The other day my son and I were talking, and the subject of women came up, and I realized that it was time he and I had a Serious Talk. It's a talk every father should have with his son; and yet, far too often, we fathers avoid the subject, because it's so awkward.
The subject I am referring to is: buying gifts for women.
This is an area where many men do not have a clue. Exhibit A was my father, who was a very thoughtful man but who once gave my mother, on their anniversary, the following token of his love, his commitment and — yes — his passion for her: an electric blanket. He honestly could not understand why, when she opened the box, she gave him that look (you veteran men know the look I mean). After all, this was the deluxe model electric blanket! With an automatic thermostat! What more could any woman WANT?
Another example: I once worked with a guy named George who, for Christmas, gave his wife, for her big gift — and I am not making this gift up — a chain saw. (As he later explained: "Hey, we NEEDED a chain saw.") Fortunately, the saw was not operational when his wife unwrapped it.
The mistake that George and my dad made, and that many guys make, was thinking that when you choose a gift for a woman, it should do something useful. Wrong! The first rule of buying gifts for women is: THE GIFT SHOULD NOT DO ANYTHING, OR, IF IT DOES, IT SHOULD DO IT BADLY.
For example, let's consider two possible gifts, both of which, theoretically, perform the same function:
GIFT ONE: A state-of-the-art gasoline-powered lantern, with electronic ignition and dual mantles capable of generating 1,200 lumens of light for 10 hours on a single tank of fuel.
GIFT TWO: A scented beeswax candle, containing visible particles of bee poop and providing roughly the same illumination as a lukewarm corn dog.
Now to a guy, Gift One is clearly superior, because you could use it to see in the dark. Whereas to a woman, Gift Two is MUCH better, because women love to sit around in the gloom with reeking, sputtering candles, and don't ask ME why. I also don't know why a woman would be ticked off if you gave her a 56-piece socket-wrench set with a 72-tooth reversible ratchet but thrilled if you give her a tiny, very expensive vial of liquid with a name like "L'essence de Nooquie Eau de Parfum de Cologne de Toilette de Bidet," which, to the naked male nostril, does not smell any better than a stick of Juicy Fruit. All I'm saying is that this is the kind of thing women want. (That's why the ultimate gift is jewelry: It's totally useless.)
The second rule of buying gifts for women is: YOU ARE NEVER FINISHED. This is the scary part, the part that my son and his friends are just discovering. If you have a girlfriend, she will give you, at MINIMUM, a birthday gift, an anniversary gift, a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa gift and a Valentine's Day gift, and every one of these gifts will be nicely wrapped AND accompanied by a thoughtful card. When she gives you this gift, YOU HAVE TO GIVE HER ONE BACK. You can't just open your wallet and say, "Here's, let's see . . . $17!"
And, as I told my son, it only gets worse. Looming ahead are bridal showers, weddings, baby showers, Mother's Day and other Mandatory Gift Occasions that would not even EXIST if men, as is alleged, really ran the world. Women observe ALL of these occasions and MORE. My wife will buy gifts for NO REASON. She'll go into one of those gift stores at the mall that men never enter, and she'll find something, maybe a tiny cute box that could not hold anything larger than a molecule, and is therefore useless, and she'll buy it, PLUS a thoughtful card, and SHE DOESN'T EVEN KNOW WHO THE RECIPIENT IS YET. Millions of other women are out doing the same thing, getting farther and farther ahead, while we guys are home watching instant replays. We have no chance of winning this war.
That's what I told my son. It wasn't pleasant, but it was time he knew the truth. Some day, when he is older and stronger, we'll tackle an even more difficult issue, namely, what to do when a woman asks: "Do these pants make me look fat?" (Answer: Flee the country.)
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Write to him c/o The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132.