Gifts that never gave

As we reach the climax of this holiday season, I can’t help but think of family members whom I won’t be seeing this Christmas. My dad, for one. But I must confess, there is one solid upside to his not being on the planet for the first time since 1926: I don’t have to kill myself trying to find a decent present for the old coot.

Let’s face it; shopping for dads is a bitch. And when I say shopping, I mean getting something good that he truly enjoys. So yeah, I’ll miss Pop this Christmas, but I sure as hell won’t miss poundin’ stores in a frantic search to find that just right item.

You learn a lot about the way your father really lived when you go through his house after he dies. You certainly learn a lot about which gifts of the past were hits and which were misses when you go through all the shelves and closets.

There was the blue read-in-bed unit, you know, those propper-uppers that are much better than pillows when you want to read in the sack? I thought that was an excellent gift, considering his love of reading. Wrong. I found it in his closet, basically untouched. Damn.

He loved Judy Garland, so one year I went on the Web and found some old videos of her variety show from ’63. Again, I was confident that I’d nailed him in a nice, nostalgic spot, one he would deeply appreciate. But while cleaning out the bookshelves, I found both tapes, still wrapped in cellophane. Ouch.

I was inclined to throw all kinds of desperate noodles on the gift wall, since I had exhausted both the golf equipment route (he had stashed the clubs in the garage long ago) and the liquor route (half gallons of Smirnoff were always on hand, and get that damn Grey Goose outta here). There was the year I got him a cool little bonsai tree for his dining room table, a gorgeous little plant. The poor thing died a quick death from acute neglect, way before Super Bowl Sunday.

The binoculars were another risky gift noodle that slid all the way down to the floor. I guess he wasn’t much of bird-watcher or lecherous peeper. I found them still in the original box in the kitchen cupboard where he stashed all the paper bags.

There were hits, though. I kept myself in the freakin’ will with the Joe Montana-autographed 49ers helmet. Last year’s Tivo unit turned out to be a major smash. And once I discovered Eddie Bauer made shirts in tall sizes, which is what he needed for a decent fit, well, I worked that angle hard. He actually wore those.

Which leads me to this key point: Always buy things that not only Pop’ll like, but that you wouldn’t mind one day having yourself. The chances are decent to good that one day they’ll be headed right back at you. For example, I’m grateful I found out before it was too late how much he liked those huge body sheet bath towels from Macy’s.