Real Gifts for Real Men, for Christmas, Father’s Day, and Birthdays
What Real Men Really Want in a Gift
Ladies, the golden rule of gift-giving is the same for both genders: it’s the thought that counts. Let me guide you to understanding what kind of thoughts real men appreciate.
I’m going to give you a few groups of not suggestions but examples; see if you can distill the underlying idea, which you can then apply to your man’s personality and lifestyle. Then, below the examples, I’ll explain the problem with four categories of standard gifts to men. So, if my examples don’t spur ideas of what to give, keep reading for the kind of things you should at least not give.
Examples of Good Man-Gifts, Grouped by Underlying Idea
(See if you can identify “the thought that counts.”)
Years ago (so adjust the prices) the woman I was dating and I were in a mall, and I mentioned I wanted to pick up some dress shoes. I’m hard on shoes: the way I walk wears down the outside of the heels. Good shoes I got repaired, but it was easier then just to buy $30 shoes fairly frequently. She told me that before I bought my regular shoes I should go a few doors down to try on a pair of Rockports. I wasn’t eager to do this because she also told me they were about $120 a pair. But we went, because she was holding my hand, and I tried on a pair. I swear I walked just six steps, turned around, and told the salesman, “I’ll take two pair, this style.” Rockport makes casual shoes, too. Sometimes you don’t know quality until you try it on or have it in your hands.
Does your guy wear sweatshirts? Hey, sometimes the most comfortable thing to wear, either lounging or working underneath a car, is a simple cotton jersey you can get for less than $10. But you know what’s nice to have? A quality sweatshirt from Timberland or LL Bean. . . or maybe from his college? Or did he do a hitch in any branch of the military (US Naval Academy’s gift shop.) (Note: if he’s a strictly sweatshirt guy, don’t give him a cardigan, no matter how much YOU want to see him in it. Maybe a wool sweater, like the kind the cowboys wore . . .)
Does he spend time outside during the winter, either for play or work? Get him at least one set of OmniWool socks. No exaggeration, these are the best socks I’ve ever had in my life. No kidding, in the store checkout line I’ve shown these socks to women I don’t know and suggested they get some for their guys. Yes, it seems strange to get that excited over socks . . . but go back up two paragraphs and re-read the story about Rockports! I get my OmniWool socks from Sam’s Club, not only for myself but also for my niece for when she has to trudge across campus.
Another thing to get him if he spends time outside in cold weather is quality thermal underwear. Remember this simple rule: in cold weather, cotton is not quality. Mountain climbers have a saying about this: “Cotton kills.” It keeps moisture near your skin and sucks away your body heat. Quality underwear is made of wool, a wool blend, synthetics, or – and this isn’t a joke – silk. Try wintersilks.
Again, if he’s outside a lot for either work or play, how about some quality foul weather gear? The Scandanavians have a saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather; there is only bad clothing.” Those $20 rain suits from the hardware store are uncomfortable and minimally functional. So maybe consider some serious gear from the ocean sailing world: Henri Lloyd, Gill, or Mustang. It’s not cheap, but it’s about as warm and dry as you can be outdoors (and the ladies’ versions are rather stylish, too.) Columbia makes some great outdoor clothing. I tell people that I’ve bought a lot of stuff from them and have been impressed with the quality of every single item.
Note: your guy may certainly be a “real man” but just not into tools, or pro sports teams, or any other man cliché. So, take what I say about the following tools and apply it to his interests.
If your guy is the kind of guy that enjoys working with tools, there are a lot of maybe-not-necessary-but-real-nice-to-have tools out there. Three examples: ratcheting box wrenches , a 90 degree drill, and a Japanese hand saw. “Regular” saws have the teeth facing forward and cut on the push; Japanese saws have the teeth facing backwards and cut on the pull. The advantage is that the blade doesn’t have to be as thick to remain rigid and straight, so you can get a thinner, finer, smoother cut. Of course this doesn’t matter if you’re cutting 2x4’s, but if you’re doing cabinetry, for example, it’s real nice.
Some of us men like to keep a few tools in various places, like in the car or on the boat. A combination tool comes in real handy for this. My friend from Texas says that with a Leatherman you can fix anything but a broken heart. Just like with duct tape, men will tell you stories about how their Leatherman saved the day. The larger models are a bit too big to be carried around all day in a pants pocket, but they can be carried in a sheath on a belt. The brands that you can get in the chain hardware stores and discount department stores aren’t terrible or a total waste of money, but Leathermans have a 25 year warranty. I own three.
Speaking of men who like to use tools, you can get him a personalized Putter, Piddle, and Putz Permit at ThisMakesItOfficial.com.
This category’s thought that counts? Don’t replace; upgrade!
Okay, you know I can get excited about socks; I also get excited about Tervis Tumblers. No, it is not just a cup – it’s a noticeably good cup! All I can say, and I’ve said it to I don’t know how many people, is use a Tervis Tumbler a few times and I’ll bet that you, too, get mildly excited over a stupid cup! Most every time I introduce these to someone, I make another convert (and those who don’t become a fan, well, hell, I cut them out of my life!) It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold (“How do it know?”), comes in a few sizes, and is available with a large variety of designs set into the clear plastic, everything from colleges to sports to hobbies to Disney. You can even get them personalized with your boat name, nickname, etc. I was given a pair a couple of years ago and I use them for my morning coffee every day.
Dremel makes a great little tool with a variety of attachments. There are different models and attachment kits, but there all based on one base tool: a variable speed, hand-held rotary tool that cuts, grinds, sands, engraves, polishes, and much more, and it does it all on small objects. I have a $250 “Big Bertha” grinder for working on big things like my boat hull, and a Dremel for about a million little jobs. Like with duct tape and Leathermans, there are times when Dremels are the perfect tool, the only tool for the job.
One last tool story: a Fein tool is a fine thing to have. These were originally developed to cut plaster casts off of healed bones without cutting the flesh in between. They do this by vibrating at a high speed: placed against your arm, your flesh will vibrate; placed against something solid, the Fein blade will vibrate through the solid. Cool, and very handy. My favorite blade attachment is sort of like a spatula: with it I can make cuts flush to a surface, which is absolutely impossible with a jigsaw and rather difficult and messy with a hand saw. Owning one of these will make his guy friends salivate. By the way, Craftsman makes a smaller version.
This category’s thought that counts? Luxuries that last!
Years ago, when my niece was just three years old and didn’t have much of a vocabulary, while Christmas shopping with her mom, going down an aisle in a department store she strained against her stroller to reach for a tin shaped and painted like an Oreo cookie, for me, the original Cookie Monster. It was a great gift, and I still have it (but, of course, the cookies inside are long, long gone.)
By the way, children are under-appreciated as gift finders. Every day, all day they absorb information, and they notice things about the people around them. My nephew, also, as a child keyed in on some amazingly well-suited, personal gifts. We called him Santa’s MVP.
Does your man like real good coffee? Or biscotti? Or red, red wine? Fancy beers? A certain candy? No, these aren’t quite enough for a main gift, but they make great stocking stuffers, or gifts “from” children.
If your man likes to spend time on the internet, and he has patience, maybe give him a pack of bids on Quibids or other penny auction site. Maybe he’ll win an auction and get something for pennies on the dollar and maybe (probably) he won’t, but he could have fun trying.
This category’s thought that counts? Treats!
Sure, some guys love actual things, physical objects they can pile up around the house, but plenty of us just don’t care all that much about things as much as experiences. Remember that old dating maxim, it’s easier to get to know a guy while doing something, anything, than it is just sitting and talking? So, give your guy something to do, with you or with his buddies. Some little adventures are quite inexpensive – like renting flat-water kayaks for the day – and some aren’t all that much – like a ride on a sailplane or hot air balloon, or an afternoon on a sailboat, or a day of four-wheelin’. But a change of pace, a surprise that he wouldn’t get for himself, can be fodder for bragging to his buddies about what a great woman you are. Here’s an idea - unless your guy is opposed to this sort of thing - how about an hour or two at a shooting range, maybe some handgun instruction? Just for a change of pace . . .
I was once given a large to-go coffee mug with an insert of a collage of photos of the kids and me playing at all kinds of kid stuff through the previous year. I love it. These days you can easily get a digital photo applied to a coffee mug or T-shirt or mousepad: check out cafepress.com. Kids, you, beloved pets, his boat . . . just about anything. (Note: If you have a photo of him and his buddies holding up a fish they caught or having great fun at something, that’ll work, but of photo of just him and his buddies standing together, nah, it won’t be a favorite coffee mug.) One year, I made a John Wayne toilet seat for my dad - he certainly did not expect it, and it was a hit!
This category’s thought that counts? Sentiment!
Note that the above categories – Upgrades, Luxuries, Treats, Memories, and Sentimental – are in no order of relative importance. Go with what best fits your man.
Problems with Standard “Man Gifts”
Over the years, tired of seeing some people absolutely waste their money on me, I’ve bought my own gifts and used a third family member to pretend he found them for me and to ask if anyone would like to give one of them to me . . . The only joy I got from that was to see loved ones not absolutely waste their money. There are plenty of men who would truly rather be given nothing rather than an ill-suited gift.
First category: thoughtless, spur of the moment, gotta get him something . . . crap. Every year, during the Christmas season, I cringe when I walk through the men’s department in stores and see those stupid little 8 inch long “desktop pool tables”: where’s the thought in those things? We recognize it for what it is: an impersonal token and nothing more, and that counts as a not-nice thought on the giver’s part. It makes us feel exactly the opposite of what a gift should make a person feel: recognized and appreciated. Jeez, even a $10 gift card to a store we like shows more thought and care. (If you ever see a news clip about a man losing his mind in a store and destroying a bunch of those miniature pool tables on behalf of all men everywhere, ya, it’ll probably be me.)
Second category: not thought-less but what-in-the-world-were-you-thinking gifts. For example, I know a woman who gave her husband a very expensive dress watch for Christmas, but (a) he already had a nice dress watch, and (b) he had his own contracting business, so since he often worked outside in all seasons, doing the kind of work that wore out and tore leather boots, what chance would a nice watch stand? If it doesn’t fit our personality or lifestyle much at all, no matter how nice it is, it’s not a good gift. (In addition, whether or not she paid for it with her own paycheck, it was money out of the household (enough to buy a decent used car!), so in a way it cost him a considerable amount for something entirely useless, and we don’t like that sort of thing at all.)
Sub-category of what-were-you-thinking: toys for boys. Sure, it’s great fun to lounge around on Christmas morning drinking coffee with one hand and playing with the kids’ toys, with them, or even with some silly, cheap toy that we got as a stocking-stuffer. But for us men, real men and not mere overgrown boys, things like radio controlled cars are insulting. Toys are for kids, and for fathers and grandfathers to play with the kids, period. Would you like to be given a Barbie doll? A related mythbuster: just because we’re guys, we all don’t crave gadgets.
Third (and largest) category: things we’ll go out and get for ourselves if we want them. Electric shavers are a good example. I’ve been using the same double-edge razor for about 30 years, and I see no reason to replace it. Wallets are another popular but impersonal gift, and besides, most of us have surprisingly strict preferences for what WE think makes a good wallet. For a gift, spend your money on something we hesitate to get for ourselves, the key here being that we’ll go out and “hunt” for whatever we need or want but we may not treat ourselves to the next level of quality. So don’t be eager to replace something we have as much as to upgrade it.
Fourth category: Gifts that look an awful lot like just more work around the house. You wouldn’t want to be gifted a vacuum cleaner “just for you, Sweetie,” would you? So don’t give us a fancy ergonomic snow shovel; no one shovels snow as a hobby, and care for our backs is not a gift but a household necessity (as is cleaning the carpets.)
Well, I’ve had my say.
Hopefully I’ve guided you to the realization that although the specifics might be a little different, we men want to be given the exact same thing you women prefer: consideration for who you really are. Hopefully throughout the year you’ve been involved in his life enough to pick up on clues about what he’d like; you like it when he notices your life, and it kind of hurts when he doesn’t, or when he gets it all wrong, right? So there’s your clue to why I used the phrase “real men” in the title. Real does not mean macho: real means human.
On a tight budget?
For a few specific ideas for gifts in the Sentimental category, check out this hub:
Christmas Gifts on a College Budget by laurathegentleman