No, you don’t have to do particular things in order to be a “real man,” but real men always do particular things, so the following gifts can, in fact, help you be a man. I have selected the following with the simple requirements that they help one in pursuits worth pursuing and in relation to our relations (i.e. they serve the man but also his family). So, here is my gadget-less gift guide for men, that leans heavily on good solid gifts that most men would find useful, attractive, and edifying to own.
Note: There’s 12 of them (Apostles, Days of Christmas, Carton of Eggs, etc.), but this is not a countdown or a rating. Also, I’ve tried to span the cost spectrum for the variety of budgets out there.
- Channel Locks. Yes, technically these are “adjustable pliers,” but the Channel Lock brand has so served this need that the it is now the name of the tool (like xerox machines not made by Xerox). The pronunciation, by the way, is “channa-locks”. My father was once at my house and asked for some channa-locks and I handed him an off-brand with a black handle. He looked at them and said, “Channa-locks have blue handles, son.” He’s not a stickler for brands, but in this case, he’s right. I’ve had other brands break, but not these. A good pair of Channel Locks is not only one of the most useful tools in the box, but they’ll last a lifetime. The kit I’ve linked here also has a daily user – a screwdriver with two sizes in flathead and philips, and a rubber handle (for jumping that solenoid without getting shocked).
- Filson Tin Cloth Pants. These are some damn good pants. Yes, they’re pricey for pants, but they will literally last forever. Not only do they look good, even sitting at the natural waste, but they are by far one of the best investments I’ve made as a wannabe farmer. Jeans, the most overrated garment in history, are hot in the summer and cold in the winter; they get too wet too easily and are not nearly as tough as they look. When you’re doing any sort of work on a regular basis (which, really, all men need to do), your pants take it in the… well, pants. I’ve tried everything from Carhart to jeans to retired dress khakis. Nothing beats these pants. If you rip or split these pants, you probably need to go to the ER. They are waxed cotton, which means you don’t wash them in a traditional way but wipe them clean and re-wax when necessary. It sounds like more work, but it’s really less. Also, the cloth is tough enough to walk briskly through briars and thorns, but supple enough to enjoy them in a rocking chair too. The traditional outside-the-band suspender buttons are awesome, and if you’re like me you’ll never put a belt on again after trying suspenders. Because of the finish, they get a patina that is won through work and experience and is unique to your tasks and place. I’ve made a lot of investments on my farm, but these pants come in a close second just after my first milk cow.
- A Sword and Spade subscription (or another magazine). On our farm we have a goal of good work, by which we mean praying the liturgy (the “work of God,” as St. Benedict called it), good labor (tilling and keeping the garden, like Adam was commanded), and reading good books, good “works”. I get sucked into reading things online, but experience and studies continue to prove what most of us know intuitively – we need to get off screens and read things on paper in order to actually read deeply and gain something. I bet you read stuff on a screen last week – what was it? See? It comes too fast and shallow to retain. Yes, we try to have worthwhile content here on TCM, but we also know that we want to bring men in to push them beyond the screen to things like St. Joseph’s Farm retreats, Exodus90, and more. I’ve recently been a part of the launch of a new magazine for men that I think readers of this site will really like. It is the first magazine of its kind, a sort of “by men and for men” approach that has meaningful content but is uniquely suited to help Catholic men be better leaders and fathers. And, by subscribing you also help to support Fraternus, an apostolate that has been effectively mentoring boys into virtuous Catholic men for over a decade.
- Dewalt Table Saw. I said gadget-less, not cordless. Want to finally get to that built-in bookshelf or dining room wainscoting? I own this saw and cannot say enough about it. Yes, there are cheaper brands – and even cheaper offerings from Dewalt – but this thing is so mobile and useful I had to include it. I will often set it up and use it, of course, for ripping boards, etc., but because it is so sturdy and has an expansive fence (over 32”), it can replace getting out a chop saw in many cases. I’m actually using it right now for finishing some bookshelves in my office and I’m always amazed at how helpful it is on that sort of project. But, again, the mobility means that if a cow breaks a door down in the milking barn I can unplug and be there in a jiffy.
- Exodus90. Wait… you’ve been through Exodus90, right? If not, let this be the [liturgical] year where that changes. Yes, this is a gift guide, but Exodus is one of those things that you must do with a brotherhood of men, so to challenge yourself is to give it to your brothers as well. They (and you) cannot do it alone. Give the gift that keeps on taking away (sin and warm showers, that is): Exodus90.
- The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many men want to join in the official prayer of the Church, but sometimes the Divine Office can seem a little intimidating. Well, that problem was taken care of centuries ago when laymen regularly prayed the Little Office, which is a Saturday Office dedicated to Our Lady. In fact, the promises of the Brown Scapular are typically understood to be “transferred” to the praying of the Rosary, the original requirement being to pray the Little Office. Its best features are its brevity and simplicity. The Psalms do not change from day to day, and the changes in the propers are few and easy to handle (you don’t need ten ribbons to drive this thing). There have been “updated” versions meant to… I don’t know why they did it actually. Don’t buy those. I’ve attached the traditional office here from Baronius Press version, which has both the Latin and English as well as some chant notation, as your liturgical geekdom grows, and some worthwhile devotions and meditations in the back. It can fit in a jacket pocket easily (and the back pocket of the Filson pants above).
- Two Man Crosscut Saw. I fell in love with crosscut saws when I dug one up while gardening – it was nearly rusted away and all of seven feet. Imagining two men needing each other to use this simple tool was inspiring. Yes, I have a chainsaw, but getting this saw out allows me to work with friends and have a conversation alongside the rhythm and order that traditional tools require. Good work is inherently meaningful, and if you’re cutting firewood for your family with this thing you’ll appreciate and enjoy the whole process even more.
- Brooks Brothers Dress Shirt. I may have a farm, but I’m no barbarian. There’s just no beating a brand-new shirt from Brooks Brothers. Yes, there are other decent brands, and some are put off by the non-iron finish ubiquitous to these shirts today, but they’re still hard to beat. I buy about 1 round of shirts a year (or every other year), and then retire them to work shirts once they’re well worn. At that point – when the collar is fraying from whiskers and the cloth is well broken-in – these things feel like pajamas. This “double use” makes these a true investment, because unless you snag them on a nail or something, making them irreparable, they really do last and look great. Because I’m an American, I recommend the button-down collar. That shirt style was basically invented by Brooks Brothers and is actually the correct use of the word “polo” (Ralph Lauren worked at Brooks Brothers and got permission to call his tennis shirts “polos”, which has now become the common name for other brands too. But if you look at Brooks Brothers button-downs you’ll see the word “polo” on the collar, because they had the name first.). Also, stick to blues and whites in simple patterns, because these are more easily matched with ties and look good in a variety of settings (generally avoid pastels unless you know what you’re doing and never get dark colors like red and brown). Sticker shock? Get them on eBay.
- 12 Gauge Shotgun. The reason for a 12 gauge shotgun is simple: its versatility. From squirrels to dear to dangerous dogs, it’s a hunting machine. It’s also a blast to shoot skeet with (get it?.. blast…). In fact, on St. Joseph’s Farm retreats – along with a traditional hog-killing – we almost always shoot skeet. If you get a new gun and want to learn how to use it, come to the farm. Joel and Art, our resident guides with more skills than any man could need, will get someone with zero experience shooting moving targets across a pasture in no time. Some people have said we should actually call our retreats “doing stuff with Joel weekends.” (Full disclosure: Joel recommended this and the next three gift ideas.)
- Opinel Knife. These knives are made in a town in France dedicated to St. John the Baptist, who is the patron of our local parish, and, naturally, this gives us ample reason to have an affinity for these tools. But not only that, they are well-made of good materials, yet lighter than an average knife. The wooden handle can be easily customized as well, providing a personal touch to a classic cutting tool.
- Cyclops Hat Clip Lights. I’ve been sold on headlamps for years. From flipping a breaker to checking on a newborn calf, when you’re working in the dark you need (a) light and (b) your hands, which makes traditional flashlights a solution to one problem but the addition of another. But I know many people run out with their caps on, especially if its cold and you need to find the short in the Christmas lights, which makes these little lights the perfect gift. Not only will they light up an entire engine bay and some, but they’re slim like a lighter. I’ve used headlamps for years, but in the winter and when a hat is needed, I switch to these.
- Coin Tissues. Every man knows that you need a towel or napkin of sorts at inopportune times. That’s the brilliance of the classic handkerchief. As you can tell, I’m not one for modern updates to classic things, but this is an innovation that doesn’t replace tradition, it creates a new category of usefulness. Coin Tissues are highly compressed towels that expand into a reusable and mildly disposable tool. From urgencies deep in the woods to your kid’s bloody nose in Mass, these tiny things will be like a literal superhero – a strong presence appearing seemingly from nowhere to save the day, only to discreetly leave the scene when the time is right.
And, as such posts seem to require, feel free to add some ideas below.