Discovering Manhood in Soapy Bubbles

I wasn’t working full time and washed many, many dishes, a task made even more involved by appliances like the Spiralizer, which had to be disassembled and all of its parts cleaned individually.

Before we had a sink, we had a deal: I would have the final say on where we lived if Natalie got to decorate. It went like this. At Ikea or Pier 1 or wherever we were, she would ask, “Do you like the gray or white curtains?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. What else is on the list?”

“You’re allowed to have some input, too.”

“They’re great. Let’s go.”

As we decorated the house piece by piece, I almost didn’t notice the emerging theme: a white couch, white bearskin accent rugs, a fluffy white duvet and an excessive number of pillows. She ordered a gold-plated bar cart and organized our liquor bottles by color, choosing not to display my rare bottles of mezcal and Japanese Scotch because they didn’t match the motif.

When I asked to hang my guitars on the wall, she questioned their color, and I said the color shouldn’t matter because they were my guitars and I thought they should be hung on the wall in the living room where everyone could see them. After all, they’re essentially works of art: a Guild acoustic in dark cherry and a Fender Telecaster Sunburst.

But even with the guitars, the house still looked stereotypically feminine. The whole situation — the décor, my constant dishwashing and the relative lack of income on my part — began to gnaw at my male ego and my role as a man sharing a house with a woman.

My masculinity is a patchwork shaped by the gender norms that saturated my childhood. Men were fixers of things, sportsmen, smokers, fast car drivers and womanizers, rugged and confident. My father was some of these things, and I was some of these things, too, but mostly I was not.

For example, we loved playing basketball so much that my father had a hoop cemented in the driveway with floodlights installed over the garage. But with other masculine stereotypes, we whiffed. Such as when we got a midnight blue 1967 Mustang to fix up but outsourced most of the work because we’re not handy.

I also saw darker masculine traits in my father and wanted to be different because I didn’t think those things made a good man or a good person, really.

Like his leering at waitresses. His stubbornness. His unwillingness to apologize or admit fault. His refusal to do household chores. How he lifted his legs…

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