My father, as long as I’ve been alive, has never been big on Christmas gifts. I can remember times before I was around the age of 10 where I just don’t think he really cared what my mother might have gotten for me. I got all the plastic swords, stuffed blue raccoons and transforming robot water guns I asked for.
Back when I got all the red bears and cheap plastic swords a kid could ever need…
But once he decided to get intimately involved in what was bought for me for Christmas (or any other occasion where gifts may be involved) the enjoyment of being able to open a gift and actually get what I wanted… became only a distant memory.
I can actually remember the Christmas of 1989 when perusing a toy store wide-eyed and bushy-tailed with my mom and dad right after we’d moved back to the States. I pointed out many things that caught my eye… mainly action figures or Nintendo games or anything else kids my age slobbered over.
“Hmmm… what about this?” My dad said as I scampered through the aisle containing model airplanes, boats, cars and the like. I turned around and looked at what he had found. It was a huge box containing the million pieces required to put together a “Visible V8 Engine”. Once assembled it would work like a real engine!!
I couldn’t have been less interested.
We spent the next several minutes in front of that damn thing while I endured an earful of information spewing from my dad’s mouth that went in one ear and out the other. I remember his discourse being something about how this model engine would “teach” me something.
I obliged my father by looking him in the eye and nodding my head in agreement as he satisfied his need to lecture me about the worth of this “toy” as opposed to the emptiness that a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure or Mario Brothers video game would give me. I feared that if I challenged him on this issue I just might get emotionally pummeled with the vast expanse words my dad had at his disposal to make me feel as though I was the size of an action figure myself.
I agreed that I might be interested in putting together the V8 engine… but gathered up the courage to say that I would enjoy the vast expanse of other toys I had shown him before his discovery.
On Christmas day, I received none of the things I had asked for.
Piled underneath the other toys my father thought had some other value other than to just “play” with was… the “Visible V8 Engine”. It was a happy scene for my father who talked about what a good time I was going to have putting this thing together. Maybe… after I put it together… I could disassemble then reassemble a real one!!!
That thing sat in my closet for years and to this day… I don’t know what happened to it.
Unfortunate proof that I probably started getting things I didn’t want a lot sooner than I remember…
Fast forward a couple of Christmas’ and you’ll find me as a 12 year-old with the realization that this situation wasn’t going to get any better.
I looked forward to receiving the JC Penny and Sears gift catalogs ever year so I could rip through the pages to tag everything I wanted only to be disappointed every year.
Instead of the potato cannon… I got a “Build It Yourself Volcano”.
Instead of the complete set of limited edition baseball cards… I got a “Learn How To Play Harmonica” kit.
Instead of a Whoopie Cushion… I got a tent.
SEE! That’s a fake excited look on my face! I don’t think that thing ever came out of the box!! I love not camping.
Maybe I just went through those magazines and highlighted what I wanted because I thought that somehow… just one time… I might get what I asked for.
It never happened.
In the Christmas of 1991, I honestly don’t remember what I had asked for… I just remember I didn’t get what I wanted. Although, between my parents and my two brothers, there was some buzz that I was going to really like my main present.
“Now make a silly face like you don’t know what it is. You really don’t know what it is!? Oh, you’re going to love it!” Said my mom…
I was told to keep from opening it until all the other presents had been opened and by the time we ritualistically went around the room methodically opening each present… I was chomping at the bit to see what this thing was.
I pushed aside the cassette tape holders and magnet game to make room for myself as I tore off the wrapping paper. Once the paper lay on the ground and the revealed present rested in my arms, the small audience in our living room sat ready for the moment when my brain finally registered what it was that I was holding in my hands.
That moment didn’t come.
“Uhhhh… what the hell is this?” I said as I let it dangle precariously from my thumb and index finger. My dad’s sphincter tightened so fast it left a hole in his lounge chair.
My mom finally filled in the blank, “It’s a metal detector”.
“Oh”. I said.
The first thing that came to my mind was: “I didn’t ask for this… but it’s still actually kinda cool!” I had never operated a metal detector before but the possibilities of things you might be able to discover on our 300 acres were endless! I was excited to get out and try out my new “toy”.
In case you didn’t notice… I’m holding it backwards. Stupid idiot kid.
My dad, my brother and I got out that afternoon to see what we might be able to discover hidden beneath the surface across the seemingly endless expanse of farmland on which we lived. My dad took the opportunity to operate the metal detector while my brother and I dug out the “hot spots” that indicated there might be gold bullions, civil war weapons or buried pirate treasure.
We hunted for several hours and came up with nothing more than rusted pieces of unintelligible metal. I never got to operate “my” Christmas present that day. My dad kept it close to himself. I felt his apprehension in letting me “carelessly” operate this expensive piece of futuristic technology. He wanted to protect his “investment”… if only for a little while longer.
My brother and I went out with it again a couple days later without my dad and actually managed to dig up a 1918 wheat penny… not a valuable find by any means but my mind could go a thousand different places on how it wound up in our wheat field.
Once again, I was reduced to digging duty while my much older and more responsible brother was given the task of protecting the metal detector from me. I really wasn’t even allowed to look at it. Touching it was really out of the question!
Snow and ice then sidelined our treasure hunting for several weeks. It was far too bitter cold to endure digging through frozen dirt only to find rusted metal and old tractor screws.
It wasn’t until several more weeks after the weather had warmed up again before I contemplated taking out the metal detector again. I went to the closet where I knew the detector was… only it wasn’t there.
“Do you know where the metal detector is?” I asked my dad as he read the paper in his leather Norwegian chair in the corner of our living room.
Without looking up from the Ponca City police blotter he said, “Well, you didn’t seem that interested in it so I used it as a trade chip to wallpaper the basement”.
I can’t really tell you what hit my mind first but it was one of the following:
– “So… you traded MY present to wallpaper the basement without asking me!?”
– “I only got to use it twice because the weather was too cold!”
– “The only time you buy me a present I don’t ask for that I actually somewhat like you trade for WALLPAPER!!
– “I was THIS CLOSE to finding buried treasure!!”
– “I wonder how much tickets are to Canada because I may run away tonight!?”
After a short discussion where an apology was never given for using what rightfully belonged to me as trade bait… I turned and walked to my room where I stared into space for about three hours. I knew… somewhere in the deep inner recesses of my mind that this wasn’t normal. I knew somewhere in the world… kids like me got what they asked for and didn’t get their presents exchanged for something as unexciting as wallpaper.
So… my life went on. I went through countless other gift giving situations where I was blessed to get badminton rackets with no net, a promise of a CD-ROM drive that never came to fruition, a book about the physics of baseball and other “gifts” my dad thought would stimulate my mind rather than corrupt me and turn me into the antichrist.
By the time Bunny and I shared our first Christmas together I was so brainwashed into thinking that I was never going to get what I asked for. When I actually did get what I wanted… I was stunned.
My gift giving skills had been so locked away and rusted it took a real professional gift-giver like Bunny to help me uncover the gift giver extraordinaire that I am today. It only took our first Christmas of me giving her crappy gifts to fix that problem.
Postscript: After writing this story I went out and bought probably the most Christmas presents I have ever bought for Bunny and DLG. I was at the mall for four hours and left with sore elbows and fingers that had been rubbed raw from the cheap rope holding the largest bags together that the stores could afford to give me. I was tired and worn out… but extremely excited to see the joy in the eyes of those whom I had bought the gifts for once they’re unwrapped on Christmas morning. Perhaps the memories of what I had written were fresh in my mind and I was prepared to crush any inkling of doubt I had that I was a gift buyer like my father.
Postscript #2: For all my fathers faults at horrible gift giving and other various and sundry things, let me just say that I love him very much. Despite the fact that he gave away probably the best gift he ever succeeded in buying me… he did A LOT monetarily for me (college, supplemental college spending money spent on books and booze, insurance, etc.) and for that I am extremely grateful. The man just didn’t understand the concept of giving someone a gift that THE OTHER PERSON wanted.
Final Postscript: Don’t leave me a comment about how presents are not the meaning of Christmas and I should have been happy just to have a roof over my head…I know that and I was. You were probably one of those kids that got what they wanted anyway so shut it.