Brendan O'Connor: 'What to buy the man who wants nothing'
I'm trying to figure out what to get a guy for his 50th. It's not a good thing to have to ponder. Because every time you think of it, you end up thinking "50! F**k! How did we get here?"
In one way it seems to have taken forever and in another way it's the blink of an eye. But here we are. I, and far too many of the people I know, are 50-year-old men.
It would have been easy to know what to get a 50-year-old man back in the day. Back in the day, 50-year-old-men were 50-year-old men.
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And they acted like it. I picture them now, the 50-year-old men I knew when I was a child, and I see them in suits and maybe even hats, and an overcoat in the winter.
Back then, if a chap had lived to the ripe old age of 50, and on the off chance that he was actually telling anyone it was his birthday (men were stoic back then and kept things to themselves, not needy and emotional like they would subsequently become) and on the off chance that he was actually celebrating, you couldn't go wrong. Just buy him a new homburg.
Men back then would get a new hat approximately once a decade. Not because the old one had gone out of fashion you understand, but because it was actually frayed and worn out.
Back then, for men, there were no real cycles of fashion. Ties might change a bit in structure or thickness over the course of a century, but it was all so gradual that a person would generally be dead before they would go out of fashion.
Men basically took the style of the day when they first started work, at the age of 20 or so, and then they wore that style forever. Men did not engage with fripperies like fashion. Fashion was for the ladies and gentlemen of the theatre.
Of course, it's all changed now. A 50-year-old man is not even regarded as having fully matured these days. These days many 50-year-old men spend much of their time out playing on their bikes with their pals. And clothing-wise you can't keep up with them.
If a 50-year-old man was a hipster you could perhaps still buy him a homburg but, in general, most 50-year-old men now favour what has been called athleisure, the expensive trainers their mother would never buy them when they were kids.
You see, somewhere at the back of their minds is the memory of how they had to get Club B runners and jeans from Dunnes, and they are still trying to make it up to themselves by buying ever more expensive leisurewear.
For younger readers: Dunnes back then kept the country clothed, but it wasn't quite as trendy as it is now. Now they have Paul Galvin doing ranges for them.
Back then, there would have been no question of Christy Ring or Jack Lynch doing a range of homburgs or pipes for them.
On the present front, you can't buy someone a book or a CD or a DVD any more either. These things pretty much don't exist as actual objects for most people now.
The odd 50-year-old man may collect vinyl, to distract himself from the fact that he is going to die, but most guys don't have actual physical artefacts any more.
Books and movies and music are things that pass through devices for them.
What makes it worse is that the particular guy I am trying to buy something for works all the time so he isn't hugely engaged with cycling or anything, so I can't get him a bicycle accessory, like an internet-connected dynamo light, or whatever the latest stuff is they've thought up to part cycling men from their money.
He's not a golfer either, so I can't get him golf-club covers. Worse again, he seems to have basically become a Buddhist in recent years. So he probably has no attachment to anything anyway.
Does he even want a present? Or will he look at me quizzically and wonder why I am giving him another possession to worry about.
I think, in reality, the best thing I can give him is this: I can convince him that it's OK to be 50 and we are still young and he has a lot of good years left in him and everything is going to be OK.
And that won't be hard. Because it's all true. Isn't it?