Birthday/Graduation gift for my techie, forestry-bound nephew?
April 20, 2013 3:39 PM   Subscribe

My nephew is turning 18 in a week. He is graduating from high school in June. He has no idea what he wants for a gift for either event. tl;dr: What might a socially active gaming-nerd turned forestry major find useful or enjoy before or during his first year away from home? What do you get for the guy who's pretty content with anything he gets?

My nephew is an only child from a relatively middle-class home, so his basic college-bound needs are pretty well taken care of. We, however, are tight on cash, so whatever I get needs to be more a good idea than an expensive gadget. He (and his folks) live in the same city as I do, so we know each other fairly well. Any slightly fringe ideas are welcome; I feel confident I will be able to suss out which ones he would or wouldn't like.

What he is like:
He is a smart, fit, decent guy with both introverted and extroverted tendencies and a well-concealed subversive streak (which I confess to having nurtured). He is good with gadgets and computers and considered going into programming or some sort of engineering (what kind, he wasn't sure) once upon a time. He's now planning on majoring in Forestry in college. I believe the self-reliance aspect is what appeals most to him. He's been heavily involved in band (percussion), theater, and track during all of high school. He has a quirky, dry sense of humor and is ridiculously good at organizing countless teenagers for big social events. He is a live-and-let-live atheist whose only strong political opinion is that people should treat each other fairly and with compassion, for crying out loud.

He's good at communicating, and we've had some really awesome conversations, so I know he likes to think deep thoughts about all manner of topics. He is rarely without a girlfriend - I kind of wish he were more comfortable with solitude, but that's probably my hang-up. I think he'll be pretty lonely the first bit of college because of this, though. He is eminently practical, so the perfect pair of socks would actually be a perfectly wonderful present. He appreciates utility with an elegant design.

What he likes:
I don't think he reads much, but he does like an engaging narrative - in the form of games, usually. He likes Mumford and Sons, Iron and Wine, and Rob Zombie, among many, many others. He plays a lot of role-playing games of both the tabletop and computer variety. He doesn’t have any overriding passions – mostly he’s pretty interested in pretty much everything.

Gift criteria/constraints/questions:
I'm looking at spending maybe $60 dollars for a present that combines birthday and graduation, or $30 for each event. I'm willing to exceed that if the item is oh-my-god perfect because 18 and high school graduation only happen once. We live in the Madison/Milwaukee area, so events around those two places would be good so long as they happen before he goes off to college in the fall. He has a great relationship with my computer-geek husband, so any activities where it would be good to have an (actual) adult along would also be fine. My nephew frequently invites my husband to group events just because they get along so well.

I'm a fairly good artist and editor, the above paragraphs notwithstanding. Would it be cheesy to give him a coupon promising him help with his term papers anytime he needs it? Would it seem cheap? Would he even think to take me up on it when the time came? On that same note, is there anything you can think of that an 18-year-old, thoughtful guy might appreciate in the form of help from a close adult, but would never think to ask for, or would be too embarrassed? We all grew up in a guess culture, not an ask culture, so he's not likely to ask for help when he needs it. Would it be cheesy to let him know how completely awesome I think he is or how proud I am of the boy he was and the man he is choosing to become?

He's my only nephew, and it's been a real pleasure watching him grow up. I'd like to give him a cool gift that will be useful, or will last a while, or will be meaningful to him, or will ease his time at college (where he will not know anyone else).

Thanks so much for any suggestions!
posted by tllaya to Shopping (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would get him a nice swiss army pocket knife (Make sure it is the original, not some knock off). He'll find it useful for years (I've had them last over 25 years).
posted by HuronBob at 4:32 PM on April 20, 2013

(on preview - hah!) What your description made me think of was some kind of multi-tool - Leatherman, Wenger, etc. You should be able to get a good one for $60. Or a cool watch (G shock, etc.).
posted by carter at 4:34 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

My aunt and uncle gave me a tool kit when I graduated (portable, relatively small, similar to this). It may seem impersonal, but it's something I still have and use several years later, and I think of them every time. It's a good think to have going into the dorms as well.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:35 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would get him several-- ideally 7-- pairs of really excellent wool socks (I am partial to SmartWool, but I know that opinions are mixed). It's a useful gift that will be very practical for him in college when he is doing his own laundry. They're good for hiking and every day use, will last a long time, and will be a daily reminder of your support for him.
posted by charmcityblues at 4:44 PM on April 20, 2013

A Leap Motion would be great, just make sure no one else is getting him that. Lots of ideas on Cool Tools, and perhaps there's a kickstarter that's relevant.
posted by Sophont at 5:26 PM on April 20, 2013

These are all excellent ideas, and they are making me feel better about getting something utilitarian. Thanks, folks!
posted by tllaya at 5:34 PM on April 20, 2013

When I first left home for College I think I would've appreciated a really nice tool kit (a multitool would also be good). In practice I've ended up buying several really cheap tool kits over the years and always wished I had something good quality.
posted by codacorolla at 5:52 PM on April 20, 2013

Nthing the multi-tool is a great idea, and if you go that route you can get them engraved (aftermarket) as well for a nice personal touch (My brother got this as a presentation after defending his PhD and it was really sweet).

But like a few others have said, many years ago, when I went off to college I got a nice toolbox(ok, actually, a once-nice craftsmen toolbox of my dads that I had abused as a child) and a trip down to the discount tool outlet with my dad to fill it with whatever I thought I might need + a few high quality essentials. Which is a nice memory and it has been seriously, incredibly useful over the years as I still have it in some form or another. (And, tools can also be things like Multi-meters and soldering irons, or electronic hardware tinkering gear which can help enable fun projects but which could definitely push the budget.)
posted by McSwaggers at 6:02 PM on April 20, 2013

I really, really appreciated the tool kit I got from my dad as part of my late-summer birthday + leaving for college thing. I still have those tools and I don't think there's anything from that age that I have that I've used more or cared about more when moving from place to place. Many of the guys I knew in school had either a similar tool kit, or they constantly carried about a multitool in their pockets. We used them for so many things! But in my girl's dorm, I was one of the few people with a tool kit - I was willing to lend them out and that helped me be sociable, too.
posted by Mizu at 6:03 PM on April 20, 2013

Would it be cheesy to give him a coupon promising him help with his term papers anytime he needs it?

I love this idea. I would include this coupon in the birthday/graduation card with whatever other present you end up getting him—based on the info in your question, a good Swiss army knife or tool kit would be the way I'd go.

I am incredibly lucky that I have someone in my life whom I trust to help proofread my papers and give me feedback on my writing. "You wrote 'they're' when you mean 'their.'" "The plural of 'attorney general' is actually 'attorneys general.'" "Rewrite the third paragraph, it doesn't make sense." Etc. No matter how good of a student he is, he's going to be up late writing papers when his brain is already fried from studying, and the benefits of having an extra set of eyes look over his paper before he hands it in are invaluable.

Would it seem cheap?


Would he even think to take me up on it when the time came?

Maybe, maybe not. I didn't understand the usefulness of having someone help edit my paper until after I had experienced it. If you feel inclined, you can casually drop a line about it. "Hey, just so you know, there's no expiration date on that coupon, it's always there if you need it!" But there are a lot of positives if he takes you up on it, and no negatives if he doesn't.
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 6:23 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The toolkit or multi-tool is a good idea. But, I also like your idea about offering him certain services you could help him with. Why not give him both. I would make a list of items such as editing that you can and will do for him. Maybe list 10 items. Print it up all nice like and laminate it. Call yourself the "Human Tool". He gets a physical tools and a human to use as a tool in his everyday life. If I had a good relationship with a nephew, I might even, in the card, make it a long play on words. "Don't be a tool, use a tool." "If you use your other tool and get in trouble, call Aunt tllaya, the human tool. I am there for you."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:25 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

On review, what The Girl Who Ate Boston said too.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:26 PM on April 20, 2013

JohnnyGunn - I'm using your idea and injecting as many puns as possible in my offer of editing (and other) advice. As an new adult, it's important for him to get practice tolerating painful experiences with a polite smile. :-) I don't think I'll call myself the human tool, though - he'll never stop hassling me.

I've decided to go with both a streamlined Toolman and a good, basic toolkit. That way he can keep the essentials on him as a pocket knife and have the heavy-duty tools in his closet in his dorm. It's a little above my original cost, but I knew that would happen.

Thank you, all. I'm really awful at gift-giving, and I'm feeling really good about this!
posted by tllaya at 6:41 PM on April 20, 2013

Just to add on to the tool idea, why not give a new tool on his next birthday too? My dad gave my sister and me tool boxes and then spent several years of birthdays and Christmases adding to it. I have a really nice set of tools now and I did love the year I received an electric drill. It's always been useful and I did like to slowly adding to it too. (Probably easier financially, too.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:03 PM on April 20, 2013

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