Twenty years ago my dad decided to do a good deed. He built the neighbor’s sukkah because he was called to reserves army duty. Dad really commandeered the operation. He decided which planks to bring, hit the nails smack dab on their heads, and engineered the clumsy palm fronds with great difficulty until he got the whole thing to resemble a sukkah.
When our neighbor returned from reserves duty he was surprised to discover a structure opposite his house that kind of looked like a sukkah. Once it was confirmed that this was indeed what my dad was trying to build, he thanked him and went to dress for the holiday.
But then, about 20 minutes before the Sukkot holiday started, a slight wind blew the palm fronds off the roof, and with them went the two sides and the rest of the structure. Ten minutes before the start of the holiday, the sukkah was reduced to a pile of wooden planks, looking more like a pile of wood ready for a Lag B’Omer campfire than the foundations of a sukkah.
I will never forget my father’s crestfallen face when he saw what happened. There was a look of deep sadness in his eyes and deep understanding of what he would never become: a handyman.
My father, May he rest I peace, was a man of talent, but all I inherited was his technophobia. I don’t know how to use a hammer, or turn a screwdriver, or drive a nail into the wall with the thing they call a drill. In general, I don’t know a thing about these things that men, because they are men, know how to do. Having no technical skills is the easy part. The hard part is that my wife Efrat has them in spades.
I am married to a woman who knows how to drywall, drill holes, hang shelves, assemble closets and arrange the electricity so that it will bypass the computer and the output. Heck I don’t even understand what the output is all about. When I asked an old friend what to do about my self-image which is down around my knees right now, he suggested I calm down.
He said there were a lot of men who are all thumbs and this is actually the essence of the New Man: He knows how to cook. Thanks a lot, I said, that’s fine for a man who knows how to cook. The thing is that I don’t know how to cook either. Just because I have two left hands and I can’t drive in a nail, I am supposed to know how to make quiche?
It would be a great solution to tell everyone that we have switched roles in our relationship. The truth is that it’s not like that. Efrat does everything.
Listen, I said to my kids in an effort to repair my image, it’s true that Mommy knows how to iron, cook and make this house look ship shape. She also knows how to hang pictures and change lightbulbs; grease door hinges and even build with plaster. But your father, and don’t forget, your daddy knows how to write. But even Aviv knows how to write, noted Yehuda unimpressed and went to his mom to see if she had finished putting together the new shoe tree in the bedroom.
I usually try to bury my problem within the walls of my home. When Efrat is drilling, I shut the windows. If someone starts to ask about the new walls, I immediately start talking about the revolution the electronic media has undergone in the last two decades.
When a tool is required from our storeroom, I insist on getting it. In that way I manage to hide from my neighbors the bitter fact that in our home the division is not between parents and children. It’s between Efrat on one side, in the role of the responsible adult, and the rest of the household on the other side, we who take orders and do our best to carry them out.
The problem is Sukkot. The shelves in the house, the new walls in the living room, I could deal with. But the sukkah: d***, it needs to be built outside. What is outside stays outside. At first I tried. I stood there an equal among equals, trying to hide my wife’s knowledge and technical ability. I tried to come off like I knew what needed to be done. Bring the hammer, I yelled to her, I need to knock in some screws.
I tried to drill. I did it in a loud voice so that all the neighbors could hear. I think I drilled a hole that is way too big. Efrat praised it and gave me credit for succeeding but she wondered if it was really necessary to drill holes in the sidewalk.
At one stage, Efrat included me: Hold this, she said. Grab this. I need you here. Stand back. As the handiwork advanced the orders became more humiliating, until I found myself sidelined, making decorations with Aviv and watching Efrat carrying planks and nailing them together. Move, she yelled after I almost dropped the toolbox on her. Stand over here, next to Yehuda and don’t move. I don’t want you to get hurt.
I looked around. Everywhere I looked, I saw the smiling faces of my neighbors as they watched Efrat build the sukkah. I remembered how 20 years ago my father built a sukkah that collapsed. I took a deep breath and shouted: Yes, my dear neighbors. My name is Chanoch Daum and my wife is the one who builds our sukkah.
She also is the one who hangs the pictures, builds the cupboards and assembles new shelves. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my wife is the one who handles all the manly tasks at home. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, my wife is the one who does my job as wife.
And what about me, I continued my loud speech, you wonder what I know how to do – I knew how to get married. I knew who to wed.