Dad-day gift filter
March 17, 2008 1:46 AM   Subscribe

It is my dad’s 70th birthday in a couple of days, and I need to buy him something super, tomorrow. But it’s severely complicated by my dad’s hard-to-buy-for-ness. Help me pick out the gift.

Complications: my dad is the original grump. He does not like anything except reading and watching TV. Dislikes include but are not limited to: gadgets, games, food, alcohol, computers, the internet, new clothes of any kind, expressing feelings, and right-wing politicians.

He does like (well, tolerates anyway) riding his bike, reading the newspaper, current affairs mags, watching the news and documentaries.

Usually, I’d just buy him a book. But he’ll be 70. That’s a pretty big deal. He’s also quite ill and might not be around for long, so I want it to be something special.

Also out: book vouchers (he still hasn’t spent the last two); magazine subscriptions (I’ve already subscribed him to just about everything I can think of/afford/that he would like); stuff for the bike (see above, gadgets); DVDs (he won’t watch them); music (he hasn’t listened to the CDs I’ve bought him in the past and really only listens to news radio now); travel (too frail and won't go anywhere without my mum, also frail); ''experience'' gifts like hot air balloons (he might like this actually, but way too frail now); non-money gifts like vouchers for hugs or a day together (feelings, uncomfortable with).

Yet more complications: I am far, far away in another, remote, part of Australia. I will be visiting in a month’s time, but won’t be there for his actual birthday day. Whatever it is has to be buy-able where I am, in the next nearest city, or over the net. And it needs to be postable. Also, I have limited finances - $100 tops for a gift.

And some more: it will be my mother’s 70th a few days later. I’m planning to buy them *both* a fairly freakin’ expensive gift together(a family portrait). So this is sort of like a mini-gift before the big gift, later. Which thankfully, I will have some time to save up for.

I feel really gridlocked - everything I think of, it seems there's a reason he won't like it, or can't do it, or it's not special enough. Fresh ideas would be much valued.
posted by t0astie to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm a person whose extremely hard to please with gifts as well, but I always appreciate hand made gifts - those specifically made with me in mind. Have you considered making him a notebook that has stories of times you and him spent together that you really enjoyed?
posted by bigmusic at 2:02 AM on March 17, 2008

I took a bunch of old family photos, scanned'em, cleaned'em and made a calendar for my mom once. I was startled to discovered she had kept it years after it was out of date. I suspect it was a particularly affective gift because some of those old photos were small -- so when I blew them up bit with software and made some tweaks, it was like she had seen'em for the first time.
posted by RavinDave at 2:23 AM on March 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

I actually think that the gift that will get across what you want to get across (that he's your dad and you love him and think he's special) is something like what bigmusic suggested, or just a hand-written letter that tells him how you feel about him and how much he means to you.

My elderly relatives always say they don't want "things" for presents, and they mean it. What they really appreciate is a card, a phone call, or a visit from a loved one. They can easily buy themselves things, but care, attention, and affection are more difficult to come by.

I know you said your dad is uncomfortable expressing feelings, but a letter from you doesn't require him to express any feelings himself. However, it is something that he can read and re-read when he wants to perk himself up.

If you're really at a loss for what to buy him, don't buy him anything. Send the letter. That, plus your visit in a couple of weeks, will probably mean more to him than anything else would.

[on preview: I really like RavinDave's idea too]
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:25 AM on March 17, 2008

How much do you want to spend? Can he travel a bit? Is he in one of the big cities? Is he a huge fanboy of a particular author or pundit?

Cuz the best, awesomest gift for a news junkie would be attendance at a public talk of one of his favourite talking heads.

Or if he can't travel, maybe an autographed picture of a favourite talking head - or an autographed book, or a hard to find book (or books) or, even, a combination of the above.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:32 AM on March 17, 2008

Best answer: One more thing. As regards heartfelt letters and memory packages, I asked my grandpa - the original grump, who only likes Music and Politics, if he would like me to make such a thing.

He said, "no, that would make me think you were getting ready for me to die."

I appreciate the sentiment of these oft-suggested memory gifts, and have several relatives who would like such a thing, but some people might be made uncomfortable, especialy if this sort of thing isn't your ordinary M.O.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:37 AM on March 17, 2008

Perhaps you don't need to worry too much. Some old people reach a point where there really is nothing they want. With some of my departed relations it seemed to me more like the result of a good kind of maturity and completion than anything to be regretted. Maybe a card, or a letter (I wouldn't make it too emotional if your dad isn't that kind of person) really is enough.

Or maybe if there is a cause your dad would support or empathise with, you could make a donation on his behalf?
posted by Phanx at 3:12 AM on March 17, 2008

Best answer: everything I think of, it seems there's a reason he won't like it, or can't do it, or it's not special enough

Thoughtfulness does not always mean creativity, especially when you're talking about older men with fairly fixed tastes. Sometimes it means resigning yourself to the fact that your dad will like nothing better than the usual nice bottle of wine/box of fancy golf balls/other good quality consumable item.

In your circumstances, I would just send the gift that you know he will enjoy and not worry about the "specialness".

You said no food, but how about a restaurant voucher? That way he at least gets to choose what to eat, and your mum can enjoy the gift as well which might make him happier than anything you can do for him directly.
posted by tomcooke at 3:20 AM on March 17, 2008

We've been giving my grandparents service-type gifts over past few years, as their health and mobility have deteriorated -- e.g., lawn care, house-cleaning, and laundry services. They appreciate this kind of thing (although my grandpa, in his mid-80s, is still totally pissed about getting old and not being able to do what he used to.)

Maybe you could mix some CDs of old-time radio programs. There's a ton of mystery, drama, comedy and other stuff available for free on iTunes.

Um... Pay his newspaper subscription for a year? Perhaps The War or another series by Ken Burns? The BBC's Planet Earth? A tip calculator?
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 3:23 AM on March 17, 2008

You could always get a voucher from, and he could choose something he felt capable of doing? There's some great stuff there.

If he's into newradio, he might appreciate podcasts or even some of the more educational books on tape. Borders have a good range, and Dymocks now sell all of theirs online. BBC, NPR and their ilk have a heap of good podcasts he might get into if you made it easy for him. Does he have a computer with net access? If not, could you download and burn them on CDs for him to play regularly or something?

I know you said no gadgets, but what about a GPS? Even one of those hardcore ones 4wd'ers use without pretty pictures. You get the coordinates without fanciness and he might get a kick out of it. I know my almost 70 yr old Dad loves that much as he pretends not to.

That just about sums up all I know about anything
posted by kaydo at 3:29 AM on March 17, 2008

How would your dad feel if you got him nothing, but rang him to ask how he was? I'm not 70 but I'm notoriously difficult to buy for because I don't want more crap. I'm not sentimental. People get my personal preferences all wrong, and they don't believe me when I tell them that I don't enjoy celebrating my birthday, or recieving gifts. What if, this time, you gave him what he wanted - nothing. I would far rather my kids spend their money on themselves than buying me a gift which I have to pretend to like.

That said, is he hooked up to cable? Does he have one of those remote control holders that go over the side of the couch? Does he have a subscription to tv week or something similar so he can see when his favourite tv show is on?

I'm kinda interested in an old fellow who can still ride a bike but is too frail for a hot air balloon. What the hell do they do up there?

How about joke gifts that he can throw away? Send him a picture of John Howard and some darts. Send him a picture of K-Rudd and a faked invitation to the 2020 summit. Send him half a dozen scratchies and tell him he's not to scratch them, they're bribes for the postie (or something stupid - I don't know). Maybe fake gift vouches that if he bothers to read will give him a chuckle - this voucher entitles the bearer 1 free hit at Brendan Nelson. See what you've done there is appeal to his interests, AND take notice of his preferences. And you save money, and you do the good thing by doing craft (personal time invested).
posted by b33j at 3:31 AM on March 17, 2008

ditch the family portrait, save the money and get both of them a nice big TV
posted by matteo at 4:51 AM on March 17, 2008

A TiVo? You could hook it up when you arrive. Very easy to use. He can skip out the commercials and run the programs back if he falls asleep during the news.
posted by Joleta at 5:46 AM on March 17, 2008

Lots of good tunes - plenty of stations with age specific music and content. He can sit relax and enjoy music from his youth or catch up on NPR.
posted by doorsfan at 5:55 AM on March 17, 2008

Best answer: Is anyone here reading the limitations? The OP mentions dad doesn't like gadgets and can only spend $100, and we're getting recommendations for TiVo and Sirius. OP mentions dad doesn't like vouchers or mushy stuff, and we're getting suggestions to send gift certificates and handwritten notes. Gah. Not helpful.

Now, to the OP. I understand you problem. My dad is the same damn way. Anything he'd like he buys for himself or I wouldn't be able to afford. Some thoughts:

Does he have any collections? I've taken to helping my dad with adding to his collections of metal buildings or architecture guides, even though it drives my mom crazy.

Can you arrange to get his bike tuned up? I know it doesn't sound like that big of a deal, but if it truly is one of the only things he enjoys in life, it may be a good idea. Unless he a large portion of the joy he gets from his bike is maintenance.

Finally, your last statement really struck me: "I feel really gridlocked - everything I think of, it seems there's a reason he won't like it, or can't do it, or it's not special enough." (emphasis mine) Have you considered that he may not want this to be singled out as a special birthday? He is sick and probably concerned about how much longer he has and is not prone to the sentimental. This makes me think that he may not want a big gift to emphasize the event in his mind.
posted by piratebowling at 6:21 AM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Family tree? Geneology is not necessarily "mushy". But it can be very meaningful.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:46 AM on March 17, 2008

Sorry, I don't consider TiVo a gadget any more than I consider television a gadget, and the basic box is under $100. He likes watching TV, so why not make it easier for him?
posted by Joleta at 2:13 PM on March 17, 2008

A nice world atlas? My mom recently surprised me by asking for one of these that she could keep on the table by her chair, to look up where news stories were happening.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:51 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tivo is a moot point. It's not here yet, and it may well be over $100 when it comes.
posted by b33j at 7:41 PM on March 17, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I think I'm going to go (yet another) mag subscription and a short, heartfelt but not mushy letter.

I would love to treat him to something like redballoondays, but just don't think he would be able to do it.

In fact, although in my head, he's always riding his bike, a recent escalation of his health problems means he likely can't do that any more either.

GPS, Tivo, cable, CDs, podcasts and the like are all out, too. He just can't deal with them and it causes him significant frustration.

The more sentimental suggestions are lovely, but again, just not his thing. And I reckon he *would* be hurt if I didn't buy him *something* on his 70th.

I am tucking the John Howard dartboard away as an idea for next year though. Heh.
posted by t0astie at 12:53 AM on March 18, 2008

Another thought: How about a nice watch? (or something else like that, a small thing he can have with him during the day) Binoculars? (is there anything to watch out his window?)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:53 AM on March 18, 2008

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