It’s my dad’s birthday today and I don’t have a present for him. It doesn’t help that I’m currently three time zones away, although even that is better than the fourteen or so when I was in Korea.
It’s not totally my fault though. He’s very hard to buy things for. For one thing, he’s just so darned contented. He doesn’t need anything except his family and peace on earth and he’s already got one of those, and the other one is a little out of my price range.
I remember the first thing I ever bought him. I think it was for his birthday, but it might have been for Father’s Day. I don’t know how old I was, but probably around five. When you’re five, you don’t pick out a present and you definitely don’t buy it. It’s more a situation of your mom saying, “Here, this will be your present to Dad.” But when you’re a kid, from that moment on, it’s YOUR present to give, just as much as if you’d carved it out of the earth yourself.
I gave him a staple remover because Mom said he didn’t have one. It probably cost a dollar, especially considering this was in the 80s sometime. I remember him opening it, and I will always remember what he said, even though it was over 30 years ago. He said, “Do you know, for years I have been taking staples out with my thumbnail?” My little heart swelled with pride at that because I was helping Dad. I had given him something he needed.
I’m not going to say that was the last good present I ever got him. I made him a glass chessboard once when I was a teenager that I think was pretty spiffy and once I made him a leather sheath for his scout knife. It’s always a bit of a challenge though to find that perfect gift, what the French probably don’t call le cadeau juste.
Don’t think I’m blaming him, however. The fact is, I’ve taken after him quite a bit in this regard. I’m pretty darned contented myself, as exasperated female members of my family might readily attest. But growing up, here’s what the list was, in terms of possible gifts:
- Ties. At least I think so. I don’t actually remember getting Dad a tie, but I think it was always on the table as an option. At least he wore ties, which is more than I can say about myself, if I can at all avoid it.
- Mugs. This was a great one because a person can always use mugs, especially if you drink coffee like my dad. Of course, after a while, there’s only so many cups of coffee you can drink simultaneously, and only so many people you can invite over for coffee, so this gift is not a sure thing. (Note: if you find you have too many mugs in your house, pick the ten you use least and put them in the back of a pickup truck and drive around on dirt roads for an hour. Throw away any that are chipped and your family will then have something to give you as a present again.)
- T-shirts. We tried this, we really did. All through our teenage years we tried to make Dad cool. And he was cool, right up to the point when he invariably gave the T-shirts to one of my sisters, since he said the shirts looked better on them anyway.
- Books. Not a bad idea, but if he’s anything like me, he could build a house with the books on his To-Read list. One with a breakfast nook that’s all non-fiction.
- Tools. All guys need tools. This simple adage means that there are always gifts to buy someone. The problem is, beyond the basic tools, tools quickly get very complicated and very specialized. I prefer to get him knives and machetes and things like that, since that’s what I like. I like to give knives as presents to people right up to just before the point where a casual observer takes that person to be a serial killer, and Dad’s nowhere near that point yet.
Every now and then, I get some grand ideas for gifts for people that involve way more time and resources that I have. I would probably start with a drawing and end up five hours later with a plan to make a personalized movie featuring interpretative dance that symbolizes the passing of the seasons in Newfoundland. My planning process is often just a sine wave oscillating between flights of fancy and blunt realism.
A lot of the problem is money too, because I’d love to buy him a canoe and a trip for two to France or Peru, or both, and maybe a self-shoveling driveway.
But, in lieu of all the things that I either can’t get you or you don’t need, I’ll give you this blog post, Dad, if only because I know no one else got you one and you don’t have one already (this does not include Facebook posts, I will note, since my sister writes devastatingly beautiful and poetic tributes to people on Facebook that always leave me feeling choked up and envious).
I love you Dad and I hope you have a wonderful birthday. Someday, perhaps, we will be in the same time zone and maybe even the same zip code and I can say it in person.