Buying gifts for my dad has never been easy. He hates for people he cares about to spend their money on him. He’d much rather we spend a frugal amount—wisely—on the things we need, then save the rest. Every time a gift-giving holiday rolls around, we end up having the same conversation:
Me: Hey, Dad, what do you want for Christmas?
Me: Hey, Dad, what do you want for your birthday?
Me: Hey, Dad, what do you want for Father’s Day?
Dad: Well, I could use some socks.
Once in a while he’ll mix things up and ask for underwear, but usually it’s socks, and we’re not talking fun-to-buy, fun-to-give, fun-to-wear socks. We’re not going for anything flashy or trendy, not even a tasteful argyle. When it comes to socks, my dad likes exactly one kind: white cotton crew socks from J.C. Penney.
I’ve never been the most obedient child, so I ditched the whole idea of sock giving when I was about eight. And I have to say that although Shopping for Dad will never be an exact science, my sister and I have managed to raise it to an art form. We usually manage to think of something Dad will really like and really use (which is redundant because, in my dad’s world, if he can’t use it, he isn’t going to like it). But even if he loves the gift (like the plug-in refrigerator he now uses in his van when he travels), he can never open it without grumbling. This is the unvarying scene:
Dad (knotting his eyebrows together and giving the wrapped package a stern and suspicious look): You know you didn’t have to get me anything.
My sister and me (rolling our eyes): We know. Open it.
Dad (while taking an infuriatingly long time to peel back the tape, carefully lift the box from the paper, then fold the paper into a neat square before giving the gift a stern and suspicious look): I would’ve been happy with socks.
Us (rolling our eyes): We know. But what do you think? Isn’t it cool?
Dad (knotting his eyebrows together and giving my sister and me a stern and suspicious look): Oh, yeah, it’s cool all right. How much did it cost?
Us: Hardly anything. It was on clearance. That’s why we can’t take it back.
Dad (rolling his eyes): Right.
This year, Dad’s lady friend, Cissy, gave us the perfect idea for a Father’s Day gift. Dad and Cissy spend their winters in Texas at a retirement community, where Dad golfs two or three times a week. Dad has used the same set of golf clubs for at least twenty years, and I use the term “set” loosely here—he’s cobbled it together from clubs my brother didn’t want any more, supplemented by an iron or wood here and there that he picked up from garage sales.
The guys in the retirement community are constantly telling Dad to buy new clubs, telling Cissy to make him buy new clubs, threatening to ban him from Texas if he doesn’t come back with new clubs, and for good reason—his old clubs are falling apart. The heads have been known to fly farther than his ball when he takes a swing, and he’s using the same covers that were on them when he bought them at the garage sale—some are fuzzy black, some are home-made brown knit with pom-poms on top and holes where the yarn has unraveled. He looks like a homeless person carrying around his wordly possessions in a mid-80s powder blue golf bag.
Cissy wanted to buy Dad new golf clubs, but she thought he’d take it better if we all went in on them together. So Friday, Cissy, my sister, and I went shopping. We got a great set, all graphite handles, with a driver bigger than my head. It came with a rain cover, matching golf club covers, and a snazzy new bag. We were so excited that we couldn’t wait till Father’s Day. We gave them to him that night.
And of course he knotted his eyebrows and grumbled about the money we spent (we told him we got them on sale at a store called Almost Free) and complained that his old clubs still had a lot of use in them.
But then he compared his shiny new eight iron with his old one and said, “Huh. No wonder I can’t ever get any lift with my eight. Look how much more slant this new one has.”
And he compared his new seven iron with the old one (the head of which is lying at the bottom of a water hazard in Texas) and said, “I guess I did need a new seven.”
Then we made him go out in the yard and take a couple swings with his new Volkswagen-sized driver. “Ball goes pretty straight,” he admitted, reluctantly.
By the time we left, he was still grumbling about how much money we’d spent, but his eyebrows had relaxed, and once we caught him actually smiling. I’m hoping that by the time we go over for dinner tonight, he will have forgiven us for not buying socks.