Su Kim’s father asked for cash for Father’s Day this year. “He said that if I was going to waste my money on something he didn’t need or want again this year, I might as well just give him the cash and save us both some trouble,” said Su.
Most fathers aren’t quite as direct as Su’s, but according to my annual survey of fathers, they want what Su’s dad wants. Not cash, necessarily, but for their kids to not waste their money.
No wonder Father’s Day is the tiniest American gift-giving holiday of the year, accounting for only $12.5 billion in retail sales. By comparison, Mother’s Day accounts for nearly $20 billion in sales and the holidays rake in more than $600 billion.
And no wonder it’s also a frustrating holiday for gift givers. Most want to surprise, delight and honor their dads, but instead many end up either spending too much money, getting something off the mark or silly, or feeling guilty. Here are three cardinal rules, endorsed by dads, for fool-proof Father’s Day gift giving.
Keep it Simple
This year, and every year that I’ve surveyed fathers, what I hear is that their identity as fathers doesn’t coincide well with lavish Father’s Day celebrations. It seems there’s something unmanly or “undadly” about pampering. But even though most dads downplay the significance of Father’s Day, they’re fully invested in their role. According to the 2014 Dove Men+Care Dad Portrayal Research Study, 94% of American fathers prioritize their families over their careers and three-quarters say they organize their life around their family so that they can spend more time with their children. So, regardless of how “undadly” it feels to be celebrated, fathers are likely to feel hurt if they’re not feted on our national day of fatherhood. The solution is to keep it simple. Katy Short, who has 2 kids under 5, wrapped up her brilliantly simple Father’s Day plans in one sentence, “We’ll give him lots of kisses, some cologne he wants, and then we’ll dance.”
Listen to Your Father
When I ask dads what they’d like for Father’s Day, many start their response with something they want from their kids that’s in the kid’s best interest. “I want my son to get a job.” “I want my kids to be happy.” Or like Su’s father, they want their kids to spend their money wisely. Evidently, fathering doesn’t take a holiday. And in some cases the gift their son or daughter picks is a measure of their success as a father. Goofy sunglasses or expensive cufflinks are more likely to elicit something like, “What did I do wrong? Didn’t I teach my kid not to waste money?”, than a laugh or a “wow”. It’s not that dads don’t want budget-busting lavish gifts - they just don’t want them from you. Instead, if your father has been needling you to read a particular book or try a sport, make that his Father’s Day gift and show him you were listening. Then wrap it up in a bow by asking him to discuss the book or play the sport with you. And if he’s been trying to teach you how to spend wisely, for heaven’s sake show him he’s done a good job by not wasting money on something he doesn’t need or want.
Give the Gift of Time and Attention
When pressed for an actual gift they’d like to receive that costs money, top choices I hear from fathers are typically celebratory events like sharing a special meal together or tickets to a ball game. Evidently kids know their dads pretty well because this coincides with findings from the National Retail Federation’s survey. Of those who are purchasing gifts for fathers (or husbands on behalf of younger kids) the top two categories are greeting cards (63%) and special dinners or outings (44%).
Russell summed up what he wants and what he thinks most dads want this way, “It has to be something personal, they have to spend time thinking about what their dads would really like, or spend time with them - like making a breakfast in bed or spending the day fishing.” Russell (who preferred not to use his last name for fear of offending his less-than-perfect gift-giving son) got a gushy handmade card and a bottle of wine from his adult daughter last year. He said it was the perfect gift because she had taken the time to research his tastes. And Russell told me that he still has the gushy card - along with every other one he’s received since his daughter was old enough to draw.