In the great t
radition of guy-humor everywhere, here comes humorist Robert Henry's growling good-hearted rant about holiday madness, A Married Man's Guide to Christmas
Henry reveals the truth about Christmas through the eyes of a typical married man. "Remember, it's now how you celebrate the joyous season. It's whether you are still alive, married, sleeping indoors, with a healthy prostate, and without a rap sheet on January 4th that counts." Husbands will laugh out loud. Dads will slap their knees and keel over (have CPR ready). Wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, female co-workers and sales clerks who dread seeing men mumble and mutter their way through the Christmas section at BIG BOX DISCOUNT WAREHOUSE will nod in recognition at the syndrome best described as "CAN I SURVIVE UNTIL NEW YEAR'S?"
A Married Man's Guide to Christmas
is a must for every guy who wants the women in his life to understand why he's rather buy them gift certificates than brave the treacherous online world of lingerie catalogs. Why have just a joyous season, when you can have a Christmas filled with laughs that don't include finding pictures of Uncle Herbert in a teddy? Irreverent, honest, and biodegradable, Robert Henry has captured the essence of the holiday season for all men in A Married Man's Guide to Christmas
So grab it today for all the beleaguered males on your Xmas list and all the long-suffering females who just want the lights strung on the front porch by Christmas Eve, the honey-do list completed before Aunt Sookie arrives with her flatulent Pekinese, and that expensive bottle of Scotch left mostly full until the tinsel is hung, the presents are wrapped, and the homeowners' association has accepted your apology for spelling out a less-than-jolly greeting in solar-powered candy canes on your front lawn.
’Tis the Season
Ah, the joy of the season. Christmas. It’s just like family... one big, dysfunctional, overly critical, is this the best that you can do, I’m coming to your house and staying for three weeks camped on the floor of your den, family. You love it and you can’t wait for it to be gone.
There is probably no time of the year that we look forward to more. And there is probably nothing else that fills us with such dread. We can accept the ambivalence of our feelings, recognizing that our inner child is wrestling with an elf for control over a large, serrated knife aimed at the heart of one of Santa’s hoarded venison. Or, we can deny our feelings and just reach for a 16 oz. tumbler of our favorite bourbon. Therapy or booze? That’s the Christmas dilemma.
Having sidled close to heresy in suggesting that Christmas might not be all the flock it’s cracked up to be, let me be clear. I like Christmas. My holiday memories are dear to me, matched only by my memory of finding my dad’s stash of Playboys buried in the bottom of his closet back in the summer of ’65. I am moved in special ways.
However, I must give the season its due. It is insidious in nature, promising moist eyes of joy at the sound of silver bells, while concurrently dredging up memories of Uncle Norman dressed as Mrs. Claus, just because he loves the feel of a red velvet brassiere.
Christmas is the sight of a lit Christmas tree in the park, with an even more well-lit bum taking a leak on the bulbs. It’s about the sounds of carols sung on a crystal night with stars beaming hope to all of us. And it’s the tinny squawking of eight-track tunes over a speaker at the tree lot with lights beaming into the semi-bearded faces of sweaty men who are saying, "They all lose a few needles, guy.”
It’s no wonder that we get manic-depressive about the season. We feel good about dropping a buck into the red bucket next to the bell ringer standing in front of K-Mart. On the other hand, we find ourselves online shopping for large caliber weapons that are suitable for giving real sincerity to our feelings about the dozens of charity telemarketers who are calling us at all hours to "open our hearts.”
Over the years I have tried to make some sense of Yuletide. I am not alone. Look into the glassy eyes of a coworker describing his route from in-law to outlaw to favorite aunt to church to pageant to party, during the period that roughly covers the last ten days of the year. The logistics alone are enough to boggle the mind. Stare into the clammy fear of the normal husband trying to decide what to buy his wife. Watch the crazy spinning of children’s eyes as they conjure up a list of "must haves” that together cost more than constructing an addition onto your house. It’s nuts.
Yet, every year we plunge once more into the murky emotional and financial waters of Christmas. Like a woman giving birth again and again, we forget the pain and focus on the perceived joy of the season. How we are able to repress so much and do it all over every year is a mystery that defies all logic. But we do.
I have come to discover that to survive the season we compartmentalize Christmas, dividing chores between spouses, thereby making the whole thing seem less hectic. For example, my wife Isabel is the one stuck with the chore of trying to figure out what to buy our relatives. She remembers things like favorite colors and sizes and other data that is immediately lost to my guy-impaired brain. I remember what relatives drink, but I haven’t a clue as to what the hell they wore the last time we saw them. I know that people have kids, but I don’t know their ages. On the other hand, I know the name of my neighbor’s 17-year-old babysitter. Strange what the brain will process and retain.
Spouses tend to rely on each other’s perceived strengths and somehow attempt to meld the assigned tasks into a passable Christmas celebration. However, the truth is that wives get most of the duties. They tend to shop better, wrap better, and drink less. Wives make lists, an activity that is as abhorrent to most men as asking directions. Wives can tie a bow and tie one on at the same time.
Meanwhile, men are ill-suited for most holiday tasks. The reason is summed up in a simple phrase: "Close enough.” Men are self-forgiving creatures who truly believe that close enough is... well... close enough. If someone wants a sweater and we get them one, the size, color, cut and fabric are really secondary. They got the damn sweater. Close enough. If the tree isn’t falling over and most of the lights are working, that’s close enough. If the wreath is still hanging on the front door, even if the bow blew off on December 10th, that’s close enough. What? You want to fight about it? Not at Christmas.
Then there’s the other thing about Christmas that separates men and women. It’s the big thing. It’s the genetically programmed thing that controls everything during the holiday season. Women act as though someone, somewhere, is standing in judgment of how well they do Christmas. It’s as though there is some evil elf auditor watching their every move, deciding whether each package is wrapped correctly, each piece of garland is hung smartly, and each relative is left with a warm hug of a holiday feeling with their name on it. If women’s gifts are not well received, they claim failure on a personal level.
This feeling of fear, inadequacy and self-loathing is—to employ a term from my best appreciation of modern psychology—goofy. Where does it come from? It’s as though mothers sit their daughters down at a tender age and say, "Now, darling, someday you will have your own home and family. When that happens, all of us will be watching you very carefully to make sure that the ribbon matches the bows on each of the Christmas presents you give. We will also check for dust bunnies under the tree, properly personalized Christmas cards (not just signed), your deportment at family functions, whether you remembered to thank great aunt Mildred for her rancid fruitcake, and about 10,000 other things that we won’t even warn you about. Fail at any of these and you will be stuck with our silent derision for the rest of your life. Merry Christmas, Sweetheart.”
If this conversation is not going on specifically, then I gotta believe it’s happening in other ways. One way or the other, some terrible people are hardwiring women’s brains in a horrible way to make them a little crazy about Christmas. Meanwhile, husbands are left standing there, slack-jawed and dazed, while their wives go into thirty minute dissertations, complete with power point displays, as to why a particular blouse is entirely wrong as a gift for a second cousin who has recently given birth to (we can only presume) a child whose length, weight, sex, hat size, blood type, and tendency to drool to the left have been wholly memorized by our wives and made somehow relevant to the conversation. Our attempt to help by saying something like, "Alright, how about a blue one?” is met with a withering stare that wordlessly states, "You are a moron.”
The fact is, we men know we’re morons. We just don’t care—not if the alternative is becoming crazed about whether the cousin (whose name we barely remember) is going to put a black mark in some hidden Christmas journal about the present we gave her. To us, being a moron is really preferable.
Therefore, this book is written by an admitted moron. Once this fact is firmly established, you can appreciate my perspective on this wonderful season of joy, hope, and happiness that can only be truly enjoyed with the assistance of pharmaceuticals and alcohol, taken in leveled doses, starting about November 25th.
Our shared male mission is to explore Christmas via dissection of its parts. Perhaps we can understand together why otherwise normal people would gather on a night when the temperature is minus ten to go house-to-house singing to people who are standing in frosted doorways in bathrobes, hoping to hell that the carolers will not spurt out another verse so that we can go back to watching the Law and Order SVU Christmas Special. But probably not.
If that doesn’t work, then at least we will have shared our angst and joy, our shared blurred vision of the holidays, and will have together bent Christmas over for a much needed probing of its garlanded gland that pumps forth the joy of the season.
If you look at the ads, check out the Christmas stories and listen to that part of Luke that Linus recites in the cartoon every year, you never hear about anybody doing home repair. That’s because Joseph was out of town. If he’d been back in Nazareth, I guarantee he would have been putting a new ball float in the toilet.
What is the deal? I spend more time wearing a Stanley Work Belt during the holiday season than any other time of year. Why? Why is it that starting the second week of November until January 15th or so, the entire house decides to give it up?
That gutter was perfectly happy all year clinging to the roof. We put on Perry Como singing There’s No Place like Home for the Holidays, and suddenly a fifteen-foot piece of galvanized metal just lets go.
It’s not like we don’t have enough other stuff to do. There’s shopping and wrapping and drinking and football and presents and ESPN and the winter baseball meetings and eating and eggnog and scratching and sitting and tree trimming and... well, you get the idea.
Have you tried ignoring it, you might ask. Yeah, right. Christmas is the time of year when wives strive for the perfection of home and hearth. Ribbons are tied and holly is hung with precise instructions that one normally doesn’t find outside of a German bureaucracy. Wives ain’t gonna tolerate a loose banister or leaky toilet.
But even George Bailey got a break with the wobbly newel post. You can bet Zuzu’s petals that Frank Capra didn’t want to make a movie where George tries to do himself in over a lost chuck key. That may be more true to life, but it’s not Hollywood.
Check out the hardware stores this time of year. Normally you can wander the aisles and it’s still mainly men strolling all alone through piles of lumber and nails. These solitary souls are happy, at peace, and bonding with belt sanders and dry wall. Their nostrils flair at the smell of new 2x10s, and their chests puff out as they heft piles of molding, looking for that one perfect strip.
But during the holidays, we are not alone. Little, tired, shrunken men walk a pace or two ahead of wives who are bearing down on them with a critical eye for each step of the process. These guys are pushing baskets filled with finials and decorative cabinet pulls and mood lighting fixtures. They won’t even make eye contact with guys who are there by themselves.
We even dress differently. In the summer, men are in torn tee shirts and spackle streaked jeans. Smears of sweat and dirt criss-cross happy, manly faces. And everyone seems to be lightly covered in gypsum dust.
Around Christmas, the men are dressed like they’re going to a GAP ad cast party. Paint streaked chinos are forgotten and pressed Dockers are out in abundance. Color coordinated sweater-shirt combinations are on like uniforms, accessorized with a bold muffler that pulls the jacket/sweater combination together. The evidence is obvious. We didn’t "get out the door looking like that.”
If you want to get a sense of the season, get within eavesdropping distance of one of the conversations going on between the couples that have come to fill their holiday hardware needs. They go something like, "If you hadn’t used duct tape on the thingy in October, we wouldn’t be here now.” Wives love historical references.
"Yes, dear, I know. But the damn thing broke during the playoffs,” he says, employing the one reference that all men know justifies a limited attention span. Just uttering the word "playoffs” invokes blanket immunity for nearly any sin of omission. It’s a universal statute writ in resin.
"Well, the tape idea just isn’t the answer,” she says, ignoring entirely the man’s downcast glare into the empty cart.
"That’s why we’re here,” he mutters in a singsong cadence with a slight simmer.
"Well, after you get what you need, I want to check out the paint and decorating department to see if there’s something we can do this weekend about the shutters. If you’re going to hang lights on them, the whole neighborhood will notice that peeling. Now’s the time.” Her assessment of the situation is delivered with punched tones, emphasizing her determination and with such conviction she can barely hear the long sigh rushing from her husband’s lips.
"So which connection do we need?” she inquires, peering across shelves of flanges, grommets, and elbow joints.
"A number six.”
"How do you know?” she asks lightly, trying not to suggest that her mate wouldn’t know a number six connector from a box wrench.
"That’s what broke,” he quickly replies, hoping to satisfy.
"But if that’s what broke, maybe we should get a different one,” she helpfully suggests with a small smile resting under wide eyes that would put a barn owl to shame.
"A different one won’t fit. We need a number six,” he replies patiently, but with a hint of irritation building in his voice.
He pauses, awaiting her mental processes as she is taking in what he sees as obvious. Inside he is begging for this conversation to be over, and he believes there is glimmer of light leading him out of the number six ring of hell. It’s then when he hears that one sound that can make any man cringe. "Hm-m-m.”
There is nothing good about hm-m-m. It’s a terrible sound that entwines around your brain, twisting the frontal lobes into weird shapes that ooze fear and dread. It is the sound of planning, alternative weighing, and other demented practices in which only women engage. Hm-m-m is a warning sign. Danger! Danger! He freezes.
Then she replies, "Maybe if we get a different one, we can reroute the whole thing to make a drain for the bay window flower bed I always wanted in the kitchen,” she offers. "We could fill it with poinsettias and the whole kitchen would be a living Christmas scene.”
His mouth works up and down a few times with no sound coming out. Then, having gained a modicum of control, he mumbles into her back, "Maybe we can grab this stupid 98 cent part and I can get it fixed before the damn game starts.”
"What’s that, John?” she asks, spinning around.
"Nothing,” he says quickly and quietly.
"You know, John, we don’t talk anymore. Do you still love me?”
There is no answer for the holiday hardware problem. The gods have conspired against us. It is the one time of year when the manly art of building merges uncomfortably with the nesting instinct and the unwanted desire to further the goals of your relationship while you are just trying to get the friggin’ sump pump to work.
But the next time you hear the poem, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, think about what ‘honey-dos’ the guy’s wife listed for him to accomplish on Christmas morning before the in-laws arrived.