We’ve all heard about how hard it is to pick out Father’s Day gifts. “Finding a Father’s Day gift ranks right up there on the difficulty scale with rocket science (at worst) and holding a plank for more than a minute (at best),” states a Glamour post accompanied by the prerequisite list of fashionable Father’s Day gift ideas. “Dads never seem to want anything until something breaks or gets lost.”
How awful. Doesn’t Dad know that his stubborn contentedness with what he has is getting in the way of your desire to spend an afternoon at Nordstrom and buy him something?
Certainly, Father’s Day gift-buying guides proliferate because selecting dad presents is such a pain. But that’s not the only reason. Father’s Day gift guides are also everywhere because children and spouses want to show their genuine appreciation for all that dads do (which is really nice), and the fact that retailers and advertisers love the opportunity to prod shoppers into buying supposedly manly merchandise that men wouldn’t buy for themselves (which is less nice).
Wanting nothing on Father’s Day is more or less considered a crime. More importantly, due to a mixture of obligation, guilt, and sincere affection, givers want to get something for the men in their lives. Hence the need for gift guides that theoretically help givers find the perfect “must-have” for a guy who, remember, doesn’t want anything. (Side note: Dads don’t use the phrase “must-have.”)
The big problem about Father’s Day gift guides, then, is that they are created much more with the giver rather than the recipient in mind. What’s more, these lists of Father’s Day gifts often seem to be compiled without any input whatsoever from actual, honest-to-goodness fathers.
This explains why Father’s Day gift guides are overloaded with cutting-edge gadgets, grooming products, luxury watches, stylish clothing, artisanal bourbon marshmallows, and what have you. These items are not necessarily about what dads want, but about what the givers want the dads in their lives to be like. They want dads to be hipper, smell and look better, and generally be trendier and less clueless.
Let’s think about this for a second. On the one day of the year devoted to fathers, the message accompanying many gifts is not simple appreciation for who dads truly are and all they do but nudges that say: Man, you need to get your act together. There would be upheaval if similarly passive-aggressive Mother’s Day gifts were handed out to implicitly tell Mom: You have awful taste and your appearance hasn’t been up to snuff lately.
Dads could be insulted by being force-fed these kinds of gifts. More often, they are received with a forced smile and a sense a puzzlement as to how much of a mismatch the item is with the kinds of things he truly likes. Detroit News finance editor (and genuine-article dad) Brian J. O’Connor recently pointed out many dos and don’ts (mostly don’ts) for Father’s Day gifts, in order to help givers avoid “having to slink back to Bed, Bath & Beyond or to waste your money shipping a return to that twee, ‘personally curated’ hippie store on the Web.” Among the many don’ts are items relating to Dad’s hobbies (if he wanted it, he’d have it), almost any kind of clothing, and anything personalized (coasters, tools, grilling sets, etc.).
To this, I’ll add the advice that if you must consult a Father’s Day gift guide, at least go to a source that the dad in your life knows and respects and therefore has a prayer of jibing with his sensibility. If your dad is a regular on Pinterest or etsy, or if he’s a big reader of Glamour, Seventeen, or Real Simple, or if he shops all the time at Nordstrom, Pottery Barn, or Bed, Bath & Beyond, that’s great. By all means check out their Father’s Day gift suggestions.
On the other hand, there’s a problem if you’re getting a Father’s Day gift based mostly on what you like—or perhaps what you want your dad or husband to be like. This is how dads wind up with scented candles on Father’s Day. They may be “manly” scented candles that look and smell like charcoal, but they’re scented candles nonetheless. And if your dad isn’t a scented candle kind of guy, what in the world are you doing buying him scented candles?
Likewise, if your father never looks at Esquire, InStyle, Details (or MONEY for that matter!), and would chuckle at the thought of dressing like any of the slick, trendy hipsters on the pages inside, then these resources should be dismissed, or at least their recommendations should be considered with extreme skepticism. These kinds of Father’s Day lists swear that your dad really does want a vintage $400 camera, a drone, $1,300 penny loafers, men’s makeup products, and perhaps a fancy wireless digital thermometer with Bluetooth connectivity for grilling meat.
If you truly know your dad, you should know whether these are the kinds of things he’ll like or be annoyed or mystified by. And if he says he really doesn’t want you to buy him anything, maybe, just maybe, you should believe him.