The Father's Day Gift Guide Dad Wants You to Read

It's almost Father's Day. Across America, millions of people are struggling with the annual question of what to buy, and many of us find it harder to buy for Dad than for Mom. Here's why.
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It's almost Father's Day. Across America, millions of people are struggling with the annual question of what to buy. Many of us find it harder to buy for Dad than for Mom. It seems like there's always something that Mom needs, and it also seems like there's a broader range of possibilities.

That's not your imagination. American culture and the people who embody it encourage a certain amount of difference. If your dad seems "old-fashioned" or is just an "average Joe," this should help you come up with a gift he'll think is special.

Understanding Your Dad

First, don't expect any hints from Dad directly. Our culture encourages women to let people know how they're doing, including what they want and need. We tell men the exact opposite. For most of his life, and in a million ways big and small, your dad has learned that "real men" shouldn't need anyone's help and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. So if he doesn't ask for things in any other part of his life, there's no reason to think he'd be able to do it for birthdays or holidays.

Rather than worrying about how they're doing, we teach boys and men that they'll be measured by what they do. In sports, for performers and at work, we tell guys they're only as good as their last game/performance/quarter, devaluing both what guys say and what they've done in the past. That's how many adult men interact with the world. So, you can say whatever you want, and saying "I love you" really is important, but if you really want to let your dad know you're thinking about him, you'll need to do something to show him.

One result of this focus on doing is that most men aren't good at sustaining emotional conversation for more than two or three minutes because, even as young children, we don't get very much practice. So don't plan to have a big, long conversation about how important he is to you. It probably won't live up to your -- or his -- expectations.

Choosing an Appropriate Gift

When deciding on a gift Dad will like, keep in mind that Father's Day is about the father you have, not the father you wish you had. If he doesn't like computers, don't get him a gift that requires one or that you hope will get him to check his email more often. That's a gift for you, not him.

What does your dad do in his free time? What are the TV shows, websites, magazines, etc. he routinely chooses? If he's always fixing stuff around the house -- and has been for years or has to show you everything that's been done -- he probably enjoys that type of handiwork. If there's a sport he plays or watches, it should be easy to find tickets or merchandise related to his favorite teams or players. Or, if your dad plays golf, consider giving a round of golf somewhere nice that he might not treat himself to otherwise.

If Dad's a music, theatre and film fan, when was the last time he went to a concert, performance, or saw a movie in the theater? Tickets make a great experiential gift. You can even go with him (but don't do it if you'll hate it or be on your smartphone the whole time; he'll notice, even if he doesn't say anything). My father-in-law had a great time when we took him to a game.

Though we rarely think about men as sentimental, most dads are. There's a good chance he's proud of you and whatever you've accomplished, and he undoubtedly loves you. Go through those old pictures and put together a collage of some of those important events showing all of the things you've done together over the years. Perhaps you can create something he can hang proudly on the wall in his office that will make him smile whenever he sees it or that clients might ask about.

Although he may not (be able to) say it or show it often, you're very important to him. He remembers what it was like when you were younger and some of the special activities you used to share. Doing or telling stories about some of the "simple" things you've enjoyed together, like getting ice cream at a favorite place or a playing game you both love, are other good options this Father's Day.

Whatever you decide, make the day about doing something for or with him that he'll enjoy.

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