The children started two weeks ago asking for suggestions for gifts for Dad. The Father's Day marketing hype had begun in earnest with newspaper inserts covered with photos of male models wearing madras shorts.
"Whatever you do, don't get him any madras shorts," I said. "He won't wear them." My husband is a lot of things, but he's not the madras type.
I noticed as we contemplated the various gift ideas promoted in the circulars that there may be a kind of "gift gap" between mothers and fathers, similar to the notorious "income gap" between men and women.
I'm not looking for a fight here, but am I the only one who observes that Mother's Day gifts typically are flowers, candy, slippers and picture frames made of Popsicle sticks, while Father's Day gifts are things like full sets of golf clubs, hiking watches, hammocks and — for the dad who has everything — a buttery leather "man purse" (necessary to carry a Swiss army knife, an electric travel shaver and a portable humidor)?
Um … why are there no Popsicle-stick humidors? Oh well.
Back to the dilemma at hand: What to get Dad for Father's Day. I wanted my children to honor their father appropriately, and I certainly was willing to help them with a gift idea and even the money to finance it, but the truth is, I have a dismal gift-giving track record with this man.
For 20 years, I've gone through the same mental gymnastics they face trying to come up with a gift that will surprise and delight my husband.
A new CD? Several still-new and unopened discs sit in the bottom drawer of our entertainment closet. Those would be my attempts to predict Jim's musical interests. (I learned too late, for example, that compilations of Dave Brubeck's music aren't necessarily performed by Dave and his combo and that a musical purist such as my husband would want only the original recordings. Oops.)
Or how about something related to a hobby? My husband loves beer — not that I would elevate his consumption to a level that should warrant concern, but he's an aficionado of sorts. I figured he could make it a hobby by brewing his own beer in our kitchen, so I went to our local beer boutique and purchased all the equipment needed to turn our home into a microbrewery.
Know anyone who wants a beer-making kit? I have one to sell — cheap.
Turns out Jim enjoys drinking beer, but he'd rather just grab a cold one from the fridge than stand in a hot, yeasty kitchen cooking up his own hops and barley. Can't say I blame him.
The children wanted to know if he would like an IPod or maybe a new game for the PlayStation 2 or perhaps an electric scooter. This seems like an odd coincidence. Apparently, they were thinking Father's Day would be a way to get some new stuff around the house for them.
Amy wanted to know if Dad would like a pool for the back yard or maybe a new sports car. "He's always said he'd like a Ferrari," she reasoned.
Clearly, I was losing ground in the discussion.
Our children wanted to buy some enormous gift that would show — as concretely as a gift can — the depth of their love, but if I allowed them to spend a whole bunch of money on his Father's Day present, their loving gesture would be lost on him.
That's because he knows they don't have a whole bunch of their own money, and any remotely substantial gift would have been paid for out of our joint checking account. It's tough to be enthusiastic about a present you know you bought yourself.
Actually, it turns out I had the perfect gift idea, one that wouldn't cost the children — or me — any money.
What our children ought to give their dad is a whole day in a house where the lights are turned off when people leave a room.
While they're at it, they should wrap up a day when bikes and toys are put away after they're used instead of dropped on the driveway waiting for someone to run over them.
Put a bow on a day without slamming screen doors, without bickering or whining, a day when the only shouts from upstairs are shouts of laughter from children getting along together.
Yell "Happy Father's Day" by drinking all the milk and juice poured into a glass and not carelessly dumping the unwanted portion down the sink.
Make it a day when the hose is not left running outside and the hot water doesn't run out in the shower.
I think I finally hit on the ideal present for a hardworking dad — a whole day of conservation and peace. What more could a father want than 24 hours in which nothing is wasted or broken and all his repeated admonitions to be responsible magically are obeyed?
It's a day of paternal utopia.
Besides, knowing Jim as I do, there's no gift we could buy for him that could top the real gift he already enjoys this Father's Day and every day: simply being Dad to the four children God saw fit to send his way.
Then again, it just wouldn't be Father's Day without something to unwrap. I wonder if you can make a beer mug out of Popsicle sticks.