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Father's Day: The Year I Gave Dad a Real Humdinger

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PARRI SONTAG
Parri Sontag

It was Father's Day, and I was 11. It was the first year without my mom, and I was on my own for a gift.

Between Christmas and his birthday, I'd already given dad Soap on a Rope, English Leather and a "World's Greatest Dad" statuette from Hallmark. How does a kid top that? I wasn't yet allowed to take a bus to the mall or a train to the city, so I walked up Avenue J, my local shopping district, on a quest for the perfect gift.

The avenue was teeming with shops, but not the kind where you'd buy a Father's Day present. There was a costume jewelry store, Ratchik's bakery, a bagel shop and a candy store by the train station that served old-fashioned malteds and sold magazines and comic books. There was a falafel shop, a kosher butcher, DiFara's Pizza, the Joy Fong Chinese restaurant and a candle and incense shop I was told catered to hippies (to cover up the smell of "the marijuana").

Further down the avenue were gems like the House of Hocus Pocus, but I didn't think dad would like invisible ink or a deck of trick cards. And I definitely didn't think I could score his present at the wig shop or matronly lingerie store, where women from the old country molested you with a tape measure, then brought out all kinds of under-armor fit for your Nana.

With nowhere else to turn, I ended up at my go-to gift spot: the Silver Rod Pharmacy, where I beelined it past the Fleet enemas and O'Henry bars in search of something worthy of my father.

Like most men in the days prior to the high-tech era, dad loved gadgets. He had an electric shoe shine machine, a weather radio, a movie camera and projector, a tape recorder and a slide projector. I wanted to get him something to add to his collection.

Silver Rod had electric razors, but dad shaved the old-fashioned way. There were Kodak instamatic cameras and transistor radios, but dad already had those things.

That's when I spotted a tall glass case with specialty items that required the help of a saleslady. There had to be good stuff in there, right? That merchandise was so special, it was under lock and key!

Peeking into the case, my eyes landed on an excellent gift ... the gift of all gifts: a cordless personal neck massager. I just knew that would be a big hit!

2014-06-12-Osterhandmassager.jpgYou see, dad loved when we kids gave him massages. He'd get down on the carpet, while we watched The Six Million Dollar Man, and we'd karate chop him and walk on his back. In fact, one of his gadgets was a plug-in Oster massager where you slipped your fingers into these elastic bands, so a miniature motor could rest on the back of your hand. It vibrated my entire arm as I pounded on his back.

I hated that thing. It was heavy, made for the hand of an adult, and the powerful vibrations gave me a headache. So when I saw the neck massager, I knew that was what I wanted to buy. I could give dad awesome back massages with that. And I wouldn't have hand fatigue or run the risk of being electrocuted.

The neck massager in the case was ideal for soothing back, neck or chin pain, according to the booklet. Who on earth massages their chin, I wondered? Still, it said this handy little device could massage all different muscles that are tense from overwork.

Perfect, I thought. My dad was a surgeon, who left the house at 5 a.m. for his operations, and he worked late nights in the emergency room. He was always exhausted and achy.

The box said the vibrations were calming and stimulated your circulation for a genuine feeling of refreshment.

Perfect again! Dad needed refreshment. He could be on his feet for eight hours straight when he was in surgery. This was just what he needed to relieve soreness, fatigue and tight muscles.

My gift was high-tech at its finest in 1974. The new massager was lightweight, battery-operated and, at $8.95, I could totally afford it. So I handed over the change from my Snoopy bank, took it home, wrapped it up and hid it in my closet, behind my Mystery Date game.

And that's where my memory ends. I have absolutely no recollection of giving my dad his gift or his reaction. I'm sure he "oohed" and "aahed" as dads do, whether you give them an expensive tie or a treasure box made of Popsicle® sticks. But I definitely remember that the gift remained in his closet, unused.

This all came back to me recently in a 'Nam-like flashback, as I was driving down the highway, passing a sign for an adult superstore. In a moment of clarity, I burst out laughing as my 40-year-old repressed memory took shape in my head: the narrow rectangular box with a picture of a lady, her head tilted back, as she gently held this massage wand to her neck and shoulder... the booklet that promised deep, "penetrating comfort."

"Oh my God," I shrieked to my husband, laughing and snorting so hard, I could barely breathe. "I gave my dad a vibrator."

I'm sure it was, indeed, meant to get rid of muscle tension, increase circulation and leave a user feeling refreshed... but having lived half a century now, I'm now quite certain it was never meant for one's chin.

Today "personal massagers" have been rebranded and are sold in every size, shape, color and material, in stores patronized exclusively by adults. These shops are easily identified, because they're usually named after felines ("The Lion's Den," "The Pink Pussycat Boutique") or the destination one hopes to reach with their purchase ("The Pleasure Chest," "Early to Bed," "Shag"). The packaging is mostly transparent, and there is little question as to the product inside or its purpose.

So, fortunately, today's innocents will be saved the debilitating shame and horror I now feel.

I gave my daddy a sex toy for Father's Day.

The lady at Silver Rod helped me do it.

And while I usually like to create a buzz, if you'll excuse me, I need to go call a therapist.

2014-06-12-cordlessmassager.jpg
As God is my witness, I thought it was a neck massager!