We Say We Want Nothing, but We Are Lying

Welp, it's the holidays. I'm a dad. And I've turned into that super-annoying version of a dad, the kind that doesn't have a good answer when you ask them, "What do you want for Christmas?"

Growing up, I'd always get the same infuriating response from my dad each year. He'd say, "Four good kids." My wiseass answer was always, "Great, Dad, lemme run down to the store and see if I can pick you out four good ones."  

Dads are hard to shop for, and we say we don't want anything. But is that true? 

Most mornings, getting out of the shower, I just think: man, I'd love a dry towel. Amirite? Wrap that up and put it under the tree for me. Our son Dana's primary goal when showering is to bring as much water as possible out of our shower and into other parts of the house. He sprays it around the entire bathroom. Yeah. In Star Wars, the planet Dagobah? That wet, swampy one where Yoda lives? Yep, that's our bathroom. Dana also uses, like, four towels. And then he leaves those four towels in a heap, in various locations throughout the upstairs, but chiefly on the carpet of our bedroom. So I'd love a dry towel.  

And this brings me to my primary concern as a dad. When you're a kid, there is nothing more interesting and worth playing with than your dad's private stuff. I remember my dad had this drawer in his dresser. I used to sneak up there after he'd gone to work, and rifle through it. It was chock full of the best items in the universe. A pristine pair of aviator sunglasses from his days in the Navy. A silver medal on a chain. Ancient leatherbound booklets, containing weather journals with arcane notations. A machete longer than my arm, in a red and black leather sheath, the back of its blade dotted with a paisley pattern and a single word:  INDIA. 

If he'd just had these things elsewhere, like on the kitchen counter, or kicking around the garage, I'm sure I wouldn't have been as interested in them. But the mere fact that he'd hidden them away, where I wasn't supposed to go, made them irresistible.  

Tess illustrated this principle early on, a few years ago. She wanted more than anything to destroy my wallet. Open it up, obliterate my ID, chew my credit cards into bits. So what did I do? I created the decoy wallet. I filled it with old credit cards, an expired ID, and handed it to her. What did she do? Drop it like a hot potato. It held her attention for less than one second. She knew. "Come on, Dad," she seemed to be saying. "We both know this is bullshit. Now come closer. Bring that pocket within my reach, so I can get back to erasing your identity."  

My own dad, coming home from work, discovered me bouncing on the living room couch, wearing his aviators (now slightly scratched), tossing around his old journals, and brandishing the machete. He was piiiissed.  

And I think that's what it comes down to. Dads aren't really into stuff. If anything, we want less in our house. You want to give me a gift? Park a dumpster in my driveway for a week, so I can thin the herd here.

But we do hold on to a handful of things through the years. The really key items, the ones we want to keep close and un-messed-with, like in our dresser. For me, it's a pair of cufflinks my wife gave me as a wedding present. I haven't worn cufflinks in a while, but I'll keep these until my last day. Next to those is a pocketwatch that belonged to my grandfather. It long since stopped working, but I don't care. It's still something I want. It's silver and pleasingly heavy, and it tends to bring me luck when I take it with me on a trip. And with that watch is a decaying book of poetry from Oliver Wendell Holmes, senior (not to be confused with his son, the famous judge OWH Jr.) The leather on the book is literally falling apart, so I don't exactly flip through it. But it belonged to my other grandfather, my mom's dad, who I never knew, but who was into words and writing, kinda the way I am.  

I don't want to lock this stuff away. In fact, I get these things out and show them to Dana sometimes, so he knows about them. After all, someday they'll be his.  

I know, I know -- I promised you a Dad holiday wishlist, and instead I'm telling you about family heirlooms. Okay, here goes.  
Number one:  we want a place to keep our stuff. We don't want it under lock and key, but we just don't want it messed with. It could even be a shoebox on a high shelf in our closet. Failing that, how about a little wall unit with compartments? I've got one in my basement. It's older than time and it's made of wood. It hangs on the wall and has all these nifty little drawers. If you really need to buy something this holiday season, hit a yard sale and pick up something like that. It makes a perfect hidey-hole.  

Number two:  coffee tastes awesome. And--this is just a theory, now--but I'm pretty sure it tastes even better in bed. Maybe somebody should bring dad coffee in bed in the morning. Doesn't have to be a regular thing. Just once. He'd love you for it.  

Number three:  dads love weather. Observing it, predicting it, recording it. We're into almanacs and cool thermometers. And above all, we love to go out when the weather's really nasty. It's our almost primal way of saying to the elements, "Is that all you got?" This only works, of course, if you have the right gear. I actually made up this parent survival kit--you can get it on my website for free. It's full of items that really help when you're parenting, and two of the items are weather-related--a perfectly waterproof jacket and pants. But what I really need are some gloves. Gloves for dad are a tried-and-true holiday tradition, I know. I haven't, however, seen the kind of gloves I want. See, it's easy to track down a pair of massive mitts, lined with the down of eight kinds of birds, so your hands stay warm all day. But I want a thinner, kind of low-profile pair of gloves. One that allows you to zip your coat after you've got 'em on. Bonus if you can use your phone without taking them off. Do I have to sacrifice warmth? I don't know. But I'd love a warm pair of gloves like this. 

Number four:  if all this sounds like a ton of work, and you really only want a quick fix, a shopping list, for real, here's a whole bunch of stuff that looked cool to me--some of which I actually already own--and that your dad/husband would probably be into. Just a warning - a lot of these will be books. I like reading.  

Here we go:  
This Book Is a Camera, by Kelli Anderson
SMS Star Wars headphones
Nick Feltron's annual reports
Thing Explainer, by Randall Munroe
Amazon Echo
The Curious Map Book, by Ashley Baynton-Williams
A hat with the logo for Weyland-Yutani (the terriforming company from Alien)
Cards Against Humanity
Into the Silence, by Wade Davis
Polaroid Zip Instant Mobile Printer
A "Chinga Tu Pelo" t-shirt from the 5 Rabbit Brewery
Gomorrah, by Roberto Saviano

Happy holidays.