Men and Christmas . . . Or Shopping With Dad

O.K., it should be obvious (hopefully) that I am not a man.

But dear old dad definitely is... and as, like it or not, I've always been dad's girl I've acquired a bit of an insight into what makes certain types of men tick. 

If you happen to be a guy's guy --a guy who likes the smell of motor oil, happily wears the same plaid shirt for two weeks, and doesn't really get why women care about anniversaries, birthdays, major holidays (other than the opening of Small Game Season), soap, and clean socks-- or, if you know that guy, or --more realistically-- if you know a guy who might turn into that guy if left alone in the woods for six months, I can help. Better yet... we can help.

Face it.. those fearless tough guys --you know the sort & if you don't you probably don't have much in common with most of us Irish-Americans-- do fear a few things. They fear the biggies --the "Big C"-- they fear letting down their families... sometimes they fear emotions --looking back I can't think of a single time I saw my Bronx-Irish grandfather smile except while watching baseball on television. Like it or not... some of them fear Christmas too.

Give it a moment... Think about it... For a certain type of man --the traditionalist who loves his family-- you'd think Christmas would be easy. According to dad it isn't. And it makes sense... if you are bad at expressing "emotions" --or should we call it the "Big E"-- and hate to disappoint people and really really really hate to shop, the lead-up to Christmas is kind of scary because it involves more schmaltzy cards than could fit in the average library and shopping.

And shopping scares men who aren't scared of anything else. 

(There are men who like shopping. But they are special creatures and belong to a rare and privileged class. They're kind of like people who like Trigonometry --sometimes it happens but most people just suffer through it.)

So... if Christmas is about family --and, in America, a bit of wanton excess-- and tradition maybe there is one tradition we can help the men in our lives overcome. And that is the tradition of battalions of men --confused, angry and worried-- prowling the malls of America desperately trying to find the right gift the day before Christmas for the people they love best. 

So... here is dear old dad's "Manly Man" advice for "Holiday Shopping."

Holiday Shopping For Manly Men

By Brian Nagle --1998

Fall is here. And right in back of fall, of course, is the holiday season.

You know that means gift giving, or should I say mall wandering for most men? It's become a tradition of sorts, seeing all those disgruntled men, protest flags flying, sporting that glazed look in their eyes as they say to themselves: 'I don't know what color, size, style... I hate doing things I'm not good at... and shopping for ladies is right up there on top of my list.' 

Well, men, you know I only give good advice, so now I have a few suggestions as to how you can avoid this unpleasant annual situation and still be the good guys all your beloved ladies know you are, down deep. 

And right now I want you to remember that no matter how much they may occasionally drive you crazy, these women are basically living saints. You love 'em, can't imagine life without them. Realistically speaking, your life would be lonelier, duller, grimmer, grubbier and (probably) poorer without them. Just keep that thought with you as try and get through the day.

First, relax. I'm going to keep you out of the malls and out of embarrassing situations. That is, of course, unless you want to see some poor souls that make Ebeneezer Scrooge look like a fun guy.

Now, don't even think about using one of the two old copouts that have been overused too many times before. To wit:

Copout #1. Saying 'She can have anything she wants; let her pick it out herself.' (What she probably wants is having someone give her a little thought and attention, and a little gift is a symbol of this.) This copout is particularly painful to witness every time I hear some Bozo say, with a stupid grin on his face, 'What did I give you this year?' What he gave her was another ton of grief and a half ton of laundry and maybe some stretch marks along the way.

Copout #2. Having another lady do the shopping for you. The recipient generally knows and although she may play along, she is embarrassed. Others now know the dirty little secret, that her man is a shopping clod. This is worse than copout #1.

NO. You can do this yourself --hell, you can do anything, after all-- you're a man, a manly man. Shortly to be a manly man with gifts! 

You have two choices. You can hit the mall (generic gifts, horrible parking and the temptation to eat three thousand calories worth of baked goods while dimmly wondering why being a teenager now seems to be a multi-year shopping experience) or you can go to a Christmas Faire with her and maybe some friends. The 49er's are not going to call you out of the stands to suit up; stop waiting for it to happen. The president probably isn't going to call either (if he does, say hi!). You say to the ladies, in a loud clear voice, that you have some special 'major shopping' to do and that you'll meet them at a definite time and place (you tell them where and when and give them the map that is available at all information booths and the main entrance --or laying in the dirt where many of the patrons lose theirs.)

Now, if there is one thing most women know it's shopping, no further explanation is necessary or required. You are talking their language. By saying this you will either be judged off your rocker (but they won't say so), a teller of tall tales who is really heading to a bar and a big screen television in that order (but they will only tease you amid your protestations), or will score some major points with all the women in attendance. A basic rule is never, ever, ever, miss an opportunity to score points with the ladies. 

They come in useful later. Think of every chance to be useful, helpful, thoughtful or sensitive (like emptying the dishwasher without being asked, buying your own birthday present for your own mother, offering to take the kids out for some "dad time" when mom is feeling under the weather, offering to vacuum the weekend before Thanksgiving instead of on the morning of, taking the garbage out when its raining and not making a big production out of it --come on, its a little water! you're not being asked to slay dragons!, picking up your own towels, trying not to get shaving cream on the bathroom mirror.... you get the idea...)

Anyway, welcome all these opportunities to pick up some points to help you slide through those less than great moments with ease and grace. With a little fore-thought you could even end up being the kind of guy the ladies would be happy to accompany on the kind of shopping trip that makes you happy: Think boat yard, car show, etc. And before you think you could do that on your own.... just remember, she's the one who usually has the check-book and veto power over major purchases. And you are glad she does! Now, with that settled, lets re-think that whole Holiday Shopping thing.

Most small craftspeople and independent retailers are more than honest and dependable (indeed, most of us depend upon repeat patronage, year after year). 

We make many unique, limited, and low production pieces that won't be seen in every department store in the state during the holiday season. (Have you ever noticed the way all the stores seem to have the same choices during the biggest shopping season of the year? Do they all have the same buyer? Or, do all their buyers have the same taste? Or, do they think all the shoppers have the same taste? It's a question of philosophy, or mayhaps marketing, for another time.)

There are three things that matter when it comes to giving a gift. 

The item. The packaging. And the card.

#1) The Item.

For a gift try not to be generic... Think about it... Does a pre-wrapped basket of scented candles really say, "I love you darling!" Or does it say, "I picked this up in the store because it was in a big pyramid near the front and there was a 'gift basket' sign so I knew it could be a gift. And I had to buy something because the mall was closing and the perfume girls were kind of scary looking and I couldn't remember what kind of perfume you wore."

So... think about it a bit. A book makes a nice personal gift. (Provided you aren't giving a book on vegan cooking to your favorite carnivore --that is what is known as a "gag gift.") Jewelry is even better. (If you aren't sure about sizes stick to necklaces or earrings. Pins are great too.) Scarves are a popular choice too... Ruanas are even better. Think about it a bit... You'll come up with a few ideas of your own.

#2) The packaging.

O.k. you are a manly men. And manly men would really rather spend their evenings cleaning the garage rather than tying fancy bows and taping packages together. But you want something that looks nice under the tree --or piled next to the Menorah-- guess what? Loads of stores have giftwrap services. (This is weird to contemplate but this is one of those services that is readily available but completely unadvertised.) Better yet, lots of Holiday Arts and Craft festivals have a "giftwrap table" being run by a local service organization where for a modest donation to whatever charity they are fundraising for they WILL GIFTWRAP ANY ITEM YOU BRING THEM! Kind of like the carwash the kids from school put on? But with tape and wrapping paper. 

#3) The card.

Huh? Do I have to buy a card too? No! Guess what... Loads of stores, giftwrap stations, etc. will give you a little blank card to attach to the package. No message. You create your own message. Just a few words... You can do this... But it isn't just a label. This is supposed to be from the heart. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll get in the spirit of all this gift giving business once the veil of mystery is dissolved. 

Want to make this whole shopping thing even easier?

Make a list --possibly with complete addressees if you are planning to send things-- of everyone on your list. Some stores will wrap and ship for you. If not you can take all your wrapped presents, your list of addresses and trek down to your friendly local shipping shop. They know what to do. This isn't a test, it isn't punishment. You're on a quest for a present for a lady or ladies (that's sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers, godchildren, daughters, and yes, your 'sweetie-pie') and no one will laugh at you if you are honest about what you are doing in the store. You can even bring some friends along and dazzle them with your worldliness, sophistication, savoir faire and overall shopping grace. That's if you care to show off a little. Shopping in this manner is comparable to sliding in to home plate with your spikes high. In addition to solving most of your gift giving problems you might even find you like it. But wait! Do I mean shopping can be fun? Yup, but don't let it get around . . .

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Tags: Christmas, Gifts, Shopping

Comment by Colm Herron on November 20, 2016 at 10:11am

This is delightful. It reminds me of a neglected (and long-dead) Irish essayist called John D Sheridan. Thank you!

Comment by Sarah Nagle on November 21, 2016 at 12:22pm

Thank you. I'll tell dad. And will have to look up John Sheridan. Thanks for the reference...

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