Now that we’re in what any sensible person would consider to be the Christmas Season (I bought my tree lights on Oct. 30, just in case they ran out of Philips D-5 Blue LED bulbs), the task of purchasing presents for my children comes immediately to mind, and how I don’t have any money to do it.
We’ve all been there. In my case, I have three kids in college. They’re all progressing along nicely. My daughter is getting a master’s, my oldest son is about to graduate with a marketing degree, and my youngest son is a sophomore at a state school. They have their own levels of need, ranging from Not That Much to Every Single Thing Is Provided For Them.
My daughter tends to like arts and crafts, and these do eventually run out, so I like to get her more colored pencils, blank journals, paper and stuff like that. She’s very appreciative and seems to have few material demands. My sons present a very different gifting paradigm.
I know exactly how their minds work, because I have a male mind. And the male mind says, “I need mechanical objects, new technology and other related gear.” Failing that, the male mind wants money. Lots and lots of tasty money. Who can blame them? I’ll figure something out.
Little children are very easy to buy presents for. In 1964, I was given a toy airplane cockpit called a “Jimmy Jet.” “Jimmy Jet” would be very unwelcome at the Consumer Product Safety Commission today because it launched real plastic missiles. You could, in fact, take an eye out with that. They sold for $8. I liked it so much I bought another one on eBay in 2004.
It sold for $495.
I have a photograph of me sitting by our 1968 Christmas tree wearing an army helmet and holding a very realistic M-16 toy rifle. In 1974, my father gave me an actual assault rifle.
That’s what Minnesota men do to express love.
In looking back at all the Christmas presents I have ever received, I know now that Christmas isn’t about presents, really. I understand that Christmas spending is important to the U.S. economy, to the point where the Christmas decorations are filtering into the stores before Halloween. I like a good present, but I have to say I can barely recall any presents I have actually gotten.
One that stands out is a piano, wrapped in a large red bow, from my now-ex wife (we get along great). The logistics required to deliver that piano were, I am certain, horrific, but it still ranks as the all-time coolest Christmas gift I have ever gotten. Everything else is kind of a blur to me now. What does still stick out in my mind and heart is how I felt at Christmas, not what I received. I recall presents I had meticulously planned and given, but I suspect the people who got them have forgotten them, too.
Right before my dad died, we both kind of gave up on presents from the store. The last present I gave him was a painting I did of the stretch of U.S. 41 on the way to Marquette, Mich., where he lived as a boy. I have it now. I can barely look at it.
I found a short note on a piece of legal paper the other day, dated 12-3-10. I found it on Dec. 10 – three years to the day later. It was written about six months before he died. It said:
“Jack – The present money is to be distributed this way: Jack: $200. Eric: $50. Julia: $50. Bobby: $50. Thanks. Dad.”
This wasn’t really how I wanted my last Christmas with my dad to go, and we actually spent Christmas Eve in a nursing facility. I watched him eat some horrible-looking turkey. He was going. I knew it, he knew it, and I didn’t sit around wishing he had more presents, or that he had given me more presents.
I wished that he had more friends.
You can’t buy them on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or anyplace else.
Reach Jack Ohman at firstname.lastname@example.org.