Notes on...

How to buy a father’s day present (if you must)

Sad, I know, but most men would much prefer the money

6 June 2015

9:00 AM

6 June 2015

9:00 AM

No man ever watched a £20 note flutter from an opened Father’s Day card and thought: ‘How disappointing — not enough thought has gone into that.’ If you’re a son, you’ll know this already. But if you’re a daughter, remember that the sexes are different. Women want presents, actual objects, things that show your loved one has gone to the trouble of visiting a shop and making a choice, no matter how ill-advised and instantly destined for Oxfam. But men are a different country: we do things differently here.

For a start, many men don’t want any more possessions, full stop. One of the experiences nudging them in that direction is fatherhood itself: seeing a child grow up is a reminder of just how much crap life can generate (I swear the toys in a six-year-old’s bedroom breed). A man reaches an age when ‘you can’t take it with you’ really hits home, when he wants the rest of his life to be filled with experiences rather than stuff. I’m taking great delight in converting the latter into the former. A nifty little clothes–selling website called Vestiaire, for instance, recently turned one of my old suits into enough cash for a really good bottle of wine.

Your father does not need novelty beer tankards or personalised golf club covers. He might need a new screwdriver, but even if he does you won’t know the right one to get, so don’t bother trying.

Similarly, that special 40th-anniversary remix of his favourite album. What is the point of those things? ‘Here you are, Dad,’ goes the implied message. ‘You know that album that defined the summer you turned 15, whose every perfectly chosen note you know inside out and still relish every time you hear it? Well here’s one that isn’t quite the same.’

No, memories are the way to go. A box of his favourite chocolates, a day’s driving at Silverstone, a speedboat ride on the Thames… buy your father nothing that will still be there once he’s had it. And if you’re in any doubt as to whether it’s an experience he’ll like — ask him. This is another area where the sexes part company. Women like surprises and secrets: at the very outside they might allow some subtle questioning in the run-up to the big day, as long as it’s conducted in heavy code. But men like information, certainty, knowledge. The Y chromosome and second-guessing are incompatible. Your father will respect you for checking things out in advance.

As I say, though, you really should just go for money. If you absolutely can’t face cash itself then a voucher will do — but trust me, that’s a problem inside your head rather than your father’s. Folding will do it every time. See it as a return to the day when he first gave you pocket money: what was more exciting than that? When it comes to expressing love, cash says ‘direct’, ‘practical’, ‘literal’ — and these are words that men like. Even the most fervently republican male loves a picture of the Queen if it contains a watermark.


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  • Abie Vee

    I had two old Jewish friends of mine who used to send each other a £20 note in their Hanukkah cards. But inflation got so bad they had to stop doing it.

    • Hamburger

      Presumably it was the same one.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Remember that Jewish joke about the cheque in the coffin?

  • Teacher

    Men don’t like stuff as they can’t ever bring themselves to throw anything away.

    • Callipygian

      Oh god. I ‘disappear’ things — years later usually, but I do — in an effort to own them rather than be owned by them. But in my case I think it’s that the husband’s family as a whole can’t throw anything away. Actually I have thought for years that I’ve done the family a service: they bought sweaters that never were right or books they have no use for, etc., and they give them to me and I throw them out unbeknownst to them — which is what they really want from the transaction anyway. If I lived alone, I would have resources and treasures but no clutter. It’s only living with others that compromises my clear-eyed efficiency.

  • Teacher

    Women like money too. Lots and lots and lots of it. A card wouldn’t be big enough to hold it all in.

  • rob232

    What crap. I really enjoy getting presents from my kids. At first they were just drawings but they got more sophisticated as they got older. My iPad on which I’m writing this came from my children and their spouses. My MP4 from my daughter. Movie cube from my son. I don’t even know enough to buy these things. Records. My son bought a vinyl album of Tumbleweed Connection on Amazon one year just like I had when I was 15 . Yes they do know and it makes you feel loved.

  • Callipygian

    This is so wrong. My husband wants presents, real objects, surprises thoughtfully chosen. (My husband also likes family gossip.) OK, so hubby’s a bore in your book. Well, the married man I was in love with once, who in spite of everything not only accepted my gifts but let himself open them as a reward when the day’s work was done, also loved the surprises (a plastic trash can with 50’s faces and the words ‘thank you for your suggestions’ printed on it); a corkscrew brought back from a Napa Valley vineyard; a selection of music I especially liked; a photo of me among California bamboo, etc. Generalizations about the sexes tend to annoy me or make me smile ironically because they are so often mistaken.

    • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

      Is he known as Clare at weekends?

      • Callipygian


  • Annie

    I’m not at all into possessions, I have always preferred experiences. I’m an aesthete at heart.

    For a number of years I only bought people experiences as gifts. After several wasted tickets and vouchers, my father told me not to do that anymore because it ties him down to dates and he likes to be free to go on holiday.

    I’m a woman.

    He’s a man.

  • Rossminster

    I’d hate to get money from my kids. I’m in the very fortunate position of having enough of it. £20 is not going to make a jot of difference to me. What might make a difference is an inexpensive, but carefully-considered, gift.

    • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

      £20 is a gift. In my alehouse that is 6 pints of Timothy Taylors Landlord and a picked egg.

      • Rossminster

        Ah, I wish. Round my way it gets you two glasses of organic Chardonnay and a tiny bowl of Tuscan olives. Bah!

        • Callipygian

          I wouldn’t trust the ‘witness’ of Yvbastuhar in any case: he/she is a Leftist with enough chips to found a casino.

  • nigelvr

    If the man is an adult with a job, then £20 will mean nothing. And the bit about men not caring about the thought that goes into the gift is also wrong.

    Maybe this article was a joke and I’m being a bit stupid.