What does Dad want for his day? You could always ask, but then you run the risk of the casual demurral, "I just want a nice quiet day at home with the family — you don't have to buy me anything." You know he deserves more than that, and you'd love to surprise him with the perfect gift.
So I asked some fellows who are the same general age as my own father what they would like to see inside the Father's Day gift wrap. Their answers may (or may not) surprise you.
TECH TOYS: Might Dad like an iPod? Or how about a sleek Razr cell phone, or a Blackberry?
According to my friend Ted, a retired USN commander with a collection of hi-tech gear in his own study, Dad generally doesn't want to hand anyone in the family a better way to reach out and touch him. If he leaves his current brick-sized cell phone in a drawer at home, don't assume it's because it's too heavy. He may just want the option to be "out of reach" for part of each day.
As for the iPod, guys in my Dad's generation who have a penchant for music usually still have a vinyl collection and a working stereo phonograph system, often one they built themselves when hi-fi was young and required an engineer's certificate to operate. They're not likely to switch to MP3, even if there were somewhere to download the complete collection of the greatest hits of Nelson Riddle or Johnny Puleo and His Harmonica Gang.
Buy him a car navigation system, Ted advises. There are some pretty good deals going on Garman Street Pilots. With this, Dad will never have to stop and ask directions, ever again. Not that he ever did, anyway.
FROM THE BOOKSHELF: Books are safe for a bookish parent. Chances are, you think you know your Pop's taste in reading material: World War II or Civil War history, maybe, or a coffee-table book of early-19th-century hand-tools.
"Good grief!" was the reaction of my ex-SeaBee neighbor, Colin, whose bedroom walls are lined with bookshelves. "When I open a book, I want a real story." No coffee-table stuff, Colin recommends; that's more appealing to an interior-decorator type. (Colin's wife is an interior designer.)
He recommends something moving, like James Bradley's Flags of our Fathers or Wisdom of Our Fathers by Tim Russert. These are books that celebrate the fathers in my father's generation, both war heroes and the ordinary, everyday men who fed their familes, kept the roof over their heads, and lead them to be better men and women by their sterling example.