Finding the Perfect Gifts for Manly Men

Being someone who very much appreciates a thoughtful and personal gift, one that I know the giver bought out of a sense of love and connection, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to find these types of gifts for others. Especially for those I most care about. I want to find something that doesn’t just say, “I had to get you a gift, so here’s something kind of nice,” but rather, “I’ve been thinking and brainstorming for months to come up with something that I thought would be special to you and here’s what I’ve discovered.” This is why, for many of my holiday gifts, I opt for homemade. Because it is as much about the thought, preparation, and time investment as it is about the thing given. But for my Hubby, I ruminate for ages trying to come up with unique ideas that will speak to him –  things he will enjoy and not just end up as one more item gathering dust in a closet. This year I find myself a bit stumped. The trouble with Jonathan is that his most passionate interests are very specialized and VERY expensive. They are things I could not buy for him even if I could afford them because I don’t know enough about them to get the right thing. And yet they are the things he most wants. So half the time I feel like I ought to just give him the money to go buy his own gifts. But everything about that seems wrong to me. Contrary to the idea and purpose of thoughtful gift giving. So I brainstorm and search and ponder. This year’s searching has left me feeling… baffled. If you Google or Amazon search “gift ideas for men,” you get the most incredibly long list of complete crap.  Most of it associated with smoking, drinking, golf, and dirty, fifth-grade humor. Is this how our society views men? As juvenile, lazy partiers? (You can see this sentiment echoed in many popular sitcoms, where the male is the buffoon, the comic relief, the dufus, always in need of the woman to fix his blunders. What a shame. But this is an entirely separate blog post for a later date.)

All of these "gift ideas for men" were in the top 15 when I ran a search by that name in Amazon!

I don’t know about you all, but my man is worth far more than these types of kitschy, generalized assumptions about ignorant men. And I want him to know it when I hand him his gifts. So while trying to find other sources of inspiration, I decided to email the author of a blog that he follows and admires called The Art of Manlinesswhich reminds men that, even in today’s hyper-sensitive, feminist society, it is OK to be strong and manly and virtuous. I told him in my email that my husband was inspired by what he wrote to be a better man and that I, as well as many of his readers, might appreciate some manly suggestions for gifts this holiday season. He responded the same day with some thoughts and ideas as well as links to the gift lists he published for the last three years. It was very helpful and, I am happy to say, I think I have solved my quandary for my man’s presents this year. Since I appreciated his help so much, I decided to send his suggestions on to you. Hopefully you will find them as helpful as I did.

The Art of Manliness 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

The Art of Manliness 2009 Holiday Gift Guide

The Art of Manliness 2010 Holiday Gift Guide

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The Development of a Sense of Humor

I am continually amazed (and amused) at my 2 1/2 year old’s development of a sense of humor. It’s astonishing to me that in such a short amount of time he has gained enough of a grasp of reality and the world in which he lives to understand irony and a sense of the ridiculous. It began with a firm grounding in language that enabled him to recognize which were “real” words and which were “siwwy.” He would then make up the most absurd combinations of words such as opisnook and manganash and as soon as he said them he would bust into hysterical laughter. He didn’t need anyone else to confirm that it was funny. He knew. And we could go back and forth for half an hour making up outlandish words in turn and breaking for bouts of laughter. It is so refreshing that something so simple and silly can make even a grown up laugh.

Then, as his handle on the world grew even stronger, he began to appreciate the foolish hilarity of slapstick. Recently, as I was making him lunch, I let him watch an episode of Sesame Street on Netflix. As I was getting everything ready I heard him start laughing in the other room. The laughter grew into a rolling, un-self-conscious, un-contained giggle as though someone was tickling him mercilessly and he was about to fall out of his chair. And what was causing this display? Grover continuously tripping on a banana peel and it eventually landing on his head – the first door leading to the world of the Three Stooges, Mr. Bean, and even Jim Carey. And as I watched him from the doorway to the room, I was struck by the independence of his humor. No one was in there with him giving him queues about what was “supposed” to be funny. No one was making him laugh with tickles or funny faces or any of the other gimics we’ve been using since before he could see our faces clearly. He just knew, deep in his belly, that Grover was being ridiculous and it was funny!

And last night, before bed, he told his first joke. Daddy read him a story that had a joke in it and he remembered it and told it to me when I came to tuck him in. “Who goes to bed with their shoes on?” I don’t know Aiden, who? “A HORSE!” Bahahahahaha! I know, I know, it’s a terrible entrance into his world of joke telling, but he was so proud of himself, I couldn’t help but laugh with him. I fear we are in for many more corny jokes before Daddy teaches him all the subtleties of a dry wit.

The development of a sense of humor is not one of those things you see on developmental milestone charts at the pediatricians office or in popular parenting magazines and websites, but it is one of the most sophisticated changes I’ve seen in him so far. One that marks him distinctly as an individual and a kid, and not just a needy baby or toddler. I am excited to see how it grows!

Stop Dying and Start Living a Little!

Human development is stunning . . . at all of its stages. The way I see it, the moment we stop developing in some capacity, as our human nature demands, is the moment we start dying. If we are not growing, we are diminishing. Everyone expects children to be constantly developing, growing and changing, but at some point in our adult lives, we get the distinct impression that no one expects us to grow anymore. That, just as our bodies have stopped growing, we as people are also free to coast our way through the rest of our existence without giving much thought to change. This is a sad way of living, with very few expectations, that leads to the end of personal fulfillment, relationships, and love. However, when we encounter people who have not given up on their own person development, who journey through life with an unspoken belief that every door, open or shut, is an opportunity, who take every chance they get to reexamine how they do things, why they do things, and what difference they are making by doing them, then the light that emanates from them is unmistakable. They are an inspiration to everyone they meet because, deep down, we all crave what they exhibit so freely.

I have experienced some incredibly potent examples of human capability and growth this week. They may be very small, in size or significance, but in actuality, they are great. They are what make us unique, vibrant, and mysterious. The human being that is developing in my belly is only 7 weeks old (5 weeks from the time of conception) and today, as we visited the doctor for the first time, we heard its minute heart making a big sound. A human no larger than 1/2 an inch with a fully functional, beating heart. A journey of development that started only 5 weeks previous with two cells, has now become multiple body systems with a heart that beats 126 times per minute. Amazing. If that is not inspiring, I’m not sure what is.

My son, who, up until now in his 2 1/2 years of development has been very literal in his interpretations of the world around him, has exploded into the realm of imagination. Everything is pretend. And there is no limit to what is possible. So there’s a dragon behind that chair whose fire you can put out with water that spews from the end of your sword? Fantastic! So Superman is having supper with you and imbues your catfish with special powers to grant strength? Amazing! So there’s a campfire in the living room and you want to roast marshmallows? Why not! The mind has such incredible capacity to create, that once it has developed a framework of understanding for how things work, it breaks those barriers and creates new rules. Once again inspiring us, as stodgy old adults who have everything figured out, to step outside of the box and just IMAGINE the possibilities.

My husband, who keeps his plate completely full with music, goals, ideas, learning, family, work, exercise, and (occasionally) relaxation, has managed to stretch his boundaries further and increase his capabilities because the people who love him need his help. Being hobbled by morning sickness lately, I have been unable to accomplish everything that I normally do for Aiden, the house, and our family, and Jonathan has stepped up to fill all the gaps. Finding time and strength he didn’t know he possessed. That is love. That is maturity and growth born from necessity. That is inspiring.

Every day we can find new examples of growth and development if we seek them out. And when we find them we should nourish and feed them, and spread the infectious inspiration of them to others, so that they too can stop dying and start living a little.

Nostalgia Covers a Multitude of Sins

There are moments we know, without a doubt, that we will remember fondly. But it doesn’t mean that those moments were completely idyllic or picturesque. Often times, as we dive back into our memories, they are blanketed with a think layer of nostalgia that covers a multitude of sins. Family gatherings, for instance, are often fraught with familial tensions. Unspoken but implied criticisms. Hurt feelings or frustrations. But these are not the things we remember. We remember with rose-colored glasses the good times. The unguarded enthusiasm of children experiencing things for the first time. The brash and also unguarded comments of the aged who no longer feel the need to bother with social niceties. Fingers in mixing bowls getting smacked by mammas. Christmas presents opened just a smidge at the corner when no one was looking. Or endless games of monopoly in which we seek to dominate our beloved.

But it struck me this weekend as I experienced just such a moment of pure nostalgia in the making, that it is often incredibly hard to get past the difficulties that exist in those moments so that we can see, all around us, the things we are sure to remember fondly. Why is it that we so often only appreciate things that have already passed? It is because we’re too busy dealing with the stresses of the present to notice. But shouldn’t our memories, time and time again, be a lesson to us to let go of the things that don’t matter in the present? If we can just find it in us to brush off a harsh word, let go of unwarranted criticism, or never return the slight of someone else in kind, we can remember, in the present, the love that holds us together and the joys that are the building blocks of our memories.

This weekend found me and my family in a very small town in northern Mississippi where my husband was participating in a reunion concert for a local band who’s first gig occurred 40 years previous. It was astonishingly beautiful. Already, I remember it warmly. But I do regret allowing myself to be taken up with some of the stresses that surrounded the weekend. Some of them were silly stresses. Some of them serious. But none of them will factor into the beauty of the memory. What did it matter, in the long run, if the hotel room was old and small? Or if my sick son was a bit whinny and slept in my arms for most of the concert? That, in and of itself, will bring a smile with its memory. Was it really justified of me to feel somewhat jealous of the time I didn’t get to spend with an old friend when he was surrounded by family, friends, and a girlfriend he doesn’t get to see often enough? Should I have allowed myself to embody the stresses of those around me who were prepping for the concert or dealing with their own family tensions? Or should I have been an oasis for those same people – a stress free zone to refresh their mind and spirit? Of course, none of these difficulties compared with the wonderful beauties that the weekend afforded. Such as the constant bombardment of strangers telling me how wonderful my husband was both as a person and as a musician and how much they appreciated his help over the last several months. Or seeing the pure excitement on my son’s face, despite being sick, as he watched his daddy play in a concert. Or witnessing old men relive the passions of their youth with unrivaled enthusiasm and the support of their home town for their endeavor. And seeing a mother dance with her grown son, my friend, as though no one was watching and imagining myself and my son, who was sleeping in my lap, dancing in their shoes in the not so distant future. This is the stuff of life. All the rest is not worth remembering, and so, it is not worth dwelling on.

Balance

Balance.  This word . . . this idea, is so crucial for understanding and attaining happiness.  It is a significant part of the reason that I am writing this blog.  So many of us find it easy to highlight, ponder, dwell on, and magnify the negatives in our lives until they become radically out of balance with the positives that are all around us.  I am as guilty of this as anyone.  But, by the same token, the bright, happy, light, fun, and beautiful things, although often overlooked, would not retain their majesty without the contrast that pain provides.  I am struck lately, by many such examples of this balance in my life and they move me to gratitude.  They are the building blocks of my contentment.

In accidentally stabbing my hand, I discover over the course of the following week, the immense relief of allowing someone else to take control and help with the simple everyday things that often bog me down.  In being consistently frustrated by the window-rattling, base-thumping music of my rear adjoining neighbors, I am afforded an opportunity to connect to another neighbor I might otherwise have never spoken to.  While exhausting myself trying to finish a book for my book club, I find myself refreshed by the stimulating discussion of friends that follows my accomplishment.  Because my sitter’s daughter became ill, my son was able to spend some much needed time with his daddy and friends.  In lamenting the loss of certain friends to my husband, I am reminded of poignant examples of the depth of the friendships that remain.  While on the verge of letting my frustration overcome me at the unfathomably slow pace of my toddler on a walk around the block, he brings me a stick with dead leaves hanging off of it and proudly declares, “A flower for you Momma!  It’s special!”  Indeed it was.

The key, I suppose, is remembering, while immersed in the difficult moments, that they too will find balance.  There is always another side of the coin.  But don’t wait for that balance to happen too you.  Seek it out.  Mine for the joy that accompanies sorrow and most likely you will be able to find it.  Create moments that will surprise you . . . you might be surprised what you’ll find.