Home > One Last Word > Buying A Gift For The Man Who Wanted Nothing

Buying A Gift For The Man Who Wanted Nothing

(What do you get the man who wants nothing?  This was my dilemma for years- what to get Dad for a present?  The following is an excerpt about that experience from my latest book, One Last Word:  Finding My Dad Again.)

Traditions and rituals, however they may begin and whatever they may be- going to the gym at the same time every day, eating at the same person’s house every year for Thanksgiving, or always stopping for a Pepsi before a road trip- become one of the ways in which we frame our existence.  They provide distinction and even direction to the way we live our lives.  They help us define who we are.

I opened my suitcase.  “Where are my t-shirts and socks?”  I remembered taking socks and t-shirts from my dresser drawers and putting them on the bed next to the suitcase.  But now I couldn’t find them in my suitcase.  Either I’d forgotten to pack them or I’d never taken them out of the drawer like I remembered.  Whatever had happened, I wasn’t surprised.  When I travelled, either for business or pleasure, I usually forgot to pack something.  I’ve left home without t-shirts, socks, dress shoes, a toothbrush, and even underwear.

“What did you say?” Rob asked.

“I need to stop at the Nike Outlet Store on the way to the house.  I forgot to pack socks and t-shirts,” I said.  The Nike Outlet Store was located at the Round Rock Outlet Mall, which was on the way to Dad’s house.

“That’s fine, but I need to stop at Rudy’s BBQ for breakfast.”  Rudy’s was also on the way to the house.

From that day forward, Rob or I, or the both of us, stopped at Rudy’s and bought a bagful of breakfast tacos and three large iced teas.  Jason, Rob, and I would eat the tacos at the house while we discussed what we were going to do that day.  Tacos and tea, brain food and caffeine.

I finished my last taco while looking at Dad’s bookshelf in the kitchen.  There were cookbooks as well as books on history, particularly World War II, and NASCAR.  The number of books caught me by surprise, as I’d never seen Dad read a book for pleasure.  The only time I’d ever seen him crack open a book was to find a recipe or to search through a car manual to diagnose a mechanical problem.  I was the complete opposite.  I could always be found with a book or two or three that I was reading.

When I was in high school, I’d tried to interest him in reading.  At every gift-giving holiday, I scoured the bookstore aisles in search of a book I thought he might enjoy.  I tried humor, history, and sports.  The most I ever saw him do with those books was skim the table of contents and glance at the back cover.  I never saw him actually read any of the books I gave him.

Tired of wasting my money, I tried a different approach.  “Dad, what can I get you for this year?”

He’d shrug his shoulders.  “I don’t need anything.”

“It’s not about whether you need something, it’s about whether you want something, and I’d like to get you something.”

“I don’t need anything,” he’d repeat.

If he thought that telling me he didn’t need or want anything would deter me, then he was greatly mistaken.  I traipsed through store after store in search of the perfect gift.  When I gave the present to him, he’d open it and say, “Thank you,” with a smile.  The gift might sit on the coffee table for a day or two before getting moved to the back of the kitchen table or onto a shelf in his closet.  I once bought him an Iced Tea Maker that sat on top of the refrigerator, unopened, for seven years.

When he retired, he built a wood shop in his backyard and spent most of his time there building different things.  At the next gift-giving opportunity, I gave him a gift card to Lowe’s.  His response, like always, was, “I don’t need this.”  But when the next gift-giving holiday approached, Dad started dropping hints about a particular woodworking tool he wanted or that he wished he had more wood to work with.  Taking the long awaited hint, I mailed him a gift card to Lowe’s.  It might’ve taken decades to find, but I’d finally figured out the perfect present for Dad.

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