AIN’T NO MR FIX IT

New Straits Times - - Living -

AT least he tried. Some years back, Eric Feld­man, a law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, de­cided to take care of an an­noy­ing prob­lem in his Philadel­phia con­do­minium: an out­dated shower and bath valve that con­trolled both the tem­per­a­ture and the wa­ter pres­sure.

First, he bought a new fix­ture. Then he un­screwed the pieces that held the old one in place. And that is when things be­gan to go very wrong.

Wa­ter shot out with the force of a fire hy­drant. Feld­man, 57, put a hand against the open­ing, to no avail. “There was no way of stop­ping it,” he said. “So I did the very ma­cho thing and started shout­ing for help.”

Luck­ily, an elec­tri­cian was in the apart­ment, work­ing on a separate project. He heard the dis­tress call. When he saw the help­less Feld­man in his own per­sonal wa­ter world, he laughed. “It took him two min­utes to fig­ure out that down the hall there was the main wa­ter shut-off valve,” Feld­man said.

Feld­man said he never learnt the ba­sics of fix-it work, partly be­cause his fa­ther took no in­ter­est in jobs around the house. When he at­tempts home re­pair chores th­ese days, his wife, Stephanie, an ar­chi­tect, over­sees him.

“The way the re­pairs usu­ally get done in the house is I am up on the lad­der try­ing to be ma­cho, and my wife is telling me ex­actly what to do, so I don’t kill my­self,” he said.

Feld­man is far from alone in feel­ing in­ept when it comes to home re­pair. But even now, for many men, ad­mit­ting that you’re un­able to work with your hands can be em­bar­rass­ing, even emas­cu­lat­ing. The old ideal is rep­re­sented by movie and tele­vi­sion he­roes like Har­ri­son Ford’s John Book, who wins over the Amish with his car­pen­try skills in or Jon Hamm’s Don Draper, who dis­plays his al­pha sta­tus at a party by re­pair­ing a kitchen sink in an episode of

Joel Moss Levin­son, 36, is an­other who avoids the tool kit. A co­me­dian in Yel­low Springs, Ohio, who be­came an early YouTube star, he counts as his only DIY ac­com­plish­ments a shelf and a shoe rack.

“I have friends who say: ‘It’s so sim­ple. Watch a five-minute YouTube video, and you can in­stall the air fil­ter,’” Levin­son said. “I can’t even make it through the YouTube in­struc­tional video.”

He is aware of how his lack of hand­i­ness may strike oth­ers.

“We live in a so­ci­ety that prides it­self on a very specific kind of al­pha male con­cept,” he said. “We see how the al­pha male looks in busi­ness, what the al­pha male looks like in Hol­ly­wood. So I think there is an in­ter­nal strug­gle for many of us who are prob­a­bly beta males.”

Nathan Reimer, 41, re­alised he had to del­e­gate re­pair tasks af­ter he and his wife bought a bed-and-break­fast in New­field, New York. With their first guests about to ar­rive, he took on the job of re­pair­ing a bum towel rack in a bath­room. Af­ter sev­eral botched at­tempts, he found him­self star­ing at a large hole in the dry­wall.

Reimer, a web project man­ager at Cor­nell, has plenty of help in his side busi­ness as an innkeeper. His wife, Tara, and his fa­ther-in-law, a me­chanic, are both handy. His 15-year-old son, Alex, has a work­shop in their home where he builds things and takes apart old ap­pli­ances to see how they work.

But Reimer is nev­er­the­less busy around the house: He takes care of the cook­ing, and Alex re­cently asked for his help in build­ing a web­site.

Al­though he rarely goes a day with­out see­ing im­ages of the lat­est bird­house or ren­o­vated kitchen on so­cial me­dia, Reimer is con­tent to leave such projects to oth­ers. “It’s not some­thing I am will­ing to in­vest my time in at this stage of life,” he said.

Rob Zorch, 32, a sup­ply-sourc­ing an­a­lyst in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia, is an­other man more at ease with a spat­ula than a power tool. His wife, Kim Hu­son, takes charge of any chores re­quir­ing tools. She has proved her­self ca­pa­ble of tear­ing up old floor­ing, re­pair­ing dry­wall and in­stalling tile, among other home-re­pair feats. Re­cently, she bought a miter saw, which she knows her hus­band has no in­ten­tion of touch­ing.

Hu­son, 30, a data an­a­lyst, is happy with the di­vi­sion of house­hold chores.

“Rob’s the one who cooks din­ner,” she said. “He likes it. The two of us talk about not con­form­ing to gen­der norms. I de­test cook­ing. I’m bad at it. I find it mis­er­able even chop­ping veg­eta­bles. I would go crazy if I was a nu­clear-fam­ily wife from the 1950s. We take dif­fer­ent own­er­ship of the things each of us en­joys more.”

For major un­der­tak­ings, Zorch said, his role is that of helper.

“I just don’t care to learn,” he said. “But it’s also the fear of com­pletely wast­ing half my day and hav­ing to pay some­one to do the job right. My free time is so valu­able that I love to re­lax and not do that. And I would much rather pay for some­one and have it look good or let my wife work on it, be­cause she makes it look good. For in­stance, we built a pa­tio, but all I did was, like, dig the hole for it. I couldn’t mess that up. It was lit­er­ally just dig­ging a hole.”

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