Birthday Gifts (Part 1)

I’ve always prided myself on being an exceptional gift-giver and there’s ample evidence to support my theory. That’s because as a card-carrying member of the knuckle-dragging brethren of man, I’ve always been very adept at shopping for things I like. Car audio equipment, golf clubs, sunglasses or concert tickets have always been well-received gifts for me AND that special someone who’s just so darned hard to buy for. It’s a special skill most of us guys are blessed with. When shopping for say, Mother’s Day or a wedding anniversary, we often return home with an item too good to conceal until the big day. I practically frothed at the mouth, for instance, before presenting my wife with those commemorative Husker beer mugs. I couldn’t even wait until kickoff, much less our anniversary, to set that joy in motion and wash the gratification down. If it’s not embedded in male DNA, it’s absolutely genetic: I know for a fact there were a lot of Tootsie’s Mother’s Day gifts in my grandfather’s golf bag – otherwise, he wouldn’t have needed to buy her that new golf cart. Practical, too, are men.

Just this week my grandfather and I celebrated birthdays – he, 95, today; me, 41, Sunday. Presumably because of our innate gift-procuring skills, we both insist we have everything we want and demand that nobody spend their money buying us gifts. He really means it, while part of me, admittedly and pathetically, is only angling for a sort of momentary martyrdom that evokes sympathy. Sympathy is a rare and prized commodity really too valuable for the simple, stupid modern day husband, who all too often squanders such emotional gold by buying stuff like Husker beer mugs to celebrate a wedding anniversary.

So, I’m learning, just at a snail’s pace. This year, I received an incredibly generous monetary gift for my birthday and instead of making a beeline to Best Buy to preorder the latest Grand Theft Auto video game or get even bigger stereo speakers, I actually paused long enough to consider what to do. I considered my options. What inanimate object (tip for the youngsters: you can only buy “stuff” with money; turns out the Oprahs of the world are right and they don’t sell real things, like happiness or whatever, in stores) could I buy that would provide the highest possible thrill, hence return on my investment? Don’t golf much anymore, so the latest Callaway doesn’t make much sense – and if I do happen to swing it, the over-sized, over-priced one in my bag does a good enough job putting the ball all the way out there nowhere near the intended target. So, no. Sunglasses? My mother just got me new ones two weeks ago; I still have them and they aren’t broken. Maybe for Alicia’s birthday in October. Shades can wait. Car audio? Truck has 117,000 miles and a stereo you can hear five blocks away. That’s plenty ridiculous. Got the aforementioned mugs. Hmmmm – maybe not the shopping virtuoso I thought I was. Or maybe that skill, much like muscles and hair follicles, vanish in men over 40.

Concert tickets? Seen both the Rolling Stones and Van Halen. Hard to get too excited for the undercard now, know what I mean? Now, while I’m old enough to remember VCRs and phones with cords, I’m almost all grown up and I think I’m realizing what’s important in life, I can’t say that I would not have been OK with dying had I seen VH live and in color as a 12-year-old. It was a huge deal for me to see them at 35 – it would’ve been an irrationally big deal at 12. I liked that band so much in 1984 as a kid that yesterday my EVH-striped iPhone case came in the mail. That’s a bit embarrassing to type only because it’s the absolute truth. Good thing I didn’t see them because, and this is harsh, how could a father live with himself if the birth of his beautiful children “ranked right up there with the Van Halen concert” in terms of life-defining moments.

I bring it up because yesterday’s Diamond Dave is today’s Taylor Swift, especially for preteen girls, a particular demographic of complicated human beings that is without exception as alien to their middle-aged fathers as caviar is to the crashup derby contingent, heredity notwithstanding. And Good Ole Dad, whose development of cultural sophistication started with a favorite pair of Hee Haw bibs and ended when MTV pulled the plug on “Jackass,” is inevitably discouraged when he only becomes more and more confused the more and more familiar he thinks he becomes. The harder he tries, the less he knows. At some point, he realizes he and his teen team of three (17, 12, 11) are related, yet two completely different animals. He finds he doesn’t represent the superior of the two. He is not king of any castle. He is rather confused, amused, intrigued, amazed, a little frightened and altogether in awe of the triumvirate that has ascended to a throne that exists, but only in his head. He has little case to state anyway and the reward for being right, even when he pulls it off, proves akin to buying a cool toy. It doesn’t last and it certainly doesn’t matter. He finds he sees better, too, when his mouth is closed.

I took my birthday money and bought three Taylor Swift tickets for my kids 10 rows from the stage. I imagined myself and how thrilled I would’ve been way back when in such a situation. Not unlike seeing my kids have the time of their young lives. Now I understand why my dad didn’t need to ride the roller coasters; watching his son have Worlds of Fun was the best part.

DLR says money can’t buy you happiness, but it’ll get you a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it. Man, I wish I could buy a yacht – so I could see the look on my girls’ faces as they cruised by. Guess I just like to spoil myself.




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