Passive aggression for the holidays!
December 8, 2007 6:31 PM   Subscribe

Help me to find the perfect passive-aggressive gift for the holidays. Long story follows.

My mom, let's call her Betty, is married to my dad, let's call him Emmanuel. My mom, one year ago, met her first high school boyfriend -- call him James -- on, and promptly fell in love all over again with the boy she knew at age 15. He has been nothing but a dick. My parents are still married and have an active sex life, but, to my father's chagrin, my mother is still in love with James (though has only had sex with him a few times).

To make matters more complicated, my parents are now legal guardians of James' daughter from his first marriage -- he's been married three times. He isn't much of a dad, and his first wife (who had custody until last summer) was neglectful and terrible. The daughter, Sally, is awesome. I love her.

However, I do not love James. It's not a matter of not liking the stepdad type of guy. It's because he's made my mother go totally body dysmorphic and weird. After he showed her photos of his recent hot blonde girlfriends, my mother dyed her hair blonde and became anorexic. She has lost 100 pounds in the last year, but not through moderate exercise and a good diet. She's starving herself. She is in AWFUL shape. He's encouraging it, to the point where she's expecting to get platic surgery to take off any remaining extra pounds and he's offering to pay. This is killing my mother, in a very literal way, but no one can do anything about it -- my dad is too afraid of losing her to bring it up, and if I bring it up, she assumes I'm jealous of her "fabulous" weight loss.

So I am definitely -- DEFINITELY -- not okay with James coming to the Christmas gathering of my family even though his daughter will be there. I want to throttle him. However, it is the only time of year I really get to see my dad and my sister, and Sally, so I want to see them. Complicating matters further, my mother has informed me that James has bought us a $500+ gift and that she expects us to have something for him.

So, we will, because I would prefer not to make my mother angry. However, I would like to get something that expresses the fact that I cannot fucking stand this person and am getting him a gift purely out of obligation. I am typically an awesome giftgiver who gets amazing, unique things people love but never knew existed, but when it comes to buying something for a person I hate, I am at a loss.

So that's where you come in.

I need a sub-$50 gift that makes my mother's boyfriend feel like complete shit, while not being so directly aggressive or rude that it causes a problem. The words we are looking for here are PLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY. This gift should look, for all intents and purposes, like a lovely gift. It should just gnaw at him from the inside.

He likes expensive bullshit, like expensive ties and socks, so even ties and socks are straight out. He is self-conscious and insecure about his body, his capabilities as a father, and he is incredibly embarrassed about sex. Gifts can play off of any of these, with the caveat that anything I get him will also be opened in front of my father and I would not like him to be sad.

So, what would you get for the most hated member of your family? Please, no lectures on my lack of class, I'm aware of it. Also, not going is not an option. Neither is not giving a gift. Please help with the actual question.
posted by InnocentBystander to Human Relations (96 answers total) 109 users marked this as a favorite
Why do you know so much about your parents sex lives? Jesus. Honestly, given what you wrote I am sure the vibe is coming through loud and clear what your feelings are so there goes your hoped for plausible deniability. Since everyone is on a diet, what about something like a sugar free fruit cake? Nothing says "I hate you" like a fruitcake, but the fact it's sugar free pays homage to that fake sentiment that you actually care.
posted by 45moore45 at 6:37 PM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

wow. um, wow.

how about a parenting or self-help book?
posted by buka at 6:39 PM on December 8, 2007

Best answer: The Semi Complete Guide to Sort of Being a Gentleman. Possibly accompanied by Things a Man Should Never Do Past 30 and Things a Man Should Know about Work and Sex and Some Things in Between. Coupled with a few other Esquire publications if you need to hide it more, but Esquire panders to that ideal of the refined gentleman so it should pass muster.
posted by hindmost at 6:40 PM on December 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

My friend says: "he should donate money in his name to some anorexia clinic".
posted by mge at 6:43 PM on December 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I know so much about my parents' sex lives because my mother tells me things in elaborate detail.

Oh yeah, this is IB's wife. This is my question (IB's dad is no longer with us).

My mother talks to me about James as if she's still a teenager and she's talking to one of her teenage friends. Believe me, I wish I did not know what I know, but I do, so I may as well make the most of it.
posted by InnocentBystander at 6:43 PM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

First, awesome question.

Second, you have my complete sympathy. I hope you ruin his Christmas good.

Third -- the flat out best present ever given in our family was given by my brother to my father at the height of their difficulties. It enraged my father so much he threw his shoe out of the window, breaking it.

The gift was --

-- a dog chew.

I still get shivers thinking about it. The impact was exquisite.
posted by unSane at 6:45 PM on December 8, 2007 [7 favorites]

This is the best question in the history of teh internets.

What's a subject he claims to be an expert on but actually knows nothing about? Buy him the Definitive Guide to that. If the gutters have needed fixing since the last storm, buy him a ladder.

Buy him a one-way ticket somewhere. Nah. Too obvious. A gym membership? A fifth of vodka, a bottle of pills, a plastic bag, and a rubber band? Hmmmm....
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:46 PM on December 8, 2007

Can you find a fancy/collectors edition of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" or some other book that expresses the sentiment you're trying to go for? No one can knock a book as a present, but it'll transmit whatever message you're trying to get across loud and clear.
posted by true at 6:48 PM on December 8, 2007 [7 favorites]

What about some nice looking shoes or clothes that don't fit? And then lose the receipt in the travel? That way you've gotten him something he would like but totally can't use? If you take the tag off to "hide the price" (and also make it more difficult to give back) you could get something relatively cheap.

If you can convince the cashier, I'd try and buy something but leave the anti-theft device on. Ideally it'd be from a store that doesn't have a location in his area. If he was willing enough he'd be able to get it off, but not without a fair amount of hassle on his part.
posted by lilac girl at 6:49 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Or how about Ten Fun Things To Do Before You Die?
posted by unSane at 6:50 PM on December 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

I don't know how much it would cost... but maybe a gift certificate to some sort of spa/dermatology place? For some sort of 'anti-aging' facial treatment.

He might enjoy it, but it could push the "Oh god, do I look old??" vanity buttons.
posted by CKmtl at 6:52 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can you find a fancy/collectors edition of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" or some other book that expresses the sentiment you're trying to go for?

Sounds like something like that would be a better gift for the mom, IMHO.

Seconding the suggestion of a self-help book. As for plausible denial, you'd have better luck if the problem is something he's already mentioned, like a desire to get in better shape for instance. Outwardly, it could very well look like you're trying to help but in actuality, you're just rubbing his nose in it (particulary if it's the worst book in the field).
posted by dhammond at 6:54 PM on December 8, 2007

Give him a framed photograph of Sally and your dad.
posted by kitty teeth at 6:57 PM on December 8, 2007 [30 favorites]

Is he religious at all (even in his own mind)? Maybe something like a lovely bible, or other ethics-encouraging text to which he sort-of subscribes.

I'm trying to think if there's some way, here, to "kill him with kindness", but am not coming up with anything offhand.
posted by amtho at 7:00 PM on December 8, 2007

1 year gym membership.
posted by BigVACub at 7:01 PM on December 8, 2007

also: does he have an allergies?

what about some truly awful, cheap aftershave?

Or how about a nice sweater/shirt/whatever two sizes too small, and no gift receipt?

Also, just googling brought up a list of "best and worst gifts," some of which could be adapted for your purposes. I particularly like:

A gigantic, hideous insect model
A potato chip slicer/cooker
A felt Santa toilet seat cover
A cheap, tasteless, synthetic tie
Tasteless adult bric-a-brac—a roll of bathroom tissue with gross messages, trinkets shaped like body parts
A beautifully-wrapped box of hotel toiletries (shampoo, soap, mouthwash, lotion)
Useless kitchen items

But I think the best possible solution to your rather unique situation would be to give a donation to charity in his name (battered women?). There's no way anyone can reasonably complain about some poor child in the third world will fending off starvation for another week instead of receiving a hideous knick-knack (the step-father, not the child). He'd like like the boorish louse that he is. But if your mother or anyone intimates that you should have come bearing a rice-cooker wrapped in shiny paper, make sure you give her a blank or slightly confused look so that she has to hear herself out loud explaining that you shouldn't have donated to charity. Then act shocked and appalled.
posted by buka at 7:02 PM on December 8, 2007 [7 favorites]

Before I start, you should ensure that Sally's (James' daughter) is not humiliated or embarrased by all this.

That being said, how about:
this book
DVDs of this show (even though I don't actually know if it exists, and though the show's subject actually has nothing to do with what he is doing)
or and this is a long shot - a poster or a model of a wrecking ball destroying your home, since this is what he is doing.

Good luck!
posted by bitteroldman at 7:06 PM on December 8, 2007

On preview, I also like buka's donation idea, so your money doesn't go wasted on this louse
posted by bitteroldman at 7:08 PM on December 8, 2007

more ideas (either i love this question, or I'm secretly a really bad person):

some lovely and nice looking sauces suitable for the most sophisticated gourmet... which are way, way too spicy to eat. you might even want to go so far as to tasted test some of the worst ones (or enlist the help of a particularly chili-loving friend to find the one that even s/he can't tolerate).

an awful smelling scream, but one that's in a nice tube.

clothing made out of incredibly itchy polyester. camel hair would be best, and lends a nice, biblical touch, but it might be a bit obvious.

would it be possible to give him a coupon for % off a service or something like that, but for something that he's never possibly want or use?

An Ab Roller?
posted by buka at 7:14 PM on December 8, 2007

I love the charity idea. How about a donation in his name to the Foundation of Family Values? I have no idea about their politics or what they do, but the idea seemed appropriate.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:17 PM on December 8, 2007

Yeah definitely a donation in his honor to a charity. Maybe something that really hits on the whole bad father thing. Actually this is kind of a self link without the link and really myself, but my friend was in the Peace Corp and while she was there set up a small charity with some other people and the girl she sponsors (and hits up her friends to sponsor) lives in a little Guatemalan village high in the mountains, her father abandoned them long ago, but thanks to her strong mother and her will to persevere she is still in school and with your kind donation, will be able to graduate from high school in one more year. Seriously she is adorable and I can send you pictures and you can tell the story around the Christmas tree of how devastating and hard it was for their family when the father left, but somehow, despite it all they are better than ever with that bastard out of their life.
posted by whoaali at 7:24 PM on December 8, 2007

also: does he have an allergies?

That might be going a bit overboard, if you're suggesting his particular allergen as a gift.
posted by CKmtl at 7:25 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get him something completely generic.

If all the other gifts you give are unique and thoughtful and show that you've taken time to find something highly attuned to your recipient, the fact that you gave him the sort of thing a well-bred suburban housewife might keep stashed away in The Gift Closet for just such an occasion when one might be forced to come up with a gift for, say, the neighbours or the milkman on the fly. Like a pair of argyle socks or a gift basket of cheeses or something similar. It shows that you just couldn't be bothered with being anything more than the most barely required level of polite.

He's clearly the sort of guy who thrives on negative attention. So don't give him the one, most obvious gift he wants: your bother. Never let him see you sweat!
posted by marylynn at 7:25 PM on December 8, 2007 [5 favorites]

It has to be a gift that, upon opening, won't make anyone in the room uncomfortable, or make them wonder if InnocentBystander has an ulterior motive. Something innocent. Something like one of those horrid gift towers or gift baskets from a place like Hickory Farms. Nothing says "I can't be bothered enough to spend 15 seconds thinking about a gift for you so here's some overpriced, high-fat, high-calorie piece of crap that was already put together by someone, so I didn't even have to pack or wrap it" like one of those baskets. Really. I've gotten a couple in the past, and it's a demoralizing gift, because it's so available and easy and impersonal. It's bordering on insulting to get one. It's that tried and true ready gift that everyone keeps hidden in the coat closet in case an unexpected guest shows up during the holidays.

(no offense to anyone who gives that crap, but ugh)

On preview....what marylynn said.
posted by iconomy at 7:26 PM on December 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

All incredibly good ideas. perhaps one last suggestion: anyone know of a topical cream that's predictably comedogenic?

Also: I vote for an update post Christmas and beyond. Here's to hoping this man comes down with a debilitating, treatable (but not curable) intestinal parasite in the very near future.
posted by buka at 7:29 PM on December 8, 2007

I don't understand how this is possible. I'm focused on this part of the question: while not being so directly aggressive or rude that it causes a problem. Unless you know something about the guy that nobody else knows and that he doesn't know you know, how can it work?

Almost all the suggestions so far would (in my family and social circles) be immediately tagged as rude by everyone present. I get the idea of "plausible deniability" in court, but in a family? Does it really matter if no one can PROVE your intent? Can you really get the guy a self-help book about parenting without everyone knowing what's going on and calling you on it?

People here are -- rightly -- shocked by Jame's behavior, and they seem to be focused on what would be a good way to insult the asshole. But that's not what the question asks. It asks how to insult him without it looking like that's the intent. I'm extremely skeptical that it's possible in most families, in which people know each other and know the family politics.
posted by grumblebee at 7:36 PM on December 8, 2007

I almost hate myself for thinking this.... but why not re-gift him something your mother gave you?

She'll know, and tell him later. He won't know at the time.

And they'll both get the message.

We had a James-type in our extended family.

I'm so sorry for you all.
posted by taff at 7:38 PM on December 8, 2007 [5 favorites]

What about a gift certificate to a dating website?
posted by Shebear at 7:40 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

A gift that is simply useless doesn't quite seem like the thing, because then he might think you were just a lousy gift-picker (on preview: it would send a message if he was the only one with a dud gift). It needs to be something that pisses him right off. I love the Homewreckers book idea. The sauces and spices idea is nice, but only if he doesn't realize their uselessness until later -- something rigged, like strawberry jelly with tabasco.
Books with obvious titles seem like a good idea. How about this set of three complementary titles:
  • The Complete A**hole's Guide to Handling Chicks
  • Asshole No More - Self-help Guide For Recovering Assholes - And Their Victims
  • Asshole: How I Got Rich & Happy by Not Giving a Damn About Anyone & How You Can, Too
If you get used copies of the first two books, it'll cost less than $35 (before shipping and taxes), and also add to the "contempt" factor. I wish I had such a good occasion to do this. Of course, it does completely break plausible deniability, but there's no need to be polite in this situation.
posted by lostburner at 7:49 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Screw passive-aggressive. Passive-aggressive is not going to remove this parasite from your life. Get him a lump of coal (the traditional gift that Santa brings to bad children) and then spend the time between now and the Dreaded Opening going over and over and over in your mind how you are going to remain cool, calm, collected and speak in polite tones while you explain, in detail and in public, exactly what you think of him.

Just BE incredibly, incredibly rude, straight to the prick's face, in reasoned and polite tones. Do not shout. The moment you're shouting is the moment this whole plan goes to shit.
posted by flabdablet at 7:52 PM on December 8, 2007 [7 favorites]

Good bottle of wine that has gone bad and will taste like crap when he opens it?
posted by whoaali at 7:55 PM on December 8, 2007

this is not an appropriate use of askme

use words to describe your feelings not some shitty gift

if you hate this guy, no gift

your situation sucks, sucks big and there is an askme in it, but a revenge gift, a mean gift, that is not what askme is for

face your problems, don't run from them with passive aggression
posted by caddis at 7:57 PM on December 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

If you do go with the donation option, how about Big Brothers, Big Sisters?
posted by gingerbeer at 8:00 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


And good luck with your family. No matter how it plays out, I am sure this is bitter icing on an already stressful time of year.
posted by suki at 8:08 PM on December 8, 2007

James may be some kind of a jerk, but your mother loves him and, for whatever reason, your father tolerates him. James is not, as far as you've indicated, doing anything to anybody against their will. Everyone in your story is getting along together, bizarre though their dynamic may be. I can understand your dislike of the situation, but coming to a Christmas party and deliberately issuing an insult is the sort of thing that starts long, tedious family feuds that go on for decades.

Stay away, or show up and give the man some nominal pointless gift if this is an absolute requirement. Your family is very probably aware of your feelings already.
posted by zadcat at 8:12 PM on December 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

I like the idea of the sugar-free fruitcake. Get the biggest one you can find, and have it fancily gift-wrapped. I also like the idea of the dog chew, especially if he does in fact have a dog.

I don't like the idea of giving him a bible. Sure you want to be rude and passive-aggressive but using a bible in this way would be crossing a line that I don't think you want to cross. You probably want to stay on the side of the angels. Someone once gave me a bible in this way and the memory of the moment still makes me shudder at the particular evilness of the act.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:15 PM on December 8, 2007

Response by poster: We're not religious and neither is he, so the bible is right out.

My dad is only tolerating this person BARELY, and I am figuring that situation will be exploding very soon. Maybe during the holidays.

Eharmony does have gift subscriptions. Sally hates his current girlfriend (who is not my mother -- the girlfriend is quite jealous of my mother). It would almost be worth it for the looks on my father's face, and on Sally's.
posted by InnocentBystander at 8:18 PM on December 8, 2007

A durian?

We don't really know enough about this guy to provide useful suggestions.

Oh, and about how the allergens: might be going a bit overboard, if you're suggesting his particular allergen as a gift

Someone in particular has done this to me every year for the past three, but it's as part of dinner, not a separate gift, and the presence of the allergen is not hidden at all. My SO (who is no relation to this person) says I'm being oversensitive and shouldn't take it personally, and that the person just forgets why I carry an epi-pen. So that approach is apparently not as reliably effective a means of communication as one might expect.
posted by dilettante at 8:18 PM on December 8, 2007

Best answer: i was going to make the same suggestion as taff: regift something your mom gave you.

however, on second thought, how about something horrifically generic and useless, like a $25 home depot gift card? (i mean, what can you get a home depot for $25? some light bulbs?). it's a perfectly legitimate token gift to give an unrelated male. then, in your card (choose a nice, expensive one that your mom will particularly admire...this is how he will know that you -did- put thought into it) thank him for bringing sally into your lives and say how grateful your family is to be able to participate in raising this miraculously wonderful girl (underscoring his failure as a parent).

mention nothing of his relationship to your mom. just ignore him at the party and enjoy your time with sally.

i know, in a perfect world, we'd all be honest and play no games. that's my usual modus operandi. but sometimes, you just have to. the key is to play them smart, and know when to stop. use this offense as an opening for later dialogue, don't make it a habit. you do not want to turn into that person who is routinely hurtful. this is just to get his attention. the real conversation you want to have with him, and i think you should let him know how you feel about him in an honest, calm way at some point, will come later, after the holiday mess, when life has calmed down somewhat.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:22 PM on December 8, 2007 [9 favorites]

the presto salad shooter.

it would get a dig in on his vanity, and, as a plus, it's a device that seems useful without actually being functional in any respect.
posted by wreckingball at 8:23 PM on December 8, 2007

ooh. or shoot for his intellect. experimental music is always good: he can't disparage the gift without looking stupid. stockhausen is recently dead: it's both timely and unlistenable.
posted by wreckingball at 8:26 PM on December 8, 2007 [3 favorites]


If you must, then buy him something from Oxfam Unwrapped.

Buy him an Ass.

(Well, a Donkey really).

That way you've given him an Ass for Xmas, you won't actually have bought him anything, he can't complain as he'd look selfish and uncharitable and your money will have gone towards something worthwhile thus repairing all the karma you screwed up by pursuing this endeavor.
posted by brautigan at 8:32 PM on December 8, 2007 [21 favorites]

Aw, hon, I feel bad for you.

I shouldn't be answering this, but the first thing that popped into my head was a book by either Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura.

But the truth is, a generic gift from walmart is probably a classier way to handle this.

Perhaps, a mirror?
posted by konolia at 8:32 PM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Give him something personalized, but with his name spelled wrong.
posted by brain cloud at 8:46 PM on December 8, 2007 [12 favorites]

For those of you saying go for rude gifts like "Asshole's Guide" to whatever, remember that there's Sally involved, and I don't think IB's wife wants to be terribly blunt against her dad and potentially damage her relationship with the little stepsis.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:48 PM on December 8, 2007

Tickets to a taping of the Jerry Springer show.
posted by tristeza at 8:50 PM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

brautigan has a good point with the Oxfam idea, but I clicked on the link and saw seeds. How bizarre would that be? A lovely, fancily-wrapped box of loose seeds.
Or beans. That might be nice, too. Tell him if he plants them a stalk will grow.
gDelightfully weird.
posted by oflinkey at 8:56 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah. Fruitcake.
posted by Quietgal at 9:04 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow. I think mge's friend has the right idea with the anorexia clinic donation in his name. And you can even use brain cloud's idea and misspell his name for extra fun. (Don't forget to put him on their mailing list!) And make sure you get some kind of certificate or something to physically give him, so that he can try to "forget" it when he's leaving after the gathering, and you can remind him to take it.
posted by equalpants at 9:25 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ooh a membership in AARP.
posted by whoaali at 9:35 PM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Not quite jackass, but Heifer International has goats.

Really though, just because he's giving you something does NOT mean you have to reciprocate.
posted by brujita at 9:38 PM on December 8, 2007

A gift that's really for the daughter? Like, a "coupon" for you to buy all of Sally's textbooks, or whatever, for the summer or school year. Some item that a responsible parent usually takes care of.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:39 PM on December 8, 2007 [5 favorites]

I kind of love the goat. Because, then, if he has to tell other people "what he got" for the holidays, he'll have to say, "oh, Betty's daughter got me a goat." "A goat???" Heeee.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:41 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think brautigan is dead on about a donation for karmic reasons, and Oxfam Unwrapped has some brilliant possibilities....

You can gift him a goat. That would definitely be my favorite from a passive aggressive standpoint.

You can gift him a hygiene kit.

You can gift him an outhouse.

Definitely follow brautigan's link. There is a veritable cornucopia of karma-neutral passive aggressiveness in there.
posted by tkolar at 9:50 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

No, give someone else a goat from him.
posted by nicwolff at 10:27 PM on December 8, 2007

Reading more carefully, that's just another goat-gifting option like brautigan's.
posted by nicwolff at 10:28 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

A 30-year Treasury bond.

This idea has three things going for it: it could become part of Sally's inheritance, it is utterly generic but not worthless, and for the look on his face when he opens it and -- looking him right in the eye and smiling -- you point out that it reaches maturity in 2037.
posted by edverb at 10:38 PM on December 8, 2007 [9 favorites]

A gift basket of fancy soaps and bath products.
posted by Soliloquy at 10:58 PM on December 8, 2007

if you give him a $50 gambling chip from the nearest indian casino, well, most playahs won't stop at $50 for an evening, they'll follow up with their own money. otherwise, if you think he might be an alcoholic, give him a bottle of jim beam!
posted by bruce at 11:08 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

You want to send a message to James, but don't want to hurt your mom. This cannot work, because James will communicate any hurt or offense to your mom, who will then in turn be hurt by what she would probably see as your betrayal or disrespect. Doubly so since you want to pull this stunt at Christmastime. Fly above this - James and your mom are being jerks; you can be classy and get the point across some other time (one on one at some time other than when everyone is trying to enjoy just a wee bit of happiness).
posted by zippy at 11:31 PM on December 8, 2007

(I'm sorry, but can someone who understands the prelude to the question please send me a clue? I've read it ten times and still cannot even begin to comprehend the family dynamics at play here and I would like my brain to stop hurting.)

Always consider a houseplant, preferably one which is somewhat hard to take care of and lackluster in appearance.
posted by maxwelton at 11:38 PM on December 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

I read your question several times, and still can't wrap my head around this:

My parents are still married and have an active sex life


my mother is still in love with James (though has only had sex with him a few times)

Wow, thats too bad

my parents are now legal guardians of James' daughter from his first marriage


Although I obviously don't have much understanding of your situation, and while James sounds like a total jerk, I can't help but wonder if its your Mom that your actually angry at, and not James.
posted by jpdoane at 11:43 PM on December 8, 2007 [5 favorites]

A book or movie featuring a really happy, healthy relationship between a father and his daughter.
posted by agentofselection at 12:29 AM on December 9, 2007

If you want to make an impact right as he opens the gift, I love the suggestions of pointed charity donations, especially this one.

If you want a more time-delayed approach, buy him stale food. Not something that will make him violently ill, just something that will be hard and inedible past its expiration date, like bread or cake that doesn't come in a vacuum-sealed package (you can help the process along by leaving it out next to a heater, for extra grinchy satisfaction). Upon unwrapping, it will appear to be merely a dud gift, but the real fun comes later, when he tries to bite into it or sees the expiration date. You could combine this with the Tabasco Surprise suggested above for a lovely gift set.

Despite the critical comments, I think this is a great question. It's hilarious, and you know perfectly well what you're getting into. Among sympathetic members of your family, it might even become a fondly-told story.
posted by Drop Daedalus at 12:32 AM on December 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Buy him a beautiful houseplant that is fickle and hard to keep alive (say, an orchid). Add a card that has a little verse inside about how flowers are like children, we tend to them and watch them bloom or whatever. Add your sweet note about how darling his daughter is and how you love getting to see her so much. And then sit back knowing that the plant will be dead in two weeks. Ask him how the plant is doing every time you see him thereafter. If he tells you its dead, conveniently "forget" this fact and ask again the next time. Email him asking for pictures of the plant. Then, for his birthday, send him a guide to caring for that particular type of plant, knowing full well its been long gone.
posted by SassHat at 12:55 AM on December 9, 2007 [78 favorites]

Rogain. Possibly also some hair dye, the more shoe-polish-y the better. Or go all the way, get him a toupee.

Alternatively, if he already has plenty of hair, a home waxing kit. Sure to provide hours of fun!

Or how about a man-corset? You know how hard it can be to find a good one...

A stop smoking kit is always good, too, although obviously contingent on him actually being a smoker.

Or a gift certificate to a psychiatrist, for that hard to shop for person.
posted by anaelith at 3:14 AM on December 9, 2007

How about a donation in his name from one of these places?
posted by brujita at 4:35 AM on December 9, 2007

A $25 WalMart gift card.
posted by Kangaroo at 4:51 AM on December 9, 2007

Hitmen cost more than $50. Oh, wait a gift for him. I'd have to go with trial gym membership.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:33 AM on December 9, 2007

I enjoy intricate plots so here are a few things - mix and match? I hope that at the least you can draw some sort of inspiration!

Think of something that will mean something to your mother requiring him to be seen 'cherishing' it... always. Bonus points for it being to do with a story from 'back in the day.' Perhaps he had a dream that never came to fruition?
Something that is really sweet and thoughtful... as privately it reminds him he was and still is - a fucking looser. Double bonus points for it concealing something your mother will inadvertantly twang away at. Triple bonus points if she gets the opportunity to do so with less and less frequency...

Something expensive, chic - and absolutely ghastly in his posession - only find the knock off! If you have a fellow conspiritor - get them to tell your mum of the trouble/expense you went to. Perhaps you had a change of heart you want to be nice to him, you thought about what she said (and 'it's Christmas') and you just want to be a good daughter. If it meant nothing before this point it does now! A symbol of her daughter being a good girl - an olive branch - that must be cherished! (Double points if he knows the branch you sweetly slam him with is all her fault) Be hurt if he doesn't 'cherish' the shit out of it but I'm not anticipating that - You are getting him a present after all...

Perhaps sunglasses? The sales person was faultless with style, you showed them a few photos and they assured you that *foulest pair in existance* were absolutely perfect. (Anyone who would say different has no credibility compared to a senior staff member at X!)

"Oh no! I lost it!"
"Oh look - I got you a new one!!"
Intant double points if it's bigger, better and harder to ditch (traceable, trackable or permenantly attached) Triple points if you replace it repeatedly and then suggest he's doing it just to being mean to you.

I think it's also important to know why (as in the true reason) he's spent $500 and what on? It doesn't matter what crap you present him with - if he gives you something crappier or excessively better - even the most diabolical crap in the world will be for nothing!

He's channeling all his inadequecies through your mum? 100 pounds sounds like you should have plenty to play with. Forget the daughter he just doesn't give a fuck. Hit him where it hurts and go after him.

(brain cloud - you are terrible! I love it!! ...and also have an engraver)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 5:37 AM on December 9, 2007

And yes what SassHat said!

You just can't go past a gift that keeps on giving!
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 5:41 AM on December 9, 2007

My brother did this, years ago: buy him a hardbound (you know, "nice") edition of The Scarlet Letter.
posted by kimota at 7:36 AM on December 9, 2007 [4 favorites]

I like the donation in his name suggestions a lot. I also really like the plant suggestion. Mentioning in the card how glad you are to have Sally in your life and how she's really turning out well (in your parents' care, but don't say that) could send the right message but seem like a sweet sentiment. It wouldn't be a lie, either!

The situation is extremely bizarre and sad. It seems like the only good thing is Sally getting better parents, but she must feel quite odd with the arrangements as well and it's not a very healthy example for her.
I can't believe your dad puts up with that. It really seems like your mom might be doing the most damage of everyone. James isn't married, so he's technically just responsible to his child, but your mom is hurting herself and your entire family, especially your dad. At some point you should probably speak up.
Do they not understand how dysfunctional this is?

If you wanted to be totally honest, get your parents and James a gift certificate for some therapy, but I know that's not plausibly deniable.

Good luck!
posted by fructose at 8:26 AM on December 9, 2007

Oh, and one more thing. If you do get him a donation, make sure to say something like, "I thought, what do I get for the man who has everything?" or something like that. Unless you think that would upset your dad too much.
posted by fructose at 8:29 AM on December 9, 2007

I dunno about the gift card. My stepdad gets gift cards for HomeDepot every single year and hasn't caught on that it's because no one in the family likes him (which, sadly, is true).

The one suggestion I can think of that hasn't already been mentioned is a completely useless knick-knack. Ikea has all sorts of random crap for "decoration" that really serves no actual purpose. If you're buying thoughtful gifts for everyone else and he gets this purple glittery glass orb... his first thought will definitely be "And what I am supposed to do with THIS?" Meanwhile, no one else in the room is embarrassed.

Also: One time my grandparents gave me a shoehorn for Christmas. I don't know why they hate me, but apparently, they do.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:59 AM on December 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

...scented padded hangers?
posted by kmennie at 9:28 AM on December 9, 2007

I'm with the donation-to-a-charity camp. It's an appropriate 'man who has everything' gift (and he clearly wants to appear to have everything even if he doesn't), there's no way he can get angry without looking like a HUGE asshole, and you can include that nice note about Sally.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:50 AM on December 9, 2007

This has happened within one year?? Plus James has a girlfriend?? You must all be exhausted.

I think the donation to your favorite charity is a good way to take your anger and channel it productively. I also agree with whomever above said it ain't James you're so mad at -- it's your mom. Lavish Sally and Dad and keep it very generic and dull for mom and James.

Here're a few things I've gotten over the years, came from frenemies, and still irritate me!
Dustbuster. A Glade supermarket "candle". A $7 Amazon gift card. A suggestively-shaped 'massager'. A tree planted for me in Israel (I'm not Jewish). A star named for me.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:03 AM on December 9, 2007

Response by poster: We are, in fact, quite exhausted.

It's been a Jerry Springer year.

I'm mad at my mom, but also quite sad for her. She's been very much manipulated by James, who played at all her insecurities and basically apparently had sex with her and then said "too bad you're not hot like my other girlfriend." All her teenage insecurities came back with a vengeance, and this is the result. The other problem is, because of this crazy anorexia thing, I'm not sure she'll necessarily be around much longer. I don't want to screw her over on a gift when it might be the last one she gets.

Both my sister and myself have tried broaching the problem of the eating disorder. When my sister, who is a size 2 or 4 (the only skinny member of our family, who is a vegetarian but was only a size 6 even before that -- we all joke that she's the milkman's kid, because she ate the same as everyone growing up), tries to say to my mom that her eating habits are unhealthy and not good, my mother sees it as a compliment -- "oh, my skinny daughter is telling me how skinny I am" on a good day, or as a jealous jab -- "my skinny daughter doesn't want competition for being pretty!" on a bad one. I'm big and fat and am very much okay with that, but she can't fathom anyone being okay with having to wear "plus size" clothes, so she thinks I'm horrible and jealous for bringing it up. She keeps telling me: "If you'd just lose some weight, too, we could go shopping together!"

Yeah, I'm mad at her for stuff like that, but in truth, I'm more sad for her. It took me a long time to be okay with my body and not fighting my weight -- years, in fact, and now I finally feel like I can go exercise for ME and eat what I feel like eating (which is healthier than what I ate before I became okay with myself, because guilt and sadness isn't good for one's eating habits). She's stuck in this place where she thinks she's unloveable unless she's thin, and that is just about the most sad thing in the world to me.
posted by InnocentBystander at 11:40 AM on December 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

She's starving herself. She is in AWFUL shape. He's encouraging it, to the point where she's expecting to get platic surgery to take off any remaining extra pounds and he's offering to pay. This is killing my mother, in a very literal way, but no one can do anything about it -- my dad is too afraid of losing her to bring it up, and if I bring it up, she assumes I'm jealous of her "fabulous" weight loss.

One gift to rule them all: a big box of expensive chocolate. Everybody likes chocolate, right?

Other suggestions:
"NOT QUITE THE BEST GIFT IDEAS asked workers about some of the more unusual gifts they had received from co-workers. Put these on your "no" list, especially when it comes to the boss.
A gift certificate to a strip club
A voodoo doll
A "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet
Used makeup
A package of over-the-counter medicine
A tin of burnt cookies
A used cookbook ... with food stains on it"

Gift cards:
"For example, strip club Scores hawks $50, $100 and $500 chits for its New York and some other big-city locations. "We sell quite a bit, especially around the holidays," says Shawn Callahan, who manages the Manhattan clubs. (...) A Scores certificate can be used for food, drinks or merchandise such as Scores-themed hats or golf shirts, but "You can't use it for tipping the dancers," Callahan says. (...)
Gasoline. Shell's holiday gift card, which features a snowman on a beach, are $25, $50 and $100 at participating stations nationwide."
posted by iviken at 12:11 PM on December 9, 2007

Why not a matrioshka doll, since that's what he is to your family? Egg him on to open all of them and then have something really banal in the final one, like chewing gum, and when everyone asks "WTF?" say "Oh, it just reminded me of you".

Or a nutcracker, with a bag of walnuts since he has no "nuts". (contributed by the Mrs., who I'll be sure not to piss of now... thanks...)
posted by jwells at 12:15 PM on December 9, 2007

I vote for the charity donation. Hurting someone (or subtly undermining their self-esteem) only makes them do other stupid things that will hurt the people you care about. A gift to a charity he might actually care about will either (if he has a good side) remind him of his good side and inspire him to act from his better nature for a short while, thereby making life easier on your mom, Sally, and your dad; or (if he does not) make him feel cheated out of a gift and selfishly bitter -- so it's sort of a gift where he determines his own reaction to it and more or less gets what he deserves.
posted by salvia at 12:58 PM on December 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another thought. If this does become a battle, the plausible deniability will come out much more plausible if you're telling the truth.

There is easy high ground and easy honesty from giving a charity donation: "I admit that I don't have a very easy relationship with James right now. So, the way I could think of him with Christmas spirit was to think of how he gives money to the Puppy Rescue Coalition once a year."

But if you don't want to do that, and if your gift is going to ignite a firestorm anyway ("he's told you four times that it's dead! Orchids are VERY hard to take care of, you know!") then you want to pick your battle. And try to keep the moral high ground.

So, if the battle you want to fight is around self-esteem and body image, why not find some book about those issues? Just be prepared to have to talk to everyone, but if you want to do it, do it. "When I think of James with Christmas spirit, I think of how I wish he could feel better about his body, and not judge others', and I thought this might help. I guess it's maybe a little embarrassing and impolite to talk about out loud, so I apologize if it was in poor taste." "Mom, I'm sorry if I embarrassed James with The Self-Esteem Body Book. I can see that it might have been in poor taste. But when I try to think of him with the Christmas spirit, I can't stop thinking about his comments about your body. I'm so worried about your health right now..." "Sally, I'm sorry if that book made you uncomfortable. I realize it might've been an embarrassing gift and that maybe your dad doesn't want to read a book on that topic. I just feel like sometimes I can see your dad feeling very insecure about his body, and I wish I could help him with that. And since he's so hard on himself, I think he's hard on other people. Maybe he's critical of you? I just think that what people's bodies look like is so much less important than their inner health." "James, I'm sorry, it sounds like that book made you upset. I can see it being in poor taste and embarrassing. I just am so worried about my mom's health right now, and I know your opinion matters to her, so I thought if you read Fat is Beautiful, you might be able to tell her she is beautiful the way she is now, so that she doesn't keep damaging her health."

On second thought, don't do that, just have those conversations anyway, and then buy him an Amazon gift certificate or something. But if you really are going to buy him a barbed gift, pick the battle so that "plausible deniability" is less about the situation ("oh, that's just an innocent gift") and more about the impact you're trying to have ("oh, I guess it was a bad gift, but only because I want the family to change in this particular positive way.") Don't just be hurtful, which will erode your ability to talk to people about things.
posted by salvia at 1:23 PM on December 9, 2007

How about no gift at all? Why are you require to buy him a gift? I don't spend any time, money or effort trying to come up with ways to annoy or belittle people I don't like (in my family or elsewhere) by buying them a purposely bad gift. Nothing at all works just fine. It shows I didn't put any time, money or energy into that person.
posted by Orb at 1:54 PM on December 9, 2007

God, I would just butt the hell out. A generic card like a business might send its customers. You're under no obligation here and it sounds like you're trying to stick your nose where you don't belong and won't do any good -- in fact you're trying to stir up shit because of your passive-aggressive feelings due to an inability to otherwise influence the situation.

Miss Manners always says that ignoring the people who are misbehaving is the only honorable way to proceed. You don't get drawn down to their level, and you don't do anything you'll later regret.
posted by dhartung at 3:14 PM on December 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

I must admit that I have trouble believing the validity of this question...


Tell him that you'll have to give him his gift after the gift exchange ceremony - and proceed to go out to your car and re-wrap his gift to you.

Yes, an immediate and obnoxious re-gifting.
posted by cinemafiend at 5:22 PM on December 9, 2007 [4 favorites]

Don't waste another ounce of thought on this man. When you receive the tackiest most useless christmas present this year, automatically regift it to him. That says, "I didn't spend a penny and you're worth every cent to me." Like the person who gave it to you in the first place it will look naiive but not ill-intentioned.
posted by MiffyCLB at 7:31 PM on December 9, 2007

Please let us know what you end up getting for James and how the whole thing goes - and GOOD LUCK!
posted by mooza at 1:05 AM on December 10, 2007

Response by poster: There will be an update after we're back from my family's house.
posted by InnocentBystander at 10:53 AM on December 10, 2007

Late post but...

How about a bottle of Bitters.

I particularly note the brand 'Cock Drops' from Cyprus.
posted by dragonsi55 at 7:42 AM on December 11, 2007

Jeez, isn't this what White Elephants are for?
posted by klangklangston at 12:25 PM on December 11, 2007

A "World's Greatest Father" mug would be perfect if he actually was your dad, but since he's not it would be a bit weird. But man oh man would it make the point.

On a more serious level, as some people have noted before this James character knows only too well what you think of him, as does everyone else involved. Your gift is probably not going to change matters.

I think you need to have a serious talk with your mom. Ideally, if she has sensible friends you might enlist them to talk some sense into her. I don't know why some people are so beholden to old crushes. Judging by how you describe the behavior of your mom it sounds like she may not have "grown up" or at the very least is not behaving as an adult right now. This is a problem. Perhaps you can appeal to her from a daughter-mother perspective. Something like, "I need you in my life, and I want you to be there as a nurturing adult. I know that I am a grownup but you are still my mother and I need you to be there for me as a responsible adult. I know that you are proud of your weight loss but it scares me, because I worry that what you are doing is damaging your health. I want you to live a long, long time and I want you to be healthy and strong, and starving yourself -- even if it makes you feel like you look better -- is going to make you weak and unhealthy. I think you are a beautiful person, and dad loves you a lot too. I know that you find yourself attracted to James but you're an adult and married and that should mean something."

Something like that.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:25 PM on December 11, 2007

If I were you, I guess I'd want to be awfully careful about this, if only to be sure that it doesn't further alienate your mom and make her even more deaf to some of the serious things you want to express to her.

And, honestly? Even the perfect plausible-deniability "I hate you" gift really isn't going to make you feel better, I suspect. I really like the ideas that focus more on the one positive - Sally. Gifts and sentiments that concentrate on this don't require you to be false about your feelings or participate in a way that makes you feel sick.

I'm thinking of something along the lines of a book like "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know" and a card saying something like 'We are so happy to have Sally in our lives, thank you for that. I hope you will enjoy this book/these books that celebrate the father & daughter bond."

The great thing is that such a gift might prove a net positive if he actually does read it/them, and if the book includes information on body issues, he may learn more about why the direction he is pushing your mom is wrong and dangerous as well.

If a book or a couple of books alone don't seem up to snuff, include a nice bookmarker.
posted by taz at 12:17 AM on December 13, 2007

Possibly too late for you... Handcrafted Bullshit (really) or Snail Eggs--now with "just the right crunch"! (More here.)
posted by anaelith at 1:36 AM on December 22, 2007

I'm awaiting an update...
posted by MaryDellamorte at 8:09 PM on December 25, 2007

I'm with Mary. How were the holidays?
posted by shothotbot at 5:33 AM on December 30, 2007

« Older Grammar Question: Is or Isn't?   |   Pre-PowerPoint Technology? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.