Giving a gift to my dad is a lot like seeing "Clash of the Titans" in 3D: an occasion followed by a sigh, and someone saying, "Well, that was a waste of $20."
When it comes to presents, my dad knows exactly what he wants: "If it's not booze or sweatpants, it's going in the garbage," he's been known to say. Nevertheless, every Father's Day, I try to transcend the booze and sweatpants rule and surprise my dad with something I think he will love and would never buy himself.
My quest for the perfect Father's Day gift began when I was 10 years old and gave my dad a $10 gift certificate to a store that exclusively sold beach volleyball equipment. I won it in a schoolwide raffle for doing three pull-ups, unassisted, during the presidential fitness test and immediately decided to give it to my dad.
"Right, because when you think of Dad, you think 'beach volleyball,' " my older brother Dan said sarcastically when I told him my plan. Still, my dad had always championed people who take risks.
Father's Day came, and after a hearty breakfast, my brothers and I brought our presents into the living room and set them before our dad like Maya warriors offering up a virgin sacrifice to the gods. He opened Dan's first.
"All right! Sweatpants. Thanks, son," he said, excitedly.
My brother Evan's gift followed, a pair of sweatpants almost identical to the one from Dan. Yet my dad was equally jazzed.
"Now you probably have too many sweatpants, huh?" I said nervously.
"What does that mean? You trying to make your brothers look bad?"
"What? No! I just meant that since both of them gave you sweatpants, you have a lot of sweatpants now and you wouldn't want any more sweatpants."
"What are you, the sweatpants police?"
You should know that my father didn't say these things exactly this way. There were well-placed expletives in every sentence. It's just the way he talks.
I handed him the envelope. He looked at it suspiciously, then he took it, tore the seal and carefully pulled out the gift certificate.
"OK. A … gift certificate to … a volleyball … place. Thank you, son. That's very nice of you."
"I won it at school because I did three pull-ups!" I blurted out, hoping my feat of strength would add importance to the gift.
He gave me a hug, then took his presents to his room and put them away.
"Success," I thought.
About six months later, after taking my daily post-school shower, I was getting dressed in my room when I realized I didn't have any socks. I padded down the hallway to borrow a pair from my dad's sock drawer, where I spotted the unused volleyball gift certificate. My face flushed with anger. I grabbed it from his drawer, stormed into the living room and sat down directly in front of the front door. I waited for him with the gift certificate in my hand like an angry wife who found foreign panties in the dirty laundry. Three hours later my dad walked through the door, then quickly took a step back, startled to find me sitting 2 feet in front of him. I'll use the word "expletive" to convey his tone; anything more precise can't be printed in a family newspaper.
"[Expletive]!" he said, setting down his briefcase. "What in the [expletive] are you doing sitting there?"
"I'll tell you what I'm doing! I'm doing this!" I yelled, holding up the envelope.
"You're doing an envelope? What in the [expletive] does that even mean?" he asked.
"This is the volleyball gift certificate!" I said.
"Son, I work 80 hours a week, so pardon me if I have no [expletive] idea what in the [expletive] you're talking about. And why are you in your underwear at seven o'clock on a Tuesday?"
I was not going to let him sidetrack me.
"I was going to put clothes on but then I found it! The volleyball gift certificate I gave you for Father's Day! I found it in your sock drawer! You never used it!"
"What in the [expletive] were you doing in my sock drawer?"
"Looking for socks. Don't change the subject. I did three pull-ups to win this, and you never even used it!"
"Follow me for a moment," he said, and we walked down the hall to his bedroom.
"Let's establish a few things. That, over there, is my [expletive] sock drawer. You don't go into it," he said, pointing to the open drawer.
I took a deep breath.
"Settle down, chief. I'm getting to the gift part. Now, I appreciated your gift. Gonna be honest: I don't remember getting it, but I am fairly certain I probably said thank you and gave you a hug or some [expletive], yes?"
"And have you ever known me to [expletive] you?"
"I guess not."
"Therefore, I appreciated it. You're 10. The fact you even got me a present without asking Mom for money is [expletive] impressive. But in no way, shape or form do I give a rat's ass about volleyball, volleyball products or people who play volleyball. I don't even consider it a hobby. It's goofy as [expletive]."
I slumped over, and my dad sat down next to me on his bed.
"My point is: I appreciated the work it took to get me the present. That means more to me than anything else."
"So it was the thought that counted?" I said, remembering that phrase I had heard.
"Sure, I guess. But obviously it's way better if the thought comes with some [expletive] I'd actually use. Boy, you're a pain in the ass, but I love you. Now put on some [expletive] clothes. It looks like I'm running a whorehouse."
Justin Halpern is the author of "Sh*t My Dad Says."