I just say how badly I'd like to have my adolescence and early adulthood back, so I could PAY ATTENTION when people showed me useful things.
Almost all of us need to learn new/old skill sets - even if we already cook, we have to learn food preservation. Even if we already build thing, we may have to learn to do them with hand tools, rather than power tools. And in some areas, we're starting from 0. What is timber framing, anyway? What's the difference between straw and hay, and which one do I want to mulch my garden with? How do you make a pickle? How do you make a running stitch, and will that fix that hole? What's greywater?
It can seem utterly overwhelming - so many things to do, so little time. Why even start?
Well, there are a couple of reasons. The first is while I'm a big fan of enriching your neighbors, and we do hire out for a number of projects, the truth is that sometimes, things just need to get done - now, by you. The second is that many of us may not always have the money to pay someone else, or the option of hiring out in tough times. And finally, even if you don't want to do something yourself, knowing the basics of how it works means that you don't have to get taken by someone you hire. Greenpa has a great post about that here, in regards to researching, purchasing and installing solar panels (something I have no idea how to do, btw ;-): http://littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com/2007/12/new-solar-panels-are-up.html.
The thing is not to get overwhelmed. Just go ahead, and figure it, get started, and expect to make some stupid mistakes. Accept that it will take a good long while before this is as natural to you as it was to people who learned it from childhood - but that it will come. I'm not a patient woman, and the part where you sort of know how to do something but it takes six times as long as it takes a skillful person, you keep messing up and every step is painful is *NOT* my favorite part of anything. I get frustrated easily, and I just want to skip ahead to being a natural. But it doesn't work that way. You have to suck at things for a while first.
The best way to learn anything is to apprentice yourself to someone. Call up your neighbor the bow hunter, your grandma the canner, your uncle Al who builds boats, and say "I want to learn what you know - can I come hang around and help you. I'll do scut work if you tell me how." This is both flattering and useful, and most people will really like it. Books are good too - they can tell you the basics, and you can really learn a lot from good books - my favorite books for hands on type skills are books written for kids - they tend to be very, very clear in their directions, while books written arean't always. The internet is obviously a powerful tool too - video, for example, is wonderful. Taking classes can be great - but the absence of any of these things shouldn't keep us from starting, nor should our fear of failure ever prevent us from goinger forward
And eventually, your job is just to dive in. Never baked bread before? Well, there are some bad, horrible things you can do with baking break (a college roommate of mine somehow managed to make a loaf of bread that had the density of a collapsed star and the smell of newly made vodka - I still don't know how he did that), but if worst comes to worst, your compost pile will happily eat them. When you screw up, laugh and try again. And most of the time, things will come out fine.
So get a piece of cloth, and start cutting out quilt squares. Get a hammer, some nails and a saw, and build something. Got a broken appliance? Take it apart - maybe you'll fix it. At least you'll start to know what the inside of a toaster or a radio looks like.
The thing is, you probably will make messes, and horrible mistakes. But you'll also learn a lot - including some things that no one can tell you. No one, for example, can tell you whether you really do need a spinning wheel or if you can make do with a drop spindle until you know how much spinning you'll do and how you like to do it. No one can tell you whether you'll want a chainsaw or if you can be content with a bucksaw until you've tried. And once you've established some basic competence, you know whether you are going to like this enough to need an expert's equipment or if the cheap version will do you fine.
And then it is on to the next thing - read, research, apply, and while you keep applying, once you have some fluency and mastery, on you go to the next project. Feeling incompentent regularly makes you humble ;-). And getting competent regularly makes you proud.
So instead of lamenting what your Dad knew that you don't, just try it. Pretty soon you'll be calling up Dad and asking to borrow his belt sander.