I always found it pure agony to come up with anything approaching the perfect gift for my husband. For starters, if he really wanted something we could afford, he had probably already gone out and bought it for himself. If he couldn’t afford it, you can be darn sure I wasn’t about to ask for the money to buy it for him. Material things are easy enough to think of– the stores are full of gadgets and goodies that men want– just watch him sometime as he gets near the sale bin at the hardware store. He may have seventeen different sizes and styles of pliers, screwdrivers, socket sets, or drill bits, but if there’s just one other that he doesn’t have, he needs to be sure he has it just in case he ever needs it. After all, everybody knows what a waste of valuable time it is if you have to drop what you’re doing and run to the hardware store in the middle of tuning up the lawnmower– or mending a torn window screen. It’s better to have an ample supply of everything you could possibly need– well in advance. Tools are always a safe gift for a man. Expecting him to actually make good use of them is beside the point.
It isn’t the admiration and gratitude he’ll get for playing handyman that makes tools valuable possessions. It’s the knowledge that he’s well prepared just in case he should ever find himself in the position of having the necessity as well as the knowledge to actually fix something around the house. Knowing he hasn’t the skill can easily be covered up by insisting the broken whatever was junk to start with and should be replaced. This gives him a really good reason to go to the hardware store and, if he actually comes home with a replacement for the broken whatchamacallit, be sure you check that other bag he brought home to see what he found in the sale bin.
Most men, I think, really want to be heroes, and fixing broken toasters and leaky faucets is one way to achieve that distinction. Heroes, of course, have to make fast, accurate assessments of situations and know instantly just how to remedy them. It is crucial to be right all the time. I’ve figured out that this is the reason men hate to ask for directions and don’t believe in reading the instructions. Since the human race evolved, men have either chosen or been forced into the role of protector. They are bigger and stronger than women as a rule, and they are not encumbered with childbirth and nurturing. They have been wired to be the protectors, the heroes, and this requires that they make the right decisions, and make them quickly. When the saber tooth tiger is threatening your hearth and cave, you don’t have time to go ask somebody what you should do. You have to act. Now. Fast. And you have to be right. The ones who didn’t make the right decision, who didn’t manage to outsmart or outmaneuver the tiger, got killed off pretty quickly, so the guys who did it right were the ones who passed on their genes to future generations. I guess the saber tooth tigers have gone by the wayside, but the need to be the hero is deeply ingrained in the male psyche and even the most radical of feminists isn’t going to change that.
In the pursuit of their heroship, men sometimes take things too far. Take the purchase of a car, for instance. There is no reason why a woman can’t be just as knowledgeable about buying a station wagon as she is in picking out groceries for her family, furnishings for her home, or clothing for her children. Most men would prefer that their women take care of those domestic matters. True, there was a time when cars were strictly male territory. It came from the conventions evolving around horses, the care and training of which were traditionally provided by men. Early automobiles were difficult to drive, requiring physical strength to start, to steer, and to service. Repairs and maintenance were often required on the road, far from garages and trained mechanics. Most women wouldn’t have dreamed of heading out on long trips in a car without a man in attendance. All that changed over the years with service stations and auto clubs– and today’s cell phones– having an equalizing effect. But still, a man won’t let his wife, his daughter or his mother talk to a car salesman without his help and advice. At one time, this may have been at least partly because a car was a major purchase and men, as the traditional breadwinners, needed to make sure no money was wasted. Car salesmen were for a long time considered the equivalents of horse-traders and men figured the women would not get a fair deal. Not true today. Some women are much better negotiators than some men, the good-ol’-boy attitude notwithstanding.
Funny thing, the last time I got a new car, my husband insisted on going along and dealing with everything. Guess what. He insisted on my having exactly what I wanted, even though it cost more than I would have spent on my own. I figure it was because, just maybe, he wanted to be a hero.