Looking a gift horse in the mouth
A generous man, my father did not like being on the receiving end of gifts. No matter the occasion, when his children and their families presented him with gaily-wrapped offerings, Dad would ask, "Now, what the heck did you do that for?" Still, we kept trying.
He wasn't always that bad. When we were young, in the days when a gentleman wouldn't leave the house without a hankie, Mom taught my sister and me to embroider a cursive letter "T" in the corners of white linen handkerchiefs she bought downtown. As I recall, Dad oohed and aahed over our handiwork. Just as he did when I presented him with a misshapen clay dish I'd crafted at a Girl Scout meeting. It was for the top of his dresser, to keep his cuff links and tie tacks organized. As we kids got older, Mom helped us pick out a tie for Dad to wear to work. Those were the days when a businessman always wore a necktie to the office. Dad seemed to like them, too. Maybe because, as the breadwinner of the family, he was wise to the fact he'd be the one to pay for them.
Dad's aversion to receiving gifts began after my sister and I married. We couldn't really afford to buy things for others but our parents had set the example of generosity. Dad often pooh-poohed our selections, though, saying we should use our money for more important things. I wonder if he thought acting as if he didn't want anything would get us to stop shopping for him.
Whatever the reason, each birthday, Christmas, and Father's Day became more of a challenge. The man had no hobbies so when he told us he'd bought a houseboat on the St. Croix, we thought, "Aha! Now, we know what to get him." Boating caps, unbreakable dishes, the stuff every skipper needs. He looked at those presents as if the givers were off their rockers. He did enjoy gadgets, especially, the latest cameras. More solvent than we'd been as newlyweds, we kids could have pooled our money Dad always had the latest gizmo long before we learned it was on the market. Finally, for the man who wouldn't know a nine-iron from a putter, we resorted to golf shirts. At first, it was Izod shirts with the identifying alligator on the chest. Later, Ralph Lauren with the polo pony status symbol. Over the years, his offspring must have bought him every color, fabric, and pattern of fancy golf shirt. And over the years, he kept telling us to save our money.
I'll never forget one of the last Father's Day my dad was alive. He was unable to get around because of a muscle disease so the whole gang of us went to his condo. As he reluctantly began to unwrap the gifts in front of him -- each one the tell-tale size of a shirt box -- Dad made an announcement. "I forgot to tell you. You can stop wasting your money on these expensive shirts," he said. "I bought myself a rubber stamp with that little horsey monogram. I can stamp the cheap stuff from K-Mart now and no one will be the wiser." My dad, the jokester. Every Father's Day, I miss him more than ever.