I was thinking about a post I read on what makes a smell “manly.” My son Austin is taking a Psych class and they studied smell, odor, and attraction. This of course made Dominica happy because she had read similar facts that we are attracted to certain people, especially for finding a mate and someone to procreate with based on odor. I didn’t know then nor do I know now if this is 100% true but I do feel there must be something to smell regarding the laws of attraction. I also believe that attraction, especially for long term relationships like marriage, surely require other factors. It seems pretty clear that it is not just about whether someone is handsome or pretty, rather something else must be triggered at a micro, even primal level. Smell must have something to do with it. Odor, musk, and even outside odors that contribute to attraction, certainly at a minimum, smells conjure up memories and connections to other people, places, and memories in our lives.
This got me thinking of “manly” smells. Smells that when they come whiffing by, I think of masculinity, manliness, or some man in my life. Certainly being the father of mostly boys has generated our share of other smells, not all of them manly of course, but distinct nonetheless.
So I decided to share a brief list of smells, that I think are “manly.” Ones that do the same for me, cause me to remember my dad, myself, or other experiences, that connect me with something that feels just a little more masculine then feminine.
10 Manly Smells (IMO)
Coffee – I don’t think it would be right if I don’t mention coffee as one of those manly smells. Sure, many families now have a Keurig or a Nespresso or drop by the local Starbucks’ to get their coffee on the way to work but, when you make your coffee at home, from actual beans (not pods) and whether you grind it on the spot or not (purists would say that is best), freshly made coffee, at home, especially on a lazy weekend, is always right. Black, thick, and earthy, freshly made coffee has a transcendent quality about it somehow that fills the whole home, even after a short brew time. My dad liked it black with cream and sugar and I still vividly remember his campfire percolator that I shot a BB into as a kid (clear mark but no hole!). Me? At home I like cold brew best, maybe with some maple and a bit of milk with lots of ice. I certainly enjoy the V60, the Chemex and the Aero Press, and when I espresso, the favorite is a macchiato in the traditional Italian way (about 2 oz each of espresso and steamed milk and foam).
Campfire – The funny thing about campfires for me is yes, I do think them as manly but not in the way you might think. This is one that doesn’t necessarily bring to mind images of my dad. There are many memories, but probably one of my faves is when I made a fire, from scratch, at Golden Gardens, on a blustery day in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. It was one of the first times Dominica and I did anything with all the kids and I was somehow determined to make a fire, after all, she told me dozens of times (and hundreds since) of how much she liked campfires, their smell, the relaxation and warmth of it all and so on. Some of her recent friends had always relied in the “Boy Scout” cheat, with gasoline or some other fuel. I was determined to do something different, simpler, more “pure.” So, I found an old tree trunk, dug out a hole that would shield the wind, and proceeded to make a fire, with nothing more than a few twigs, some old paper, and a match or two. Sounds great right? Well that wind was really howling and I barely got it going, but I did! The rest, as they say, is history…
Tobacco – My dad smoked a pipe for most of my life and for a lot of that time, I didn’t “appreciate it” as my generation was the first to be educated on all the ills of tobacco. So I looked at that pipe with disdain. And when he would smoke cigarettes instead? Forget about it. Nothing about cigarettes smells good. But the pipe…even though I was self-righteous about it, the memories are distinct, subtly sweet, earthy and masculine. Now that I am older, I now smoke a pipe and cigar occasionally and those memories sneak into my mind as the smoke slowly and gingerly works its way past my mouth and up and around my nose. Jury is out if my kids will appreciate it like I came to…
Gun Oil – I hadn’t used gun oil or even been around it since I was a teenager but when I was rehabbing a couple of old, slightly rusty knives my dad had given us, the recommendation was using some gun oil in the cleaning. I ordered some, it came, and I set up a little work area on the table to clean the knife. The distinct, pungent and strangely familiar smell of the gun oil startled me. I don’t remember a specific event or time in my life when I was araound it but I obviously was. It was pleasant and almost comforting. I am sure that sounds like a weird way to describe it but it was. Now that the boys have been given a few guns from their Peepa, we can use this same gun oil to keep them clean!
Leather – When I say leather, I want you to know that I am not talking about purses, or wallets, or even my daytimer. You can probably guess that the ‘manly’ part of the smell of leather does not include those items, rather I am thinking of an old leather boots type smell. Rustic, a little dirty, a little oily, and or course manly.
Motor Oil/Car Mechanic – Growing up we seemed to rarely have cars that worked for very long, certainly they needed a bit more maintenance than most. Since we didn’t have much money, my dad worked on our cars as often as he could with the limited knowledge he had. I appreciate him for that by the way. He did the best he could with the knowledge he had. He would often drag me out to help with things on the cars that required an extra hand, usually to grab a tool he couldn’t reach, but it was in those moments I learned how to change flat tires, change out motor oil (and filter), jump a battery, change spark clubs and of course where the fluids go. It doesn’t happen as much any more because of the mess, cost, and the environmental regulations (we used to dump our motor oil from my lawn mower into the back alley!) of discarding old oil, but if you have spilled oil, especially used, dark and crude, on your hand or your pants, you will never forget it. Rich, deep, earthy (get it? Fossil fuels?) and of course manly.
Beer – I know girls drink beer too, in fact, when I worked O’Doherty’s Irish Grille, we served A LOT of beer to the females. Miller Lite and Blue Moon (with a slice of orange) seemed to be the consistent favorites. Men drank the light beer too (some also drank Blue Moon – but we made fun of them) but we served the males a lot of Guinness of course, IPAs, Manny, Mac and Jack’s and a lot of other micro brews. Beer consumption is not limited to my experience at the Pub but when I smell the sudsy, hoppy brew or if cooked malt or barley wisps run through the air, I think of men. My dad didn’t drink much beer when I was a kid, usually only on hot days after he cut fire wood where he said “it goes down like water,” but when I was around beer, it was almost always with men. Now that I am an adult, I certainly like beer, and have even brewed my own with some moderate success. Nothing like the grain, malt, and the sugars working their magic together, along with yeast, to brink about that magical elixir.
Sawdust – I have probably mentioned in times past that my dad cut a lot of fire wood over the years. What was weird is that we never had a wood stove until I was out of high school (I think). He cut fire wood as his part time job to bring in some extra money, plus he said, to get exercise. Guess who was required to go with him most of the time? Yup me. It was hard work. My job was to take a long measuring tape and a wood crayon and mark a line every 16 inches on the fallen or drug out logs so that he could come through and cut into those perfect pieces. Some times, I would be responsible to start chopping the wood as well, and of course my job was to throw it in the truck and stack it for the ride home. The smell of freshly cut wood, especially the sawdust created from a chain saw is fantastic. There is slight moisture to it, plus with a mix of a little engine oil and grease from the blade mixed into it and you have the makings of a very memorable and manly scent.
Cut Grass – My first job was to cut our own yard at home. Growing up in Spokane, we didn’t have these weird rules (spoken or not) where we shouldn’t water our lawns. Men (especially) were passionate about keeping their yard watered and green, even through the hot summer months in Eastern Washington. On the West side, probably because of the eco-warriors, it is frowned upon to water a lawn. I still don’t get it and probably won’t. Anyways, because we watered our yard, it grew (weird right?). Because it grew, my job was to cut it. The best part though? People in the neighborhood also needed their yard cut, and they would pay me somewhere between $7-12 to do so! I thought I was printing money! The smell of freshly cut green grass is like nothing else. You get a little on your shoes, a little on your shins, and a little in your hair but usually later in the evening, when the sun starts to set after a freshly cut lawn, that is the most magical time to take in my “hard work.” It probably isn’t necessarily a masculine scent, probably more of a childhood memory, but since I am a male…
Smoked Meat – BBQ tends to be a male thing. Usually a boy becoming a man has some time where they are called upon to prepare some sort of fire, even if with propane, and grill some animal protein and make it taste good. Probably starts on a holiday like Memorial Day, or the 4th of July, or something but when that day comes, that rite of passage, becomes kind of important in a man’s development. It goes back thousands of years, males (people) cooking over fire, in fact, some argue it is one of the things that makes us inherently human. Cook, over fire, means community (think modern day BBQ – doesn’t that tend to be a time when friends or family join you?). I figure the progress of cooking over fire goes something like this. 1) hamburgers and hot dogs, 2) chicken breast and the occasional steak, 3) fish, veg, and even dessert and then 4) big ticket items like brisket, pork shoulder, and so on. They ALL have their merits, but honestly, until you have had the smell of your own pork shoulder, or smoked fish, or home cured bacon, you haven’t fully experienced what that most primal smell is all about. Sure you can get some of it at a BBQ smoke pit restaurant (although not as easy to find in the PNW), but smoke, animal flesh, fat, and the subtle sweet of that same meat (or the seasoning you use) makes for a smell that makes me (and our dog) salivate.
There are more smells to be sure, but I wanted to share a few that conjure up a memory (mind and nose) from my past and current life. Maybe I will write a post some time on distinctly feminine smells…but don’t count on it.