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Sharing time with my bride is a blessing.  During our busy days I eagerly look for opportunities for us to merge our schedules into fun times together.  Some times I even take her shopping.

Yes, that is a perfectly allowable choice.  It is in the fine print on my “Man Card”.  The explanation is under point 27, subsection 12, footnote 75.

We entered a specialty store.  The exclusive product was women’s accessories.  There might even be a subset of specialty stores that describes this venue better, but I frankly do not know what it is.

My bride made her rounds.  Women have a peculiar shopping technique.  The must bond with the products by tactile interaction.

When a woman touches a product she is sensing something about a possible purchase.  Some just use glancing tips of their fingers.  Others grab and others hug the items.

Then, there are those who hold the product up in the air.  Maybe they are attempting to get different lighting angles to help them make their decision.  Yet, others pat the product as if to assure it that their decision NOT to purchase is not personal.

My eyes widened suddenly.  She was coming to me with several products in hand.  “Yipes! She is going to ask me my opinion.”  I force myself to remain calm and act confident.

She assumes the role of a TV Show Hostess Spokesperson.  In turn she displays one choice, shows me the features, talks about the pros and cons.  I listen, acting as if I am tracking with her.

While uttering a timely “Um” or thoughtful “Ah” I miss the transition to a question.  My “Uh huh” is obviously misplaced. “What?  Oh, I’m sorry.  I was thinking about this one here.”

It is a clumsy recovery.  I have been discovered.  Yes, I am a dolt.  I do not understand colors.

In fact I was getting dizzy staring at the wild patterns and countless colors.  How does anyone know how to describe these items?  For me to give an opinion is like throwing dice and calling out whatever numbers happen to land on top.

Knowing what the numbers mean is the trick.  But, I can’t get past my panic attack that feels like being asked a question by a professor in front of my learned classmates and I haven’t a clue as to the answer.  Now, the sweat starts to pour off of my head.  Help!  I feel nauseous! Really!

photo credit: brucefong photography

FullSizeRender-5Busy men always discover the elixir of a momentary break from the heavy responsibilities of their work.  Getting away into the country, the woods or the lake can do wonders to rejuvenate the male soul.  Hardworking men also learn that joining other men to find that relief is very effective.

It has been three years since I have been able to pal around with a special group of Michigan friends.  My life took a surprising turn when I was recruited to my present position of higher education.  The newness of the position and the long list of responsibilities were great so I stayed close to my job for two years.  Finally, it was time to reconnect with great guys.

Describing the men that I shared a few days of adventures on the plains, in the mountains and through the woods is simple.  They are a collection of different kinds of bucks.  A men’s retreat described like a herd of wild animals is saying that they are just a bunch of guys.

There are the young bucks who hurried into the cabin.  They are a lot of fun, full of energy, always moving, taking on new challenges no matter what the risks.  When it is time to eat they have a voracious appetite that defies the possible space of a normal human stomach.

FullSizeRender-6Then, there  are the seasoned bucks.  Their greying hair or loss of it identify them.  They move slower.  But, their deliberate speed is not to be confused with weakness.  There is an ancient Chinese proverb: “Age and treachery will always win over youth and inexperience.”

The dominant buck is the one who speaks and everyone stops to listen, both young and seasoned alike.  He gives direction, outlines the rules and cheers on the accomplishments of the recent activities.  While dominant he is the hardest working, doing whatever it takes to insure that all of the other bucks enjoy their time away from busy lives.

Then, there is the most favorite buck of all. All of the bucks know him. He gives fodder for years of stories to be retold and redacted.  He is the “little buck”.

From him comes the lesson for all men going to retreat with other men: Don’t make a mistake or the other bucks will never let you live it down.  It is all in good fun.  God has given each of us His amazing grace and the joy of being eternally forgiven so we in turn give that gift of forgiveness to our brothers from different mothers.

photo credit: brucefong friend photography

iPad-2013.09.19- (1)This past year has been full of adventure, challenges and God’s blessings.  But, it is past.  Now, it was time to gather my leadership team, go out for a good meal and reflect on what we did well and what we can do better.

Four of us share in the leadership of our institution of graduate higher education.  Each one on this team is extremely capable and humble in carrying out their duties.  Loyalty is huge among us.

I chose the restaurant.  It was a surprise to everyone.  No one else had ever been to this snazzy place to dine except me.

It was a Brazilian steakhouse.  Lunch was the perfect time to come.  It was not as crowded as the evening and the price was like getting the meal on sale.

The salad bar is exquisite.  There are not many presentations of vegetables and unique offerings that compare.  Everything is fresh, bountiful and succulent.

But, for the four of us men, a visit to the salad bar was a mere courtesy.  The main event was waiting to converge on us.  All it took was to turn over a 3×3 card from red to green.

Setting the example with my veteran experience, I flipped my card to green.  Extremely attentive servers were at my side like flies to honey.  A long three prong skewer was loaded with three sirloin steaks, still sizzling from the grill.

The fragrance was enough to make my mouth drool.  He deftly sliced a generous portion and I grabbed it with my tongs and laid it on my plate.  But, I did not have a chance to taste since another server was quickly at my side.

On his serving skewer was a perfectly aromatic lamb roast.  I had to say yes.  When he sliced the tender portion and I laid it on my plate, I could not wipe the smile off of my face.

Another server sliced me a heavenly portion of prime rib.  It was succulent and overflowing with juices.  Quickly I turned my card over to red to stop the flood of food.

It was time to enjoy the moment.  Each slice erupted on my palate with the perfect balance of flavor, heat and tenderness.  This was an ideal spot for us to celebrate a fabulous year together.

Eagerly the four of us rehearsed the last academic year, discussed our hard lessons and reminded ourselves of what we could do better.  Each of us spoke specifically of our great strength, our faculty and staff team.  Others make the success possible, of that we assured ourselves, while downing another slice of roasted perfection.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1985The weather was beautiful in Michigan.  Temperatures were a perfect mid-60’s with sunny skies broken up with an occasional collection of cumulus clouds floating from horizon to horizon.  A gentle breeze caused the leaves in the trees to rustle.

My host, a sharp, creative, wise and devoted young pastor picked me up at the Detroit Wayne Airport.  Together we laughed, discussed, reported and caught up after years of being apart.  There was a lot of shop talk between ministers.

Interspersed in our conversations about our professional comings and goings were reports on our wives, children and common friends.  Periodically, I would glance out of the windows to take in the countryside of a state where I had invested over a decade of my life.  It is April and the hillsides were covered with lush green grass, foliage on the trees and crystal clear water babbling through the brooks and streams.

Great dialogue made the miles slip by quickly.  Soon we rolled up to Gull Lake Ministries near Battle Creek, Michigan.  Nestled among the winding roads lined with private homes, a Christian Conference center had its home.  This would be the site of the gathering of men that I would be privileged to address.

A few hours passed.  Slowly, steadily and surely men arrived.  Some traveled alone.  Others jammed into cars and then burst out with loud guffaws much to the entertainment of others.

Those in charge of the retreat directed the men to the first venue.  Fifty men, all from one  church, gathered in the meeting hall.  Their pastor led the first session, making the men laugh, tease and almost deliver the kinds of sounds that you only hear at a gathering of men.

Worship was strong.  Prayer was intense.  The introduction that was given to me was my signal to preach.  I did.

There is a phenomenon that we speakers experience in moments like these.  It is a sensation that something much bigger than what the eye can see, the ear hear or the body sense.  Instead, it was a spiritual amazement.

The men were attentive.  After a long week at work and a long drive to camp, these men gave me their undivided attention.  God was customizing the presentation of the Scripture to each of these men where they were, based on what they needed and what our heavenly Father knew was coming in their lives.  We all wanted to see our lives in Him make a difference and He is going to make that happen.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

It is possible to recognize bachelor food.  There are several key symptoms to identify that will strongly suggest that the food you are observing is man-food.  Nothing is guaranteed but at least these clues should help you accurately assess the cuisine that keep men being men.

First and foremost, any bachelor food has to be easy.  Long complicated intricate efforts are foreign to bachin’-it food.  Men want something quick and simple.

Second, bachelor food doesn’t have many pots, pans or dishes that need to be cleaned up.  One dish to heat, serve and clean up is a badge of honor for true man food.  KISS is key: Keep It Seriously Simple.

Third, this specialized cuisine utilizes the microwave for single glassware or a burner if one pan heats up the entire meal.  Single dish combinations meet this criteria just fine. 

Fourth, leftovers works well for a primary ingredient for bachelor food.  Usually, there is a dominant presence of protein.  But, that is accompanied with sauce or flavor-rich topping.

My “for instance” bachelor meal is pictured above.  It is composed of a boiled egg from the day before.  I did a little bit of fancy by slicing it in half.

Then, I added two slices of swiss cheese.  The flavor of good cheese on top of a hard-boiled egg, yum!  Finally, I added some specialized salsa.

A microwave minute and forty-five is all that’s needed to heat up the single dish meal.  This is breakfast at its finest.  Add a glass of water and the meal is done.

Clean-up is a cinch.  I simply rinse out the bowl, put those items in the dishwasher and wash down my meal with a final gulp of sparkling H2O.

One last item.  To qualify as man-food there is no recipe.  There are no cook books.

Also, there are no names for the dishes that are produced.  Instead, items are kept in mind by optional ingredients that can be combined if they are available.

Ingredients like fully cooked chicken wings, frozen tater tots, canned meats all work.  Once I made a bachelor meal by heating up chicken wings, tater tots and dousing it all with cream corn.  It was a memorable meal that is still a favorite memory for my youngest son.

There you have it.  Pass the word.  Reproduce the skill.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

We men are a resourceful bunch.  When we are accompanying our wife on a shopping adventure, there is not a lot a hunter or gather can do.  Women are investing soul into the relationship with products while we men pass the time like an off-season outdoorsman waiting for the moment to reenter the field.

So we wander the aisles, poking at this or glancing that.  If we were younger we would avoid stepping on the cracks between floor tiles.  Or if we had a sibling or two we could play hide and go seek in the clothing rounders.

But, I was alone and at a  more distinguished age without the option to subvert myself to an enthusiastic pastime.  Sighing deeply along with a cheerful smile helps for a few seconds.  But, I needed a distraction.

Then it came.  Right in front of me was a display of children’s clothes.  The traditional pink, blue, pastel yellow and green were the choices at hand.

However, another choice grabbed my attention.  There was no quiet smile from me.  I spontaneously burst out laughing.

I was gazing at an infant clothing set.    It was all packaged in a single box.  Five pieces were included: a jump suit, bib, bottle, slippers and pad. 

On the front of the package is a photo of a one year old baby all decked out in the enclosed outfit.  This baby is ready for the woods.  Yes, the entire ensemble is camouflage.

Now, that was really funny.  The baby will not know the difference.  But, one or both of the parents are living vicariously through their baby.

It’s a gift for parents who want to have fun with their family time.  Whoever put this together made me laugh.  Surely, there are parents out there who are going to get some humorous miles out of this wardrobe addition.

However, there ought to be a warning on the package.  It should read: WARNING – use of these clothing items may result in the temporary state of your baby being hidden in plain sight. 

Maybe a coupon should be added so that the parents could send away for a discounted face paint kit with camo colors.  Of course the paints would have to be baby-skin-safe.  A camo tent, sleeping bag and infant-sized camo rucksack could be one of the accessories that are in the “complete your set” option.  This one item kept me entertained until it was time to move on to the next shop, what fun!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

No one told me to do it.  It wasn’t even in my job description.  But, there is something about investing in people who are innate in what my calling is in life.

I seek out men who are going to “show up” when they are supposed to.  They are kind of guys who are dependable.  Their word is their bond.

Responsibility, priorities and obligations are a part of their identity.  Convenience isn’t their motto.  Loyalty and faithfulness are.

Men who take seriously the role of just “showing up” are the kind of men that are on my list.  Title or office are not the same as showing up.  Rather, influence and example are.

Service is another feature that stands in the lives of men that I seek out.  These men give to others. Often you find men who are looking for a perk for themselves.  Overly concerned about losing something or feeling obligated or fearful of getting stuck in something tha they don’t want, those are not the guys on my radar.

Instead, these men are spending time with others in need.  They are investing in helping those who need help.  There is an intuition about these men that gather others around them and render aid. 

These guys are the down and dirty.  They don’t count hours, worrying about expenses or regret giving up something of themselves.  People look up to them from every strata of life.

Men like this are servants.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming that they have the absence of ability.  They are amazingly talented, gifted and successful men.  Simply put, they lead not to gain anything for themselves; rather they give generously of themselves driven by a gift that they have already received to give back to others.

Men on my search list are sincere.  They want to grow no matter where they are in life.  Humility keeps them hungry to learn, develop and become more effective.

Men like this are teachable.  They have an appetite to learn from someone else.  There are no better students in the world than men like this.

I left a group of seven like this back in San Francisco.  They are fabulous guys.  Spending time with them was a personal highlight of my time in the Bay Area.

Now, I’m in Texas.  I’m hunting for more men like those I left behind in Cali.  They’re here, I just have to find them.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Our wives smile when we guys plan a trip with fellow guys.  They know that we are headed for manly adventures.  It’s a guy thing.

Our agenda is simple.  Essential things like food, fun and fellowship are about all we need.  We sorta talk about an agenda, but we are as flexible as the shifting wind.

We are polite with the newbies.  We are overtly interested in each other’s lives, what they do back at home and what they do for a living.  But, that doesn’t last long since we are all guys.

Soon the “stories” start.  That’s not really accurate.  These are not “stories” but exaggerations based on a slim slice of historic truth.  But, it is what guys do.

The more that you’re razzed you know that the guys love ya.  It’s in the man-code.  If you’re a man and never knew this then you need to read the fine print on the back of your man-card.

Please don’t ask your wife where yours is.  She won’t have a clue.  Furthermore, more than likely she won’t believe that there is such a thing.

But, the man-card credential is very real.  Every man is issued one. Look for it.

When the yarns began to spin, the new guests, especially the young ones, look bewildered.  Occasionally they look shocked.  But, soon they realize that this is manhood modeled for their benefit (ala Grand Torino with Clint Eastwood, one of my favorite theologians).

Guys eat a lot during a manly retreat.  We are doing that for sure.  The grub is first-class.

We play hard too.  Some of the guys have been on long hikes, exploring vistas, climbing rocky cliffs and traversing across ravines.  Others do four-wheelin’ up and down 18 degree inclines.

Manly stuff like marksmanship is enjoyed by guys.  Gun powder and challenges are in the man code.  Records are broken in the middle of denials and boasting.

Can you imagine hitting a target with a rifle that is only 6 inches in diameter at a distance of 300 yards?  Our guys consider that a novice shot.  A new record of 630 yards was established by Cowboy-Eagle-eye-Master-shooter Ron Wilson. 

The bragging rights are now his.  It is a record that has been verified and validated.  One hole in a target a long ways a way is a proud achievement.  Simple things please simple minds.  After all, we’re just guys.

photo credit: google image

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