All posts in Man Skills

Man Skills: The Art of Apologizing

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The apology is a lost art in modern times.  A well-intentioned expression of shortcomings and remorse has been replaced by meaningless platitudes such as “I’m sorry if you were offended by…” and “I could understand how some might find my conduct offensive.”  A man owns his shortcomings, apologizes to those harmed by them, and promises to correct his behavior in the future.

Here are four basic rules for a good apology.

  1. It’s all about you. This is one of the few times in life that it is really all about you.  Leave the other person out of your shortcomings.  Any expression of guilt that involves the word “you” is insufficient.  “I am sorry that you were offended by my behavior” — for example — indicates that some people, perhaps even the average person, would not have been offended by the behavior and that at least part of the guilt belongs to the other person for being so sensitive.  Own up to your mistakes like a man and allow the other person to apologize for any of their own shortcomings if and when they feel like it.
  2. Specifically identify what you did wrong. Let the other person know that you can identify the shortcoming that upset them.  A simple “sorry” is for children.  Putting your finger on the specific shortcoming communicates to the other person that you carefully reflected on the shortcoming and listened to feedback.  It also communicates to the other person that because you understand the shortcoming, you are highly unlikely to repeat it in the future.
  3. List future corrective actions.  Listing future corrective actions communicates to the other person that you take the shortcoming seriously and are willing to undertake the time and effort necessary to fix it permanently.
  4. Make the apology unconditional.  There’s nothing worse than an apology that uses the word “if.”  For example, we often hear athletes condition an apology by stating that they apologize “if anyone was offended.”  The very fact that an apology is being issued through the press indicates that people were in fact offended.  Again, this indicates that the normal person might not be offended and that the apology is really directed at the fact that there are so many sensitive members of society (which may be true but also besides the point).  Own up, unconditionally.

Finally, it should be noted that prudence, above all, should govern apologies.  Apologize when you are wrong and have affected another with your shortcoming.  Do not apologize so frequently and for such trivial matters so that your apologies become meaningless and worthless.

Man Skills: How to Fold a Silk Pocket Square

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A neat pockets square is one of the best suit accessories a man can have.  More subtle and certainly less expensive than a nice watch or cuff links, a well-folded pocket square is an easy way for a man to set himself apart from his peers.  There are at least two ways to fold pocket squares.  Personally, I fold cotton handkerchiefs into actual squares, and they are my preference for daily dress, particularly when going to work.  Silk handkerchiefs are typically tri-folded and are perhaps best used for more formal occasions.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Folding a Silk Handkerchief:

Step 1: Lay the handkerchief flat. 

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Step 2: Fold over the handkerchief twice such that it is now 1/4 of its original size.  Fold so that when finished the tag is on the top outside edge. 

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Step 3: Fold the top sheet of the handkerchief down such that the top left corner meets the bottom right corner. The tag is now on the bottom.

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Step 4: Pull apart the three peaks in the top left corner such that all are showing.  It is easiest to do this by pulling the top peak to the right and the bottom peak to the left. 

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Step 5: Fold the right and left edges of the handkerchief toward the middle.  This is so the pocket square actually fits into the pocket of a suit jacket. 

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Step 6: Fold the bottom of the handkerchief toward the middle, again so that it fits into a suit jacket.  

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Step 7: Place the pocket square into the suit jacket so that the side that was facing down now faces out. Some adjustments will be necessary. 

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Man Skills: Making a Table

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There’s nothing more romantic than making something for a woman using your own two hands, especially if that something ends up looking better than what you could buy at a department store.  I first got the idea to make a table for my wife while reading the excellent blog The Art of Manliness.  If you aren’t a frequent reader over there, you probably should be.  With very little woodworking experience (I once made a recipe box) and the generous use of a colleague’s garage, I made the table at which, God willing, my wife and I will feed our future children and grandchildren for years to come.

I modeled the base of the table off the plans I found at the Art of Manliness website.  The plans are extremely easy to follow, even for someone unnamedwithout any woodworking experience.  Taking a table saw, I cut notches in the legs and crossbeams so that the pieces would fit together and hold upright even without the use of screws.  Because my wife and I will probably move a few more times before we settle down in a house for good, I added a nut and bolt combination so that I could break down the entire base into a few pieces  without stripping the screw holes.  If you look closely you can see the holes for the bolts in the rails to the right.

My friend talked me into making the tabletop slightly more complex than I planned.  Instead of screwing the boards together like they did over at the AOM, I used glue and clamps to put four boards together and then made breadboard ends using two more boards, a few scraps of  wood, and 1/2 inch dowel.  I found this process pretty difficult given my inexperience, but the end product looks much better for it.

Finally, I did not stain the table, instead opting to slop on some linseed oil to preserve the natural color of the wood.  I made the table using construction grade lumber, going to Home Depot and simply picking out the cheapest, straightest boards I could find (this entire thing cost less than $200), but I still could not bring myself to stain the completed project.

I learned two extremely valuable lessons during the few weekends I spent working on my table.  First, I learned how to use some basic tools under the supervision of a more experienced woodworker.  Every man should know how to use a saw, drill, and belt sander.  Second, this project redefined what I perceived a possible do-it-yourself project to be.  When I first picked up the wood for the table in September, the salesman at Home Depot immediately knew that I had no idea what I was doing, what I needed to finish my project, or how to actually build the table I was buying wood for.  He was extremely skeptical of my prospects for success.  By Halloween, the chaperons at my brother-in-law’s high school Halloween party were paying visits to my in-laws’ garage to check out what I had built.  A little perseverance and a big leap of faith can go a long way.

The Importance of Fatherhood

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There are few relationships which have a stronger bond than that between the father and son.  With Father’s Day around the corner, I spent a few minutes thinking about this relationship over the past week. Ultimately, the father is the greatest teacher a boy can have because he imparts his wisdom and knowledge of what it means to be a man without the son ever realizing it.

One of the best aspects about fathers is that they teach through activity.  When I was barely able to walk, my father and I would “rough-house” each night, a wrestling match to determine the “Champion of the World.”  I was so determined to pin him, and every now and then he would allow me to get his shoulders down for three seconds, which I was convinced was the greatest feeling on earth, and given my age I was probably right.  He also taught me a little something about music by blasting The Thunder Rolls on his 80s, chest-high speakers.  We would sing at the top of our lungs until my mother would come in from the other room to make sure everything was okay.  I, like many men, probably look back on those early memories as some of our favorites.

When I got a little older, my dad taught me to fish, which started with a small string, some spare line, and a bobber (I was too young to be trusted with a hook, and never knew the difference).  Eventually he taught me to play chess, always spotting me his queen to make it more fair.  He even became my scout leader and helped teach my friends and I how to make bond fires, the proper words to the national anthem, and how to safely carry a knife (something several of us had some troubles learning).  Some of my favorite memories with my dad are him watching me decorate my pine wood derby car and helping him make a tree stand for the start of deer season.

The father-son relationship is truly an amazing one, and it’s difficult to resist the urge to over-analyze its beautiful simplicity.  By spending time with you, the father teaches you the skills necessary to be a man and to lead a family.  I can’t help but feel, however, that this is almost an accident, or wonderful coincidence, of a relationship built on love.  The father’s love for the son is so great that he would rather pitch endless wiffle balls to him after he gets finished with work than do anything else.  These activities and experiences are what makes the relationship special and truly unique; that the father wants to spend his leisure time with the son.

I think that the absence of that relationship is the hardest part of moving away from home, whether that be by going to college or by starting one’s own family.  Although my dad prepared me to face the world and all its challenges, there is still a longing for the days when we could sit on the couch and watch football each Sunday, or evenings of watching him make something in his woodshop with him listening patiently to my completely useless, unsolicited advice on how to make something he’s done 100 times before.  There are some things that phones and computers can’t make up for, and time spent with a dad is one of them.

Happy Fathers’ Day!

Man Skills: Percolators

Percolator

My parents always made coffee with a percolator growing up so I’m always surprised when I meet people who only know how to make coffee using a drip machine.  Someone recently visited our apartment and promptly blurted out “you guys really are stuck in the 50s aren’t you!”  We wish. . .Percolator

If you want to make a good cup of coffee, I strongly believe that you have to start with a percolator or a French press.  The percolator’s roots date back to the early 1800s, when coffee was first seen as a serious alternative to tea in English culture.  Count Rumford invented the percolator for military use, hoping that it would help in his larger efforts to improve the diet of those serving in the British military.  For his efforts, he was eventually named a Count of the Holy Roman Empire.

A percolator works by using the heat of the stove-top to force boiling water through a small tube which releases over ground coffee beans.  The water is run through the beans time and time again, making the flavor much fuller than a drip machine, which only passes the water over the coffee beans once.

The stove-top percolator has five parts.  Begin by filling the pot with cold water until it is just short of the spout.  Some people like to begin with warmer water because it hurries the process along, but others steadfastly maintain that starting with warm water adversely impacts the taste.  I always start with cold water.Percolator

Next, place the basket over the tube so that it is supported by the spring.  Put in three heaping tablespoons of coffee in the basket, and then put the cover on the basket.  The cover is placed so that its indentation forms an upright cup.  This allows the water to pool as it flows into the beans.  Finally, put the lid on the percolator.

PercolatorThe next step depends on whether you have a gas or electric stove.  My parents have an electric stove.  They place the percolator on the stove, turn it on high, and wait for the percolator to start rapidly perking.  Then then turn the burner off and wait for the perking to stop before serving.  I have a gas stove, so I turn the heat on to three-quarters and wait for the percolator to start rapidly perking.  I put a timer on for three and a half or four minutes (depending on how dark I want the coffee) and then I turn off the burner.  The coffee is immediately ready to serve.Percolator

Of course, you should always purchase your coffee supplies from Mystic Monk Coffee and help these men build a new monastery.