Worried that you've got a hard-to-buy-for man? Ask Dad is the wise man in your manger, here to give you my frankincense of knowledge.
I have been a lucky man. I have led a life that was mostly missing the kind of weird aunts, meddling mothers, and overzealous wives that lead to nightmarish man-gifts.
The one bad moment I ever had was a string of gifts that were not quite right a few years back, like a Rolling Stones CD (great!) but the brand new one (crap). I figured out my mom had been buying from the Amazon wish list of the wrong Andrew Dalton. But that's a far cry from the buddy of mine whose dad, as a Christmas gift to him, had the mower blades sharpened so he could cut the lawn better.
So after asking for help from suffering male friends and co-workers, let me present the Ask Dad Don't-Buy-This-Gift Guide:
Tools: Seems like a great idea, right? Handy guys love them, and we unhandy guys probably need them for the inspiration. But really, you're giving them a metal hunk of guilt, like if he got you a bathroom scale. One friend of mine got a circular electric saw for Christmas. "I still have it ... sitting unopened in the box nearly 10 years later," he says, "reminding me I'm not manly enough to cut sh*t up electric-style."
Cologne: Unless your man has a nickname for his abs (I call mine "The Imagination"), he won't wear it, and let's be honest, he shouldn't. Only people capable of subtlety and nuance should wear scents, and most dudes I know would point a bottle down their shirt and blast, making you and the world miserable with their foulness.
Avon for Men: Speaking of foul smells, one friend, whose aunt's an Avon dealer (like a coke dealer, but more ruthless), says she gets him the for-men stuff every year, and it "smells like sh*t. Think Stetson."
Christmas-Themed Anything: I've always thought Christmas-themed Christmas gifts was totally bogus anyway. ("Here you go, something that will be worthless in a week!") But for a dude, it's worse. I love Christmas, but decorations and sweaters and merchandise are just too homey and mothery. Even if it's a Christmas shotgun or a Christmas jockstrap.
Chicken Soup for the Anything: Even if it's the NASCAR soul or the cowboy soul, men's souls don't like chicken soup. If you can find Buffalo Wings for the Soul, knock yourself out.
Four Loko: Sure, he'll be excited to get a few nice cans of the forbidden fruit drink, especially now that it's going to be extra hard to find. But he'll hate you the next day, and he'll hate you more weeks later when he's still writing apology emails to relatives for peeing on the Christmas tree. Avoid the Whipped Lightning too. Unless you're buying for me, of course. That stuff looks deliciously decadent and I've been good all year!
Golf Clubs: This is like him buying you lingerie. It may be just the right idea, and even the right brand, but if it's not just the right kind and doesn't suit your needs and flatter you just right, it might as well come from the 99 Cents Store.
Biographies: Speaking of guilt, one friend and fellow father says he always gets big biographies of prominent Americans, and says they only serve as a "reminder of your own failure to make a mark in the world. Plus, they're always really long."
Sex Toys: Having dealt with vibrating gifts before, I had added this on as an obviously awful choice, but I've changed my mind. It's actually a great idea. Maybe one of those rubber ladyparts, the opposite of a dildo? I think they should be called a "dilda," but I can't get it to catch on. It's the one thing he will never, ever just walk in and buy for himself, and hence the perfect gift. Just make sure he opens it in private, not in front of his Avon-dealing aunt. She may be aghast. Or she may be jealous.
Image via Flickr.com/thebigo