Monday, December 10, 2007

ghosts of christmas presents


a week or so ago, over on the perhapanauts forum, my pal, matt (wieringo), started a post called "best and worst christmas gifts". and i cringed. what an excellent, excellent topic! what a great way to get into the spirit of the season with friends--and we are all friends here, right...?--sharing happy memories of childhood christmases and holidays past? i had a wonderful childhood (many say i haven't left it yet...) and i have LOADS of memories of some of the great loot santa brought each year! magic tricks and spy kits, creepy crawlers and incredible edibles, toy trucks and bikes and a krazy kar!! (my brother got a big wheel...i callled it a "big deal", that krazy kar was ass!) cool board games and drawing toys and comic books! and later stereos and albums and video games...
it's been a wonderful life...!

but matt (wisely) covered all the bases, and while i could fill up the list in the "best gift given" and "best gift received" categories, and had no problem finding one or two to put in my own "worst gift received" spot, the one that made me cringe was..."worst gift given".

man, my dad was so hard to buy for.
dads are all hard because they are more impulsive that any other living creature. when they see something they want or need, they buy it. right there. on the spot. no waiting, no considering. sold. done. my dad was this way. so was yours.
so at christmas time, it was futile.
so hard to buy for.
oh, we would ask him what he wanted...
and he would tell us.
the same thing.
every year.
socks and underwear.

i always wanted to get him something really GREAT! something he'd love! something that would surprise him and be just what he wanted but hadn't said so. something that would surprise him and make him light up.

okay, i'm sure that, on some level, i was seeking approval. we all do at that age. my dad was not the most demonstrative guy in the world, having grown up in the john wayne era, and i was a young--some might say sensitive--kid trying to wow this guy who did SO MUCH for us, whom i loved more than i could say. i was so sure that just the right present would make him see how i felt, how much i appreciated him. and so i slowly and systematically sabotaged myself trying to find the one present--the key!!--that would unlock the door to my dad's buried emotional side. year after year, i struggled to find that treasure, giving my dad bizarre and unneeded tools--that long rod with the button on the end and a little claw on the other to pick up things that have fallen behind the workbench--stupid t-shirts (my dad never wore t-shirts) and books that he wouldn't read. my frustration eventually became anger and as the days til christmas ticked away, i would become mad at my dad for being such a tough nut to crack...
this went on for years.
in final fury and exasperation (i was only 14 or so and a rebellious teen after all...), for christmas of '76, i bought my dad the most horrible gift i've ever given to anyone, the one that STILL makes me wince, the single most popular poster of all time. i bought my dad the farrah fawcett poster.

(i don't know why. i wasn't hot for her. i mean, she was gorgeous and that bathing suit was just great and at that point i had never seen nipples in real life, so...)
and my dad never watched the show, never made comments about her, or ANYONE on tv or in movies, never even LOOKED at another woman besides my mother. he did not have calendars or posters in his workshop. WHAT WAS I DOING?!?!?

to psychoanalyze a bit, a shrink might tell me that, especially as a young man trying to bond with his father, i DID become enraged and tried to hurt him with a present the total opposite of who and what he was. or maybe i was trying to tell him, see, i'm a man now and we should like these things and talk about it. or i don't know...

i was embarrassed and upset by the gift even as i was handing it to him. this man who had worked so hard to provide for us and i was giving him a gift that was going to make us all uncomfortable. but what could i do...? he opened it. he said, "oh" and "well, thank you." and set it aside to move onto something else, something more traditional and acceptable. i felt sick to my stomach for the next hour or so. i'm feeling it now, again, as i relive the memory.

one of my deepest regrets. not for what the present was, but for what it represented.
but we do these things.

the next year, i bought him some socks and underwear.
he was delighted.

i'm grown up now, or so they tell me. i've learned to respect and understand my father's feelings as an adult and now as a friend. he has grown too and we can talk about these things now and both of us have learned to express our feelings about each other and to each other without embarrassment or awkwardness. with love. my mom's passing two years ago has now made us even closer and i'm not trying to win his approval with that perfect christmas gift anymore. i'm past that.

this year we're gettin' him a big screen tv. : )
don't tell him...

smell ya later!


Christian D. Leaf said...

Hee hee. I just might have to buy my old man that poster now. Along with a Red Ryder BB gun with compass in the stock.

Invariably Dad is always the hardest to shop for. I remember we'd usually give him pipe tobacco, socks, ties, and whatever traditional gifts Dad always got in the Christmas movies. Hell, one year we even wanted to get him a bowling ball just so we could throw it in his lap as seen in The Christmas Story.

On the flipside, my Dad was loathe to go shopping. We'd wake up Christmas morning to find all these large boxes to us from Dad, but when you'd open them and dig through all the tissue paper, you'd find another little box. Inside that little box was a clipping of whatever toy/jewelry/gift he WOULD'VE gotten for you had he actually gone shopping.

portalcomics said...

Hey Todd!

Great story! I totally can relate to what you're saying... I don't know how old your Dad is... but my keen detective skills tell me you're 9 years older than me and my Dad is 62... so your Dad is probably a little older than that... but my Dad is part of the Baby Boomers, the Vietnam era... I think they are kind of the middle children of men... their father's were part of "The Greatest Generation" and their sons (us) are part of Generation X, the spoiled babies of the family... they've learned from their fathers how to be good providers but they have trouble with emotions... we've been taught to be in touch with our emotions and it's OK to cry sometimes and hugging is a good thing... our Dad's have trouble with that stuff... My Dad and I have had our difficulties over my 36 years of life.. our relationship needs constant work, but it's OK... he's my Dad... I love him... I think the best gift I ever gave him was when I was 4 years old... I was in pre-school and we made gifts for our parents for Christmas... I made my Dad a whale. I took a piece of balsa wood and glued a piece of yarn to it in the outline of the whale, then filled inside the yarn with glue and poured sand over it, then glued a seashell for the eye... then scribbled "Nicky" on the bottom (Yup, I was Nicky then!) He's still got it... it still hangs on the wall in the only room of the house that is truly his... his workshop, right there above his workbench...

Brian said...

Man this place is making me feel old as I'm a member of the Baby Boom generation, albeit the tail end.

Worst Gift I ever gave was to my older brother. I budgeted poorly that year - spent to much on my twin cousins getting them a football - and ended up with less than a buck to get something for Jay. We'll as many of my gender do, I found myself at the local drug store on Christmas Eve desperately looking for something in my price range. I finally found what I thought was a rubber spider - he likes scary stuff, doesn't he? - in my price range so I grabed it like a drowning man grabbing a life preserver, rushed home, wrapped it and got it under the tree. Well, turns out is was plastic, not rubber, and it was a pencil sharpener. I still remember the "What were you thinking look on his face." After that, I planned by budget a little better and took to asking people for hints.

Brian said...

I thought the title for the post sounded familiar so I checked out my little Christmas tale from last January.

"Title: Todd and Craig’s The Perhapanauts in “The Ghost of Christmas’s Present”"

Close, but no cigar.

Anonymous said...

That's a cool story.
Ever wonder what he thought of that poster when no one was around?

I certainly loved that poster when it came out.

I also like that 'whale' of a story that "Nicky" told us.

I don't recall any extraordinary circumstances, so I'm going to plead the 5th and claim that I've blocked the past out of my memory.


Matt Wieringo said...

Oh, man, I made out with that poster so many times during puberty. Farrah taught me how to kiss...walls.

Dad always told us to buy Gold Toe socks for him but they had to be a certain percentage of some strange material called "orlon". Every year, Mike and I would search frantically through the K-Mart and Hills men's departments, looking for those damned socks. One year, they stopped making them. From then on, we'd buy whatever we could find that looked and felt as close to orlon Gold Toes as possible. Dad, not being one to pull punches, would open his box, give the socks one baleful glance and grumble, "Nope. Wrong socks." and drop them back in the box like a dead rodent and there they'd stay.

renecarol said...

Farrah Fawcette is pretty old right? As a kid I never really liked anybody much older than me. A neighbor down the street (who was friends with my brother) was in fifth grade when I was in kindergarten.

I loved big wheels when I was a kid. Sometime right before my niece turned 3 I was in a store and saw a big wheels - assembled on display -and had the bright idea of getting my niece one for her birthday. It said 3 & up and it seemed like a sign. I spent all day on my day off putting the thing together. I couldn't figure out how to get the seat on it. I had to get my brother to 'finish' putting it together. Anyway I learned my lesson - never buy anyone anything with assembly required - especially if I'm the one having to put it together. Needless to say my own daughter didn't get a big wheels when she turned three.

Warren said...

My birthday is just a few days after Christmas. When I was a little boy, I was always hearing, "This is your Christmas present AND your birthday present," even though everybody else would get just as good a Christmas present AND a present on their birthday. Even my mom -- a single mom raising me and my brother and sister (half-brother and half-sister from her first marriage) -- did that to me.

So as a child, I was conflicted about Christmas. It's like I had been upstaged by that Jesus kid!

As an adult, my wife and children have always made sure my birthday was distinct from Christmas. I've never gotten a gift from my children that I didn't like. I have all sorts of keychains and stuff stuck in a drawer and when I look at them, I remember the little boy and little girl I used to have.

My kids are both adults now and give me neat stuff like action figures and books and graphic novels...

But I really miss the little baseball keychains and the basketball pencil sharpeners.

And the little kids.

Heywood Jablomie said...

Hey Todd and the gang!

It's getting harder this week to keep up with the blog and the forum, so I'm behind...things are too busy!

I totally agree with you on the difficulties in buying for dad!!! My dad is the same way in that he just impulse buys EVERYTHING!! Every year it gets harder and harder. One thing I found thats a good gift, and this is for everyone not just dads, is the Uncle John's Bathroom Readers. Those things are great. I have a ton of them, and they really have some great information as well! So that's what he ends up getting every year now, is one of those, and whatever else I can try to get him that he hasn't already bought for himself.

As far as worst gift ever given, I can't really recall one off-hand, and not just for dad but anyone in general. But one of the best gifts I've received was when I was little and the GI Joe Hovercraft came out and I wanted one so damned bad, and my parents didn't have the money really, but they got it for me anyways. I was simply floored. Oh and I also had the large Alien figure from the first movie, and I kick myself in the ass everytime I see it in pictures cuz that toy was bad ass!

Warren said...

Mr. Jablomie, for some reason I read "Hovercraft" as "Lovecraft" and the thought of a G.I. Joe Lovecraft just seemed sorta cool. I wonder what kind of missions Duke would call him out on...

Heywood Jablomie said...


Now that would have made for some interesting stuff if the Lovecraft mythos were involved with GI Joe, but then again with the world driven to madness, it would have only been like 1 episode haha!