Buying presents for my dad is always hard.
Not because he’s “the man who has everything,” but because he’s “the man who wants nothing normal.”
Around Father’s Day I see all these ads for things dads are supposed to want, and I think, Ha! ( The laugh sound I get from my dad.) As if.
A charging station for his smart phone? Come on. We’ve barely convinced him to carry a dumb phone – the most basic cell they could dig up from the dusty back shelves of the electronics store.
He’s just now getting the hang of picking up a call, but god help him if he has to dial one. Or send a text! Sorry, enough with the futurespeak.
I’d give him a certificate for cell phone lessons, but my mom gets dibs on that one – it’s what she gives him every birthday, Father’s Day and Christmas.
A gas grill? No way. We’ve tried for the last 5 years to get my mom and dad a gas grill. My mom wants one, and my dad won’t give up the charcoal hibachi we gave him for Father’s Day in the ’80s.
“You gave me that grill as a gift. To replace it would be a slap in the face.” Even to replace it with another gift? Apparently. Plus: “A charcoal grill cooks delicious, flavorful food. I have yet to hear anyone say the same about a gas grill.”
Actually, I’ve told him that about a gas grill many times. But a hearing aid is another thing he doesn’t want.
Golf clubs? He’s an Upper West Side Jewish shrink from the Bronx. He sprinkles Yiddish into conversations and loves pickled herring. Excuse the stereotyping, but in this case it holds true. You’ll no sooner see my dad on the golf course than you will at a pheasant hunt.
Which also rules out the Ultimate Upland Chaps I saw advertised as the perfect dad gift.
A shirt from Barneys? No thanks. “You know what you’re paying for, right? You’re paying for the rent.” Plus, a shirt from Barneys is going to be all cotton. You know what that means: it requires ironing. If it isn’t wash’n’ wear, forget it. Dacron and cotton blend – that’s where it’s at.
So what does Dad want?
Well, he listed a few books. That’s easy. Of course, he knows he’ll get them. Usually, he also wants socks, black, no pattern — because the housekeeper, who is kind and thoughtful but “not capable of abstract thinking,” keeps losing his. What can you do? But this year, he didn’t ask for socks, so I guess the housekeeper is getting sharper. Maybe she’s been playing Sudoku.
He also normally asks for short-sleeved pajamas. It’s hard to find these for grown men. I don’t know why – this is one request that doesn’t seem unreasonable. I don’t sleep in anything with long sleeves. I can see why my father would feel “too wawm” – Bronx for “warm” – in the standard Macy’s selections.
Here are things that would be perfect if I could order them from Amazon, with gift wrap option:
The return of Fowad.
My dad’s favorite clothing store, now an Upper West Side memory. On 96th Street and Broadway, its 1970s bubble-letter sign and sidewalk racks were a beacon for all in search of a quality short-sleeved suit. I tried for years to get my dad to shop somewhere else, but he would point to their “brand names for less” unbeatability. “You like Pierre Card-ah?” he’d ask, pronouncing “Cardin” like “Kardashian” without the “shian”. He’d open his lapel to show me the Card-ah logo, and I’d have to cry uncle.
More relatives. My dad loves, loves, loves relatives. He collects them. Any time he’s in another city or country, he hits the phone book (Think no one has a phone book? He’ll find one) and starts flipping through the B’s. He trolls for any names that sound remotely like ours. And then, dizzy with the ancestral possibilities, he calls them. This is the genealogy nerd’s version of drunk dialing.
“Hello, you don’t know me, but my name is David Belgray. I think we may be related, and you may be Jewish.”
Feelings. I don’t know if Dad became a psychoanalyst because he loves feelings, or loves feelings because he’s a psychoanalyst. It’s a case of the chicken and how he feels about the egg. One thing is certain, and that is that Dad needs to know our feelings. If there’s one thing he ever asked for and didn’t get, it was that. Here’s the kind of conversation we’d have when I was growing up:
DAD: How did you like the movie?
ME: It was good.
DAD: What do you mean, “good”? How did it make you feel?
ME: I don’t know. I liked it.
DAD: That still doesn’t tell me how you feel. Did it make you sad? Happy? I’m asking about feelings.
ME: Ew. I don’t like talking about that. Shut up.
DAD: HEY! We don’t say “Shut up!” You can tell me how you feel. You can use an “I” message. But you don’t say “shut up” around here.
ME: OK. “I” feel like I want you to shut up.
I see these movies about folks who grow up damaged by their remote, emotionally withholding parents and wonder, who are these people, and what are they complaining about? Anyway, in honor of my dad’s birthday, here’s a feeling: I feel glad that it’s his birthday.
A cafeteria meal. My dad is nostalgic for his own college cafeteria days. I could take him to a cafeteria now, but what he wants is very specific and elusive: not just lunch served on a tray, surrounded by hobnobbing students, but a lunch of spaghetti and beets. Clearly, when my dad was a hobnobbing student, no one taught him about the food pyramid and the starch content of beets.
A stay in a youth hostel. Dad doesn’t pine for youth. He pines for youth hostels. Not really the long gone, Europe-on-$5-a-day bargain aspect so much as the friend-making free-for-all. I keep telling him that the Jewish Community Center (JCC) on 76th Street would be just like a youth hostel, except without the crab lice. I don’t know why he hasn’t joined.
A blog post dedicated just to him. No, he never said he wanted that. But I think, deep down, he does. This is for you, Dad. I love you. Here’s the video of you on the Daily Show from 2006. To my other readers: this is a must-watch even if you’re not my dad.