Call me superficial, but when I go into a gift shopping tear for a loved one, I feel elated. Buying gifts for those I love puts me in a mild state of euphoria. What's even better is having a good receiver on the other end who is really thrilled to rip open the package, grin excitedly and even mutter the magic words, "You shouldn't have -- but I love it!" Now, that's the perfect gift-giving moment.
Not everyone is a good receiver and some in my family really feel the whole gift-giving thing is wasteful. They're right, of course, theoretically, I mean who needs more stuff? But, that hasn't stopped me. I actually think gifting is an act of love -- and hey, it doesn't have to be "stuff."
I don't always get the right gifts, but usually, the receiver is appreciative and, if they don't like it, they can return it, so it's an imperfect moment, but better than not giving the gift at all. Sadly, that would be a missed experience.
When I was a kid, I loved figuring out the perfect Father's Day gift for my dad. He was a great receiver. Because I loved spending time with him, I would concoct gifts I could share with him. For instance, baking the best chocolate cake ever WITH HIM was a Father's Day ritual. This was THE gift -- to hang out with him for hours, mess up the kitchen, lick the bowl and smear the frosting. Laughing at our lopsided creation of super moist cake buckling under the starched heavy frosting, we'd proudly present it to the rest of the family.
One year, for his 40-something birthday, I learned the "left hand" of a Beethoven duet so we could play it together. It was an overly ambitious piece for me to tackle. I worked for a month to try to get it right. When the time came to gift my "part" and we sat down together to play, I was totally "off" on my counting, my fingering and my overall "read" of the music. No matter. I got Dad's attention and we worked to bring that piece forward into something mildly audible over time. It was the gift that kept on giving: Time With Dad.
Dad's been gone 20 years now and I miss sharing gifts with him. Today, I am blessed with some ready receivers and it's easy to transfer my love of gift giving to my favorite men: my husband and my boys. My husband is a great receiver and greets every gift with a big smile. He is not materialistic in the least, but surprisingly, he loves a gift that comes with a good story.
Today, we had an experience that we will add to our repertoire of shared stories. We were walking around the fabulous streets of San Francisco, getting some exercise before heading out to the airport for a noon flight. We passed a men's store that happened to be open very early - like 9:30 a.m.. We popped in and were greeted by a chatty, vivacious salesperson from back East. The place had great hip (Italian designer) clothes, perfect for the "mid-life" man -- except for the fact that my husband hates to shop for himself. I seized the moment announcing, "I'm buying -- you have 30 minutes -- let's do it -- full stop." The buying frenzy began. We laughed hysterically as the sales guy and I threw tee's and pants and sweaters into his dressing room. My husband is NOT a clothes horse, so this was a treat to watch. Call it retail therapy, call it shared experience, whatever! We both felt the big LOVE during that 30-minute immersion.
But I want to get back to dealing with a reluctant receiver. I've had the most rewarding experience ever, watching my stepson morph into a grateful full-on smiling receiver. One of my first gifts to him (he was in his mid-20s at the time), was a dozen Campbell's soup cans that were decorated in bold graphics, Andy Warhol style. Because I was dealing with a minimalist, I thought this gift would be ideal -- he could use it as "décor" in his studio apartment until he was ready to eat. This gift was not received with a smile. He looked at me like I was nuts. OK, admittedly it was a bit of an "out of the box" gift, but he really looked annoyed and actually told me he doesn't like "stuff" or "things" or multiples of things. I got the message -- kind of.
A year later, I tried again, but before I handed him a "returnable" shirt from Banana Republic, I suggested it would be great if he would "receive" it with the spirit in which it was given -- love and caring. He got that message loud and clear, because he is in fact one of the kindest young men I know. He opened it, gave me a warm hug and his magic smile and we've been doing the gift thing successfully ever since.
So, as the paper is ripped off of the Father's Day gifts and gifts for our four boys this summer, I will smile.
Read more from Better After 50:
My Father's Last Gift
Scrooge Father's Day
My Ex Became a Woman
Peking To Paris: Love And Marriage On A "Short Drive"