The good news is that Father’s Day will arrive in just days: Sunday, June 19, to be precise. And the bad news is that somewhere in the gift-giving heavens, there’s a storm a-brewing. Can you feel it? I know I can. And this particular cumulus cloud festers with the kind of stuff that you’d be tempted to dump right next to that radioactive, still-stiff Christmas fruitcake. Neck ties. Underwear. Cheap gadgetry, Sharper Image knockoffs that break after the first use. Pseudo-leather wallets. All that.
We need to restore some sanity to the gift-giving Father’s Day gift-giving proceedings. For it stands to reason that no bargain, no matter how sweet it may seem, really amounts to anything if the gift just sits in a box for a year or so, until you sneak it into the trash when no one’s looking. Smart consumer culture rocks, but consumer waste and needless purchases made from some dim sense of obligation definitely don’t. So behold my guidelines for a making the most of Father’s Day with gifts that matter and hit the heart.
1) A Cause, Because.
My mother recently passed away after years of suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. I can’t begin to imagine how much it would mean to me if my kids (hinty, hinty) collected money and made a donation to the National Parkinson Foundation for Father’s Day.
Following a similar path isn’t as hard as it sounds, folks. Dad’s hopefully a great guy, so think about the ways he’s made a difference, or the people closest to him who made him what he is today. Then, take that $10 you’d waste on a pair of big old cheap swim trunks, and donate.
Right now, you can even get a deal from AVG for $1 virus protection software for making a donation to the Red Cross. Skip the greeting card (most men ignore ’em) and craft something with personal messages and original artwork by the kids that honors the donation … and the Dad who inspired it.
2) Quid Pro Quo? Just Say No.
There’s this insane sense of scorekeeping that surrounds holiday gifts, even though we proclaim in our most lame ballads and love poems that love isn’t about keeping score. “Hmmm: If my Dad gave me x, should I respond by giving him 2x? I gave my wife y for Mother’s Day, so should she respond with y squared for Father’s Day?”
Sorry to say, but if holiday gifts somehow cancel each other out, or lead to some odd game of gift-upmanship, then they weren’t gifts in the first place. Still, as much as Dad may protest, no one likes to be forgotten on a birthday, anniversary or special occasion. Which leads to my next tip …
3) Just Ask Him.
In most cases, the obvious thing to do is ask Dad what he wants. I know, I know: Many men suffer from primate-like communication skills, and the best you may get out of dear old dad is a big old belch. But when you survey Dad from a safe distance, what does he do? What does he like?
I’ll give you a hint: Most guys are motivated by their most basic needs, food being one of them. And while there’s a slim chance your man’s a nuts-and-berries guy, I’m betting he’s more into grilling, like me. In that case, it would be hard to go wrong with this Brinkman charcoal-and-propane grill, now selling for a ridiculously low $248.
If that’s out of your budget, you can nab this cool-looking Smoky Mountain Propane Smoker for under $100 from Walmart. If that's sounding a bit too environmentally-unfriendly, you can pick up a couple Grilling Baskets on sale, which are great for fish and vegetables.
4) Go to eBay or Craigslist for Second-Market Groupons.
Groupon tends to inspire quite the frenzy of buying among people who love the deal, then realize they don’t need 10 hours of hula lessons or half-off on Zambian cuisine.
That’s led to a vast market of secondary Groupon sales on places such as Lifesta and DealsGoRound, plus eBay and Craigslist. On a quick scan of the Chicago Craigslist, I found this ad for a Groupon for a 20-punch yoga class card at Bikram Yoga in the Andersonville neighborhood. The buy is at below Groupon’s price, and such a purchase has this sense of garage-sale smarts to it. “Reuse” is always a beautiful thing, even if it involves some sort of service voucher that might otherwise go to waste.
5) When Used is New, Part II.
Sometimes the ideal Father’s Day gift isn’t what you buy, it’s what you do as a family outing. In my case, I’m a huge fan of resale shops and garage sales.
Talk about ties for Father’s Day: The only one I truly love is a $150 Zegna tie I scored for a lousy buck. If that’s your man, get him up early and take him out to the neighborhood garage sales, which are plentiful this time of year. One website that looks nifty to me is yardsalesearch.com. I went in, entered my zip code, and found dozens of yard, estate and garage sales within a 20-mile radius of my home.
6) Indulge Dad in his Favorite Game.
When I think of the phrase “the gift that keeps on giving,” it not only suggests some item I’ll use over and over, but one that restores to me some part of my life lost to the joyful sacrifices of daddyhood. Some 15 years ago, I was a competitive volleyball player, and my legs still have plenty of bounce left in them. This deal for 15% off at the Sports Authority could be just the jump start you need to get Dad a ball, gym shoes or glove to get his juices flowing and ready for the game.
Just remember: Channel surfing, fantasy baseball and paper football don’t count as actual sports. Nor for most men does golf, which is more often an exercise in self-flagellation and undoing years of anger management training.
7) Outfit Dad (and the fam) with sleek summer water bottles.
If the forecasters are correct, this is going to be a long, hot summer in many parts of the country. And that means bottled water time, and all the waste that goes with it. It takes three gallons of water to make a gallon of bottled water, according to the Pacific Institute.
But my all-time favorite water bottle also fits on my bike cage, and keeps drinks frosty cold even when the thermometer soars into the triple digits. The Thermos 16-oz. backpack hydration bottle keeps drinks chilly for up to 12 hours; in winter, it’ll keep the hot stuff hot for eight hours. I’ve seen these for as much as $30 plus shipping, but found one on Amazon.com for $21.50. One enthusiastic reviewer (a guy!) proclaimed it “The Best Damn One-Handed Thermos on the Market.”
From personal experience on many a bike commute, I’d second that. I paid just as much for a so-called steel “sports bottle” at a jogging shop, and it was just great at keeping lukewarm fluids lukewarm.
8) Father’s Day giving? It’s About Time.
The one non-renewable resource Dad wants most of all? Your time. It takes a lot of work for parents to get the kids to and from school. It takes a lot of work to make a home and win the bread, no matter who does what. Most of us spend more time with our dreaded bosses than our beloved spouses. Most of our kids don’t get near the Daddy Time they want, no matter how good a Dad they’ve got. And guess what? Green Dad wants time. And maybe like me, you do too: time perhaps to chill out, or enjoy the love of loved ones who make the “father” part of Father’s Day possible.
Now Dad may not clue you in on what he wants because he’s modest, or one of those aforementioned gorilla grunters. But I’m willing to bet that if you think you need to make a big deal over Father’s Day, and find yourself in a tizzy because you can’t nail the right gift, then you’re barking up the wrong tree. The gift is right there: Spend some quality time with Dad.
Put away the smartphones, video screens and to-do lists. By all means put the household chores on hold: They can wait. Time with the ones you love cannot. And now’s the perfect time. Happy Father’s Day.