Remembering The Forgotten Man At Christmas

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Tie a bow on it, friends, another Christmas has come and gone. The presents have all been opened, and in the morning quiet I’ve had time to reflect. Did my seasonal cookie intake move commodities markets? How can I lose at chess to my nephew, who calls his knight “the horse”? How many presents were thrown out by Uncle Ted, whose undiagnosed OCD compels him to run family room cleaning sorties every four minutes? My youngest boy seems more engrossed by the box than the present it housed, which begs a question: up to what age would that box-and-stick trap actually work on men? Later than you think, I bet, if you use the right bait. Would you not risk capture for a lob wedge?

A familiar peace has settled upon my home, yet something is missing. One person was forgotten in the gift department this Christmas, indeed every Christmas: dad. Some context here. To say dads shouldn’t be forgotten doesn’t mean Christmas gifts should be all or even mostly about them. Of course they should be about the kids first, then mom at the next level. Technically, it’s okay for dads to get nothing. For in that gesture a paterfamilias who listens closely can hear Honey, I realize we’re spending money at the cash-burn rate of a dot-com circa 1998. So understood, the non-gift gift is actually rather thoughtful.

What dads shouldn’t have to abide is what I call the afterthought gift. This is a gift whose very essence cries out two words: phoned in. Let me give you a couple of examples, as I’ve been receiving afterthought Christmas gifts from my wife for many years:

The “Cashmeer” Sweater. Boy, did I laugh heartily when that embarrassing typo – cashmeer – appeared on the tag of my brand new sweater. Turns out the joke was on me. By labeling this way, the big-box store that sold my wife the fuchsia monstrosity cleverly disclaimed all truth in advertising liability. Nor could this possibly be the sweater’s original shape. The neck was so stretched out that you’d have thought moments before her purchase, Mayor McCheese tried it on six or seven times. Now my whole body fits through the neck hole, so I can’t even wear it insouciantly off the shoulder a la Jennifer Beals in Flashdance. (Whoa, did I say that out loud?) Hasta la vista, suéter.

Blue Slippers, Both Left. There’s a reason Elvis sang about blue suede shoes rather than blue felt slippers. I don’t mean tasteful navy blue, either. I’m talking Papa Smurf’s abdomen. And who’s the design genius that thought lace-ups were the way to go this season? If this gift doesn’t just scream any port in a storm, nothing does. You know how they say if you listen closely to a seashell you can hear the ocean? Well out of curiosity I put one of these moccasins to my ear, and sure enough I could hear my wife yelling to my daughter Just reach in the clearance bin and grab the first match you find – they’re for your father, not the King of Sweden. And this my daughter did, as there were two lefts and no right slipper for me. So I couldn’t even wear them if I wanted to. Which I don’t. Back in the box with you, slippers.

Supertramp CD. Specifically, Breakfast in America. First, why on earth did she buy a compact disc? It’s not vinyl, and I’m not an aging hipster anyway. Second and more to the point, why this compact disc? She knows how much I hate “The Logical Song.” Let’s be honest: this Christmas present wouldn’t even please Supertramp. Clearly, she reached for this gift from the checkout line. I suppose I should be grateful I didn’t get batteries, a deck of playing cards or lip balm. Which song on the disc best captures my feelings toward this gift? “Goodbye Stranger.”

Ill-Fitting East German Sweats. I don’t mean something stylish and trim from Under Armour, or even Eighties kitschy/Wes Anderson chic. I mean the heavy gray cotton last seen when America’s favorite boxer climbed the steps in Rocky. The kind you could safely take an x-ray in, and would likely drown if you fell in a pool while wearing. While the top comes in one size – husky – for some reason the pants are always Baryshnikov-snug. To wear them in public is to ensure the wrong kind of Instagram fame. Thanks, but no thanks.

I won’t even get into the things I’ve received that were obvious freebies – cologne samples, Sports Illustrated Football Phone, Cat Fancy subscription. I’ll just say to any spouse who phones it in year after year – you know who you are – dig a little deeper on the Christmas gift next time.