Friday, June 19, 2015
Give dad something besides the shaft
You waited until now?
With Father's Day this Sunday, mere hours away, you haven't figured out a gift to give dear old dad. Your pop, your pappy, your old man, daddy, the guy who brought you into this world, taught you to whittle, carried you on his shoulders when you were tired, and never asks anything of you now except that you listen to his endless reiterations of the same threadbare stories you've heard for years.
Shame on you.
Father's Day always gets short shrift. Because we shot the wad on Mother's Day the month before. We all understand Mother's Day, the after-echo of the odd 19th century cult of motherhood, with rocking chairs, coal scuttle bonnets, and weepy "Mother-O-Mine" songs and poems. So the bouquets get ordered, the charm bracelets bought, the reservations for expensive brunches made.
Then Father's Day comes around and catches us flat-footed.
Fathers are a cultural joke. We're just so many Dagwood Bumsteads, ogling our giant sandwiches, scratching our heads over some crazy contraption we're building in the basement. Our passions are ridiculous fixations, our careers, essays in disappointment and failure. I could win the Nobel Prize in Literature and my sons would refer to it as "The Swedish thingy that dad's so puffed up about."
Then again, Fathers Day was always second fiddle. Congress passed a resolution establishing Mother's Day in 1914; Richard Nixon signed a law creating a national Father's Day in 1972.
Of course there's more history than that. Mother's Day was first marked in West Virginia in 1908. Father's Day loped along, an afterthought, and here Chicago plays a role. Jane Addams suggested Chicago honor fathers in 1911, and was ignored. But Harry C. Meek, the past president of the Uptown Lions Club of Chicago, started making speeches in 1915 urging that the third Sunday in June should be Father's Day. The Lions dubbed him "Originator of Father's Day (how they resisted calling him, "Father of Father's Day" is a mystery).
Enough history. What to get dad? A few general strategies pointing to possible specific gifts:
1. Get dad something he can use. This gift reverie began Thursday morning piling
grapefruit rinds into the miniature garbage can under the sink that my wife gave me last Father's Day. It's solid steel, finely machined, and replaces a system where I would pile the coffee ground and apple cores in a series of rusty coffee cans. The Chef's Stainless Steel Premium Compost Bin holds a gallon of banana peels and potato skins, only $25.99, and will make him feel like a God of the Compost Heap every time he uses it. For non-composting dads, consider a Gerber pocket knife, a Zippo lighter, or small flashlight. You always need another one.
2. Get him the best of something. You can buy a good axe for $30. Or you can spend a hundred bucks more and buy the best axe made: a Gransfors Btuk Scandinavian Forestry Axe. Cutting wood is like hacking at butter with a hot knife. Perfect for camping, it's light, and comes with a book explaining the cool Swedish blacksmith shop where it's created, including a picture of the Swede who made it. If money's tight, get the best of something cheap: a really expensive pair of socks, a top-of-the-line mechanical pencil.
3. Get him a book. Father's still read, cause they're old. My father doesn't spend a lot of time reading non-fiction, but I had a hunch he'd enjoy David McCullough's "The Wright Brothers" and gave it to him as an early Father's Day gift. He's eagerly plowing through it.
4. Pop for electronics. Since $10 will get you a pair of serviceable Skull Candy earbuds—real earphones are indulgences. This year my wife splurged on some Bose QC15 noise cancelling headphones—another early gift—and I nearly cried, because I couldn't imagine shelling out the dough. The difference is incredible.
5. Give him your attention. Okay, you've run out of time, and you've got that bag of Dunkin Donuts coffee you just wrapped in the Sunday comics on the drive over to dad's place. All is not lost. Hand the coffee to him and say, "Hey dad, let's have some coffee together." Brew it up, hand him his cup and ask, "Didn't you once go golfing with Eisenhower?" (or whatever well-worn, self-aggrandizing, almost certainly untrue story he's been afflicting you with all your life). He'll be grateful. Dads often are, whatever you do. That's part of what makes them dads. Happy Father's Day.