A twinge of guilt. Yes, that’s what I’ve started to feel around each Father’s Day. Not because of any neglect I’ve shown my own father, but mainly due to the remembrance of all the jacked-up gifts I got him growing up. Things got bad. How many “soaps on a rope” does one man really need, and who came up with the idea for those things anyway? To his credit, I never saw my father use the supposedly utilitarian thick bar of soap with a thick knotted rope embedded inside it, but my sister and I gave him quite a collection of them.
Then there were the constant go-to gifts like Brute and Old Spice gift sets. I know Old Spice has some very funny and well-liked commercial nowadays, but I can honestly say I’ve never met one guy who uses Old Spice, and Brute, well, the name speaks for itself. Yet, year after year, we lavished such useless gifts upon him. Exotic-looking ties that not even Sponge Bob would wear, socks of such iridescent colors it would be impossible to match them with any normal man’s clothing attire. Yet, we persisted. The guilt is mounting as I write.
So, what has led me to this place of contrition? I am a father now myself. Hitherto, my young son who will enter first grade this year, has not graced me with any of the aforementioned gifts, but I know they’re sure to come. The universe just works like that. For now, though, my desk is filled with handcrafted gifts of the sort only a toddler and pre-K kid could make. Items that I display with true pride and that elicit sincere affection each time I see them. Truly they are my “lil bear’s” show of love to his dad, and I’m quite appreciative.
It may not be politic to admit, but there is a distinction based on gender roles in the approach to gift buying for Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. Mothers, rightly, are traditionally given gifts that are more heartfelt and endearing. Just think about the many commercials we see during the run up to Mother’s Day. Be they advertisements for jewelry, fragrances, flowers or candies, they tug at your heart and make you want to go all out in your expression of love to the one who tenderly brought you into this world and whose nurturing and care has created feelings of endearment that last a lifetime.
Father’s Day, for some reason, doesn’t pack the same punch. The commercials even reflect that. If you’re a dad who isn’t into yardwork, or likes wearing really tough jeans or having a grill that can cook meat and brew beer at the same time, you’re really out of luck. In come the exotic gifts.
Yet, in my brief six years as a dad, I think I’ve kind of figured this thing out. To me, one of the greatest gifts as a dad is just the fact that the life I’ve helped bring into the world knows there is a man in his life, a dad who is deeply committed to loving him and nurturing him during these formative years, and being a source of strength, support and guidance throughout his sojourn in this world. The gift is in the acknowledgment, in the understanding by my child of what and who a father is.
The makeup of modern families can make this difficult. In many instances parents are not together and a child or children are reared in an environment where mom and dad stay in separate places. This is true with my child. As I write this, my son is next to me watching old school Scooby Doo cartoons (which to my delight he has suddenly fallen in love with, along with Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes) as he spends his time with me for the summer. But daddy, or “da da” as he likes to call me, is very involved in his life. Whether it’s attending school functions, planning meaningful events on our weekends together, or being involved in his sports-related activities, being a dad has been and will be an utmost priority.
So, as Father’s Day fast approaches, I’m pretty sure that whatever I get from him will be cute and something from the heart like only little kids his age can give. What about the time when the cheesy gifts start to come? Like most dads I know, I will still smile and cherish them just the same. Yes, it may be a Swiss army knife that also can remove spark plugs and edge the lawn, or a ball cap that has a spotlight on it, along with a portable air conditioner, but that’s what Father’s Day is all about, right? Besides, the gift is in the acknowledgment, in the recognition by one’s child or children that dad is there, and has been and will be in a way that will be cherished for the rest of their lives.