I don’t ask for things very often.
I don’t mean I don’t ask for help often. It’s also true that I don’t ask for help, even when the rational side of my brain knows that doing so will make my life easier, but that’s a different discussion for another blog post. I mean that I don’t ask for things. Hanukkah, anniversary, birthday… You name the special occasion, I still don’t ask for anything. My wife will tell you that her least favorite question to ask me is, “What do you want for ________?” because my answer is invariably, “I don’t know.”1
I get too wrapped up in practicality most of the time. I don’t ask for sports jerseys because I don’t know when I would wear them. I don’t ask for memorabilia because it would just sit on display somewhere. I don’t ask for music because I just buy it myself. I don’t ask for clothes because I don’t really need any. I know that the point of a gift is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be practical; gifts are supposed to be more about “want” than “need.”2 But I still don’t ask.
Part of the issue is that I have trouble seeing myself as deserving of special attention. People thank me for doing something or compliment me about something else, and I minimize my role by saying things like, “You don’t have to thank me,” or “It’s just part of the job.” Why should you thank me for doing something I was expected to do anyway? I’ve gotten much better in recent years about just saying, “Thank you” when someone offers me a compliment but there’s still an awkward feeling inside me whenever it happens. It’s easier when I’m being recognized for a job well done but for gifts, even for special occasions, it’s like I feel guilty for accepting something I haven’t earned. The thing I’ve come to realize about parenthood is that nobody really knows anything about the “right way” to do things; at the end of the day, we’re all just doing our best and that’s worth celebrating (and accepting any praise that comes my way).
I was thinking about this over the last few days because Father’s Day is coming up on Sunday. Perhaps you noticed the sudden flood of pro-dad television commercials and internet articles. Some members of the dad blogger community are quick to point out that it would be nice to see dads get credit for their hard work as parents throughout the year, as many moms are recognized even when Mother’s Day isn’t around the corner.3 Others take a different side, choosing to appreciate the progress that’s been made rather than focusing on how much there is left to do. I probably lean more towards the latter position, although I’ll admit that I’ve become much more aware of mom-specific advertising campaigns (as opposed to those targeted to parents) in the last two years.4 If you haven’t noticed the shift, it’s something to think about.
Regardless, I started thinking about Father’s Day gifts when I heard someone refer to the day as “Happy Tie Day,” implying that the only things fathers ever get on Father’s Day are ties. It was an innocuous comment but a disappointing moment for me, as I had thought that we, as a society, had moved far beyond the idea that a dad’s purpose is simply to provide for his family, as opposed to being an active participant in family life. I realize that some dads still fit that mold, avoiding involvement in their kids’ lives and shirking any parental responsibilities. If you know a dad like this, by all means, buy him a tie. But so many dads have taken the opposite route, capitalizing on every opportunity available to prepare their kids’ lunches, do amazing crafts or just find ways to communicate with their children. If the dad you know falls into this category, someone who demonstrates what it means to be a positive male role model and finds ways to connect with his children whenever he can, consider getting him something a little more meaningful. He might feel weird asking for it and he might tell you that you didn’t have to get him anything, but I’d bet he’ll appreciate it more than he can say.
Happy Father’s Day everyone.
1. Incidentally, a very close second on the list is, “Do you remember where the __________ is?” That answer usually ends up being some variation of “No.”↩
2. Lone Star and Princess Vespa from Spaceballs had the all-time best exchange ever in the need vs. want lesson.↩
3. Remember this Olympics commercial?↩
4. If you’re interested in reading more about this, Zach Rosenberg of 8-Bit Dad does an excellent job keeping track of these kinds of things.↩