Another Father’s Day is nearly upon us. This I know, because of the great shudder I sensed passing through dads all across this great land as they contemplate another Sunday of smiling tightly while thanking their (momentarily) grateful children for that gift from the gas station convenience store.
The problem isn’t that, as usual, Mother’s Day continues to outrank Father’s Day in gift expenditures. While spending on Mom totaled $172.63 this year, according to the National Retail Federation, the estimated outlay of $115.57 on Dad lags by 33 percent. But seeing as women continue to earn an average of 84 cents for every $1 a man gets, you can’t say it even nearly levels the playing field.
The real problem becomes obvious if you glance at the catalogs and email offers of gifts targeted at Father’s Day, such as fancy, personalized coasters. Really? The guy engaged in daily hand-to-hand combat in the hyena-infested corporate jungle to pay for your orthodontia, college and the lawyer who got your juvenile court case expunged, and this is the best you can do? You’re lucky he doesn’t make you clean out the gutters. (Not that you’d do any better job than when you were 12.) At any rate, dads assume that keeping rings off the table is why your mother gets Better Homes & Gardens.
So in the interest of preventing you from having to slink back to Bed, Bath & Beyond or to waste your money shipping a return to that twee, “personally curated” hippie store on the Web, here are a few suggestions:
Alcohol: Yes. You are, after all, the reason Daddy drinks. First, make it appropriate — if Dad likes boilermakers, he doesn’t need a spiffy cocktail shaker. An upgrade of his favorite hooch — from the five-year-old scotch to the 12-year-old blend or a single-malt — will be appreciated, but pumpkin-peach double-hopped ale will likely be exiled to the back of the fridge.
Fancy engraved crystal glasses are OK, unless he’s acquired barware he already likes. You’ll also have to decide whether your dad is the type who keeps “the good stuff” in the box on a high shelf “for special occasions,” such as that teak cutting board that hasn’t seen the light of day since it disappeared into the linen closet after Christmas 2003. Chances are that if he drinks his bourbon out of a washed-out jelly jar at this age, it’s not because he can’t afford something better. And yes, your dad has heard of Pottery Barn.
Definitely skip a leather-covered, personalized hip flask. Dad needs something he can drop under the seat at the game while saying, “No, officer, that’s not mine,” without getting busted by his own initials.
Anything made from reclaimed wood: No. “You’re wasting your money kid; we coulda grabbed a couple pallets from work, headed out to the garage and knocked this thing together in a jiffy. Well, I would have to move the band saw out from behind that project car.”
Also: Don’t mention the project car in front of your mother.
Books about his hobbies: No. When it comes to his hobby, Dad already has forgotten more about the Civil War, classic chess openings, hitting out of a bunker or trout fishing than can fit into any single book. And he’s already got an app for “The Baseball Encyclopedia” on his Android phone.
Tools: No, unless it is something your father has specifically mentioned. Otherwise, it will be wrong because you already should know that they didn’t use metric fasteners on a ’65 Mustang. Even if it is something Dad has specifically mentioned, do NOT give anything related to the project car, despite the fact he’s been going on for weeks about how he really, really needs a new torque wrench. Your mother will be miffed that you’re encouraging him, and you know how Mom gets.
Tools that are engraved or personalized: No. Are you nuts? You really didn’t learn anything from that teak cutting board experience, did you?
Tools you have borrowed and haven’t returned: No. Tell you what, sport: Have your wife get one for you and bring Dad’s back, OK? And no, that doesn’t count as a gift.
Tools you have borrowed and broken: No. Dad taught you better than to pretend that fixing your own screw-up constitutes some kind of present. You may, however, bring an unwrapped EXACT (and long overdue) replacement, in addition to your Father’s Day gift. Tell him you’ve had it in the trunk for months and forgot about it, even though Dad will know you stopped at Sears on your way over.
Handmade custom ukulele case: If Dad is a member of a serious ukulele quartet then, yes, this is an actual thing on Esty.com, decoupaged with old Hawaiian postcards and coasters. There is no way your brother (“The Golden One”) got him the same thing this year. Try not to lord it over him at dinner.
Portable briefcase barbecue grill: No. It’s a real thing but, again — are you nuts?
Barbecue tools: Are they personalized, engraved, etched and/or otherwise decorated, or in a carrying case? If so, see “Tools, engraved or personalized,” above. If they’re sturdy, not ridiculously expensive and he needs new ones, sure. Just one hitch: It’s bad luck to give a gift like this without giving the appropriate accompaniment. If you give someone a coffeemaker, for instance, you have to give them some coffee with it, and it’s very bad luck to give a wallet without putting a penny in. Pop for some nice New York strips and you’re sure to impress.
Clothing: No. You are guaranteeing him an unwanted and cranky trip to the shirt counter at Macy’s. When he gets there and sees how much you spent, he will take store credit and use it for underwear, which he won’t like because they haven’t made the ones he really likes since the Reagan administration, but he will ask anyway, even though he is sick up to here with twerpy store clerks telling him, “We haven’t carried those in years, sir.” Especially the, “sir,” part.
Clothing exception: An exact replacement of his favorite jacket, where the sleeve ripped or it’s too small, or something else, such as a cherished tie. You will have to go to the house, get it from Mom, and take it to the store. Or copy the label information for a Web search.
Clothing exception No. 2: A sweatshirt from your alma mater that reads, “State U Dad.” Buy two — one for the house and one for the garage, ’cuz when he wears his good stuff out there, well, you know how Mom gets. He will wear the heck out of it, saying it’s only to remember where his overtime pay went, but you know better.
Cash: Yes and no. First, by “cash” I mean real greenbacks. No gift cards, no gift certificates. Otherwise, he will save that for something “special,” which means spending it on you or Mom. Second, you can’t just hand your father a wad of cash, like you’re paying a bill that’s come due or tipping the valet.
You give him the cash and make an appointment to go pick out the tools, sweater, fly rod or golf shoes you would give him if he weren’t so impossible and you weren’t so clueless. Afterward, you take him to lunch. If he’s the kind who fights for the check, see the maître d’ beforehand and pre-pay.
As you finish the meal, Dad will say, “We should do this again. Maybe catch a game.” Say yes and make sure it happens. Here’s why: The only thing worse than having to figure out what to get the old man for Father’s Day is all the ones where you won’t.
When you two get back, Mom will be miffed that you bought him a new chainsaw, but that’s OK.
You know how she gets.
Brian O’Connor is author of the award-winning book, “The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese.”