Today is my Dad’s birthday. It’s a strange occasion in our family. My Dad was always a little uncomfortable about receiving gifts, and I’ve never been good at giving them. Or rather, remembering the occasions on which they are supposed to be given.
But even when I do remember it’s rare I can think of anything that person needs or wants. My birthday being only two days after Dad’s, during this time of year I’m reminded that other people have the same predicament as grandmothers call and ask what they ought to get me.
Answering this made me think about a home movie of one of my really young birthdays I saw not to long ago. I must have been six, but seeing how much of a spoiled brat I was kind of made me sick. Not only are a bunch of my friends and some Aunts there, but my Great Yia Yia who was my favorite person ever. I got really excited about a bunch of flashy plastic toys that were surely broken by Christmastime, but when I unwrap a pretty sweet fighter-jet sweatshirt, I furiously scream out “CLOTHES!” while Great Yia Yia asked “Don’t you like airplanes?”
I really appreciate how sweet everyone was buying me all those toys, but seeing that sense of entitlement so naked on the screen makes me wonder if it’s worth it to perpetuate the ritual. Sometimes you see something and you think “I’ve just got to get that for…”, but usually this is in a lull between gift-worthy occasions. So I’m compiling here some ways to let a person know you’re thinking of them without just giving them a piece of plastic that they’ll just have to throw away.
The Planned Re-Gift
I don’t know where my Mom came up with this, but it was both one of my favorite things to receive, and later to give. She gave me a really funny and unique birthday card, but instead of writing on it she put my Happy Birthday message on a post-it note and told me the card was something she thought I might buy for someone else, so re-using it was part of the gift. This is a really good way to add personality to a gift-card like purchase – cards are kind of written off (haha pun), but presenting one this way makes it the highlight, so find an indie stationary shop that prints its own or sells unique ones. Basically, do better than Hallmark.
This is also why I like to give books as gifts, but it works best if its a book you’ve already read – the actual copy you’ve already read. Don’t be a hoarder. Let these things go.
Or if you’re really daring, get them a gift specifically so they can give a mutual friend the right thing for once. Try this for birthdays near Christmas or Valentine’s Day.
Donating to Charity
My Nouna and Nouno (godmother and godfather in Greek) spoiled me more than anyone else, and I’ve got a lot of catching up to do to pay them back. But when you ask Nouna what she wants for Christmas, she just asks you to donate to Heifer International in her name. You should probably ask ahead of time to make sure it’s a cause they support, but it sure beats getting them an expired dayplanner with your company logo on it, Uncle Lewis.
Alternatively, there are a lot of products whose proceeds are at least partially donated to charity. Since I’m growing an injury beard this fall, I’m suddenly very interested in this Moustache Man T-shirt. In support of Movember, every one sold (as well as several of the T-Shirts on the site) donates $10 to the fight against prostate cancer. Also, some other cancers.
This is actually a terrible idea 90% of the time, but if you’re just careful and don’t overestimate your abilities the thought should outweigh how crappy you are at making things. My cousin David is a photographer, so he makes greeting cards out of his prints. I can’t stand to give them away because they’re so beautiful (also, I’m terrible at giving gifts). My Nouno took a picture he took of me and blew it up into a poster.
Come to think of it, though, there are hardly any printed photographs anymore. Even if you aren’t a photographer, finding a flattering facebook pic of the both of you, taking it to a FedEx, having it printed and framed is about as good of a gift as you can give anymore. Write a note on the matte and you’ll look like an all-star.
Then there’s always cooking for someone. I’ve got a great Pot Roast recipe guaranteed to impress.
So I guess what I was trying to say was, I’ll repost this after Thanksgiving, and Happy Birthday, Dad! Sorry I didn’t get your card in the mail on time!