A Field Guide to Male Intimacy
By MAX ROSS
When my car’s battery died on a bitterly cold January day, my father refused to come to my apartment in south Minneapolis to give me a jump. He drives a Tesla and claimed (not quite accurately) that using it to power a regular car would cause it to short-circuit. “Plus, it’s nasty outside,” he said, “and, as you know, your father is a wuss.” Luckily my stepfather, Kevin, agreed to help. He is bald, clean-shaven, slender, friendly and handy. An agricultural engineer, he has a master’s degree in weed science and subscribes to journals such as “Wheat Life.” He always knows what time it is. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” he said. He arrived at my apartment in 15 minutes. I thought this would be my chance, finally, to impress him. The winter before, I had called him in distress when my car had blown a tire. I didn’t know how to change it, and he had to do it for me, kneeling in the cold on the side of a busy street. He had also, at various points, fixed leaks in my kitchen and helped me assemble (that is, he assembled) a desk from Ikea. Around him I felt inept, and although we are polite to each other (kind, even), my sense is that he views me as his wife’s hapless son, part of the bargain of marrying her. I did know how to jump a car, however, and now made a demonstration of setting the cables in place. “The red clamp’s on the positive terminal,” I said with authority. Kevin fixed the corresponding clamps to his truck’s battery and said, “Let’s give it a go.” I prayed that the jump would work and that my competence would be established evermore. Outside my window, Kevin gave a rather solemn thumbs-up. I turned the key. The engine sputtered, didn’t engage. I tried again. Nothing. “Looks like you’ll need a new battery,” Kevin said.
He and my mother met seven years ago through a dating service called It’s Just Lunch. They discovered common interests in hiking and wine. They went on trips to vineyards, first in rural Minnesota, then to Napa Valley and the Oregon coast. On their hikes, they wore clothes with many pockets and zippers. In the evenings, they visited wineries. Within a year, they were engaged. I was relieved when they married. My mother had spent the previous several years in a muddle. A decade before, without warning, my father had informed her that he was gay, and their marriage dissolved. The future she had expected (simply, to be with him) also dissolved. In its place was nothing. I was 16 at the time, and for my last two years of high school, we lived alone. For her, it was an era of bathrobes, insomnia, Sleepytime tea, Kleenex, rationalization (“everything happens for a reason”), reheated leftovers and worry. Kevin appeared as a steady arm. My relationship with him has evolved slowly and sometimes awkwardly. We’re members of the same gym and sometimes see each other in the locker room. If we’re both naked, we make a point of speaking, as if doing so will shield us from the mild embarrassment of our nudity, from the Oedipal drama once removed. Our talk is stilted, crisp: “Hey! How are you?” “Good.” “Good!” “O.K. Good to see you.” “Yes!” (Exclamations are mine.) But in truth, this is how we always are. If we’re out to dinner or happen to meet in the grocery store, we still act as if we’re naked in the locker room. Now, I wondered how we might get my car to a repair shop to have the battery replaced. Kevin made it known we would be changing it ourselves.
From the back of his truck he took out his toolbox. “Yup, it’s always with me,” he said. The heads of wrenches and screwdrivers shone inside as if they had never been used. No, it was as if they had been used often but cleaned extremely well. Read the full article >