I overheard two women at work discussing their secret sister Christmas gifts for each other.  ‘Those were beautiful panties!  Thank you so much!’  And I realized, this is why men don’t have ‘secret brothers.’  I mean, men might feel it, but seldom articulate the sentiment; ‘Yeah, Dan, I loved that underwear you gave me.  I can’t wait to put it on!’

Obviously, women do this stuff all the time.  Women aren’t challenged by gift giving.  It doesn’t feel odd to them.  They buy each other candles that smell like vanilla and nutmeg, or banana-mango bath oil and raspberry-chocolate scented perfume for their pillows.  They give undergarments and scrap-booking supplies, touching poems and boxes of candy.  They even do it for us, usurping our own gift choices before office parties:

‘Honey, we have to take a gift’.

‘Right, I have a box of Christmas candles that smell like peppermint, or a floral arrangement with cute little elves…which do you want to take?’

‘Pumpkin, there are, uh, there are men there, you  know?’

‘Yes, and their wives will be there too.  What do you want to take?  A box of shotgun shells?’

YES!  That’s what we want to take!  And that’s where I started thinking, with Father’s Day approaching, ‘what if men did have ‘secret brothers?’  Imagine the workplace enthusiasm, as men went to parties expecting cool stuff!   I mean, not the sort of things you see on the Internet as ‘for men!’  The majority of us really don’t want exfoliating lotions or foot massagers, champagne glasses or Onyx and diamond rings.  We want guy stuff!

‘Bob, man, you knew I always wanted a custom-made turkey call!  This is so awesome!’ ‘Dude!  A switchblade?  I have always wanted one!’  ‘A calendar with every NASCAR race marked on it?  This is the most useful gift I have ever received.  Hold me, Tom, hold me!’  Wives and girlfriends would roll their eyes, and console themselves with Lime-Gardenia meditation oils and excessively fuzzy socks.

Sure, women think it’s funny.  They think we want nothing so much as another pineapple wall hanging that they saw in Southern Living.  But men like gifts too!  We just like them to be a little different.  We don’t want a day at the spa; we want a day of quail hunting.  We don’t need a pedicure; we need to go to the Indy 500 time trials.  We prefer to buy our own underwear, thanks, but a pair of camouflage, Gore-Tex gloves for that winter hunting trip would be really nice.

Maybe we should have ‘Secret Brothers,’ because women sometimes fail to understand what other men do; that a copy of the movie Patton trumps anything with subtitles (unless it’s a Samurai flick), and that most of our books should have some reference to a) sports, b) combat or c) our hobby or hero.  (Furthermore, ladies, don’t tell us how the book made you cry because of the way the heroine just never thought he loved her until right before ‘he died…from… sniff…African Sleeping Sickness!’)

But because not every guy will receive a gift from another, like-minded guy, I have a little guide.  And over the years, I have developed a simple rule of three things that almost every man will accept as a reasonable gift.  They are:  a pen, a watch and a knife.  This will cover the gamut of almost all men in the Western Hemisphere, and most in the rest of the world.  See, a pen reminds us that our ideas and insights are meaningful, and sometimes need to be recorded.  (And is useful for writing checks to buy flowers and silky things on Mother’s Day).  A watch reminds us that our time on earth is short, and we must use it well.  (And that we’re late for work).   And a knife reminds us that we have capacity and usefulness; that we are movers in our world, always armed with something that can serve as tool or weapon as the need arises.  (And that we probably need a tetanus shot).

It’s not hard and fast.  But it’s a simple rule to apply to the majority of husbands and fathers.  So, this Sunday, think like a ‘secret brother’, and get the man something he can brag about.   Not something he has to dissolve in bathwater or that you get last minute in the ‘Father’s Day’ section of your favorite store.  He may not smell as nice as you’d like, or have organized ties; but he’ll appreciate it more than you know.

(Printed this week in The Greenville News)