A conversation with a desperate gift giver

father giving daughter a presentThe girl two offices down from mine popped her head in the door yesterday. “So, what do you want for Christmas?”

Feeling quite chuffed that I might have made enough of an impression on a colleague that I made it to her Christmas list, she elaborated. “It’s just that I don’t know what to get my dad. I ask dad what he wants, and he goes ‘I dunno, nothing really’.  You’re a dad, so I figured you’d have some ideas.”

“I dunno, nothing really”, I reply, to her great exasperation.

The girl two offices down sighed loudly. “You’re not helping,” she says before asking why dads can’t be more like mums, who by all accounts “are easy”.

Ahh, well…. Dad’s are particularly carefree at deciding what they want for a number of reasons, I meekly suggest. Firstly, mums are required to constantly have ideas for presents for everyone – big, small, short or tall - so we never need to come up with them ourselves. In my experience, with ten minutes notice a mum can conjure up the perfect present for the 83 year old neighbour who has no interests other than late night talk-back radio or a 5 year old nephew who will only eat orange food. So it makes sense that they can rattle off copious suggestions for anyone who asks them what they want. Essential utensils for the home and kitchen, perfect apparel or gems – they have ideas in all the major categories and they are happy to drop strong hints throughout the year to ensure they are not disappointed on December 25.  By comparison, the part of a dad’s brain that thinks of good presents lies dormant until they see something they like getting unwrapped by some-one else on Christmas Day.

Secondly, shopping centres never place ads in the sports section of the newspaper, so we wouldn’t have a clue what’s in and out in. If an advertisement for the latest barbeque accessory was placed under the weekly footy column, I’d probably have to have one.

Thirdly, we’d really much rather prefer play with what the kids get on Christmas day. Why else would our contribution to the kids stockings be the Wii, the cricket bat and the remote control helicopter.

Having had it explained to me again how absolutely useless this information was, the girl two offices down was determined and pressed on for detail. “What about ties and socks?”  I suggested that while the idea of having my wife and kids pick my ties was a much safer option than me picking my ties, it was nonetheless a reminder that in a few short days, I’d be heading back to the office two doors down wearing them. After all, Christmas is the time for spiritual reflection, and also one the few times a year where many of us can have a complete break from work without the BlackBerry constantly buzzing with incoming emails (apologies to shift-workers who have to work over the Christmas break – I don’t mean to rub it in).

“Nice try”, said the girl two offices down, “but ultimately still useless”.

OK then.  What about a good book?  They fit the mood of Christmas and there’s one of them for all of us. Having a good book provides an excuse for dads to plonk in a chair during the summer break and “do nothing” for hours on end. Many dads pine to take five-for in an Ashes series, build the back deck of their dreams or believe they were brilliant military strategists in a former life; so books of the sporting, home handy man or war genre seem to go down a treat. Mysteries, thrillers and biographies also do the rounds when the dads do the book swap. If you’re not sure, split the difference and buy a few to cover the whole holiday season.

I sensed I might be making progress. “So basically what you are saying is all dads want for Christmas is to chill out in peace and quiet”.

As the vision of an uninterrupted view of the tele to watch the cricket on Boxing Day flooded to me, with the kids playing quietly together in the background, it was clear that at that very moment that the girl two offices down reached into my soul and found the answer. After a tough year at work, where many of us dads have had to sacrifice to time with our families just to get the job done, we’d love nothing more than just to hang out with our kids and partners.

So while peace on earth might be a stretch, we’d happily settle for a peaceful house this Christmas and good will to our neighbours two doors down.