I don’t believe in asking people what they want for their birthdays.
My strategy is to pay attention to people, be conscious about what their wants and needs are, buy them something that they really, really want or that they really, really need and, by proxy, that they just have not got around to getting because life’s other priorities got in the way.
I believe that we should normalise buying what people need. Many people will think this is a boring and unfun gift, and that birthdays are meant just to get things that you enjoy. But I certainly get the most enjoyment out of things that I can really use, or that upskill me or make my life a bit easier. Or, alternatively, finally getting something I truly love and will treasure for the rest of my life, instead of enjoying it for a few months and throwing it away.
When it comes to dads, buying a gift becomes a lot easier if they have a hobby: fishing tackle, or whatever fishing people use; some new golf balls; an all-weather jacket, if your old man is a hiker; or something as simple as socks for the runner or sports dad – a highly appreciated and quality gift.
It shows that you care about their lives. It proves to them that you’re invested in their interests and comfort. No one loves a useful gift more than a dad. If he is an office guy, get him a tie, but please, for God’s sakes, pay attention to his style. If he’s a scarf-in-winter guy, get him a snug snood. These are all very successful. But even with these options, and until you finesse this strategy, buying for dad is hard – until you meet the toddler.
Our kid turns two next month, and many people will disagree and say that it is very easy to make a toddler happy. Sure it is.
I’m pretty certain that if I gave him an unwrapped egg carton or a box of oat Cheerios, he would be over the moon. It takes very little to impress our boy. But, of course, birthdays require special efforts and I pride myself on being a very considerate gift-giver. I love buying a gift. I often buy my wife gifts for absolutely no reason. It’s my language of love, I guess. But what the gift is matters to me, and while cardboard recyclables would make him happy, they aren’t thoughtful.
So one has to dig a bit deeper into what they actually like. See, I don’t think toddlers expect anything gift-wise. Our boy’s current favourite thing is a R20 car that is on its last legs – just one week after receiving it from an aunt. It doesn’t matter.
My wife is much better at the fun stuff. She found a toy steering wheel that clips on to the back of a seat so that the little guy can pretend he is driving. He is going to love it. But I’m not accustomed to these things as presents because I never received them as a kid – unless they served a function. Like a toy calculator, for example. In retrospect, I hate the damn thing. But at the time, I carried it everywhere and learnt things. My sister is the same. Her gift to him, for example, is swimming lessons. Excellent gift!
My mom asked what she should get him, and all I could think about was: “What does he need at this stage of life to improve a skill?”
The truth is, kids don’t know what they want. But we know. We have expectations, and we want to make them better humans. We even have expectations about what they should like. Teddy Tennis classes it is, then. I said what I said. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.