Looking For A Gift For My Dad That Says I’m Happy To Be Present



My dad’s 70th birthday is next month.  He’s a decade younger than Willie Nelson, a decade older than my therapist, two decades older than Julianne Moore, and three decades older than I am.

70 sounds like a big number– not quite scary for a daughter, but almost.

We’re planning a big celebration down in Texas– me and my siblings and all of our families will meet our parents at a rustic resort outside of Austin, which is something we’ve done exactly zero times.  We haven’t been big on “everyone visit at once” in my family, unless it’s for a wedding.  Even for funerals and baptisms, there was usually someone missing.  More times than I liked to count, the missing member was me.

But in this new era of Christie Shows Up, I come to family events, quietly trying to make up for all the time I lost because I was busy being lost and that particular kind of 20- and 30-something selfish. I pretend like I can get those years back by being a good and present daughter (to them and for myself) now. I don’t believe, but I still hope it’s true.

I fantasize about getting the perfect present for my dad.  If I could just have a few hours to think about it or search for it on a folksy, Texas-based website I could find the thing I can picture in my heart, the gift that says: I’m going to keep this light, but just know that this is full of meaning and gravitas I can only hint at, and PS: I’m half sick for all the time that was squandered.

What is the thing that says that to your dad?

At night I think poke around on the Internet searching for that something.  Then I think about this little store over in Pilsen where they might have something meaningful, but I don’t know how to get there between the play date with Lily, the writing conference, the haircuts, and swimming lessons.

Can it really be true I don’t have time to do this?

No. It’s not true.

The truth is that the thing I am looking for doesn’t exist.  Unless you think a time machine exists with the ability to give me back the years between 1991 when I gave him a bottle of Canoe cologne for his birthday from Eckerd’s Drug Store and 2008(ish), when I learned to show up as an adult child.

The thing I am looking for is not a thing. It’s a feeling. Or a representation of a feeling.  It’s a mashed up ball of nostalgia, regret, love, gratitude, grace and sorrow that sits on my heart like a tumor, fucking up my circadian rhythm.  And they don’t sell that at thrift stores, even in the edgier sections of town.

But if they did, I’d buy two.  One for me and one for my dad.  And on the card, I’d write the only words I know that match gift: “Thank you for the gifts you gave me. I’m so grateful I recognized them as soon as I did.  I wish it were easier to say all the things I want to say.  I’ll keep trying.”


70 thoughts on “Looking For A Gift For My Dad That Says I’m Happy To Be Present

  1. Beautiful post. All that matters is that you’re making the most of now. Your Dad will love and appreciate whatever you give him because it came from you. Have fun at Lost Pines! (I’m assuming that’s where you’re going)

  2. I’d write him a letter that says much of what you said in this post and whatever else you have to say that you might not want to say publicly. As a parent, I’d treasure that. And you sure do know how to write.

  3. I was going to say print this blog, laminate it, place it in a card, and just show up as YOU!!!! That speaks volumes!!!! Of course you could ask Jeff, “if you were 70, what would you want Sadie to bring?” Type question….but you might get the same answer…. Save the time… Just show up!!!! Lugs and hugs!!!!

  4. I can identify with what you have written at EVERY level. I am a gift giver with emotions myself.
    1. Beautifully written.
    2. If time allows you, why not make a huge scrapbook of all those precious moments you have with your father? Illustrated, well written, full of photographs, the works.
    You can get your siblings to collaborate. Make it a memory book. The people who love him and who are important to him can each send one memory (their favorite) with your dad. Compile them all and VOILA!

  5. My dad had a stroke three years ago. Scary. My FIL died this summer. We never know when “when” is. I was hoping your post ended with your sentiments as the gift. It’s all that really matters. And the time you give from this point forward. Nope, no time machine to fix things from the past but parents love us unconditionally (even when we’re shits, which I was for longer than I want to admit). This was truly beautiful.

  6. Hire a photographer for the family gathering in Austin and be sure to get one group shot with the whole family – including YOU!! That is a gift that you can’t put a price on…..and surely something he would treasure for a long time. (You can buy a frame to go with it, if you want something tangible.) Sentimental, practical and something he won’t already have. Good luck!

  7. this was, well, beautiful. as always. I can so very much relate as my dad turns 80 next month and I was wondering what to do as well. i’d get a photo of the two of you from recent years or not and photoshop this on it: “Thank you for the gifts you gave me. I’m so grateful I recognized them as soon as I did. I wish it were easier to say all the things I want to say. I’ll keep trying.”

  8. My father passed before I could give him the gift I wanted to really give. Give him you (whoever that is). That’s what’s really important. Now, if I could just find something for my mother’s birthday….

  9. Hi Christie – beautiful, thoughtful post! For my Dad’s 70th last year all of my family (siblings and families) spent a weekend at my parents’ cottage (a rare event to have us all together – 15 humans and 3 dogs) – for a gift we decided on hiring a professional photographer to record the moment. She spent an afternoon with all of us. It was awesome…he treasures the photos.

  10. I have always been a fan of making video slideshows with favorite songs for big occasions. Maybe with some audio of some family members sharing a memory. Really, though, I agree with what a lot of people are saying that being there is the most important thing, and I love the idea of sharing these thoughts in a card. It’s great that you started being present when you did and have had the time you’ve had. I guess he doesn’t read your blog?

  11. I believe knowing you are happy and healthy is present enough for your dad. I also agree with the others who said a copy of this post is the perfect gift. Family pics would be icing on the cake. Enjoy Austin, enjoy your family, enjoy the smores! Hugs to you and the rest of your family!!!

  12. You write so beautiful, I can see myself too in this story. It’s never to late for you to be the daughter you wanted your father to have. I told my father this a few years back, he was ecstatic. I am sure whatever you “gift” him, will be perfect.

  13. My dad died shortly after his 80th and none of his kids felt like they knew him very well prior to that. But we lucked out and spent his 80th and the year after asking him all the questions we wanted to know about him . We did a cookout at my house and spent tons of time around a fire in the evening listening to his answers….everything from “How did you meet Mom?” to “Why her?” I was amazed at how much he wanted to say for a guy who wouldn’t carry a conversation if you handed it to him in a bag. He later said it was a great time (which wasn’t in his character to say either) go figure. Just go and enjoy being there with those folks. What we also got was a Newspaper from his hometown on the day of his birth…it just took a phone call to make it happen.

  14. It’ll mean more than anything that you’re there and that you’ve chosen to be present and spend time with him on a more consistent basis. I agree that if you wrote him something that would probably mean the world. But more than anything, just enjoy that time together.

  15. My dad just celebrated his 73rd & there really isn’t a gift i can give him that begins to thank and honor him. I settles on a hat from our new state and a photo book of him and grandkids through the years

  16. Like others here, I think your words would be the best gift, backed up by photos of you and your family if there’s a lot of pressure to have something for him to unwrap. We lost our Dad when he was 67, with absolutely no notice, so do it now.

    And make appointments, if you need to, to visit him and ask him questions about his family and growing up. We are in the process of cleaning out my Mom’s house now that she’s living in a home, and there are so many questions we’d like to ask her but she’s got dementia and can’t see, so isn’t going to be able to identify old family photos, for example. Just treasure him and any time you have together, because you never know when it will end, whether by his passing or by disease, as with my Mom.
    This was a beautiful post.

  17. You are the best gift he could ever get. I often feel the same and still struggle with the whole showing up for family thing. You do good work, Ms. Outlaw. Your family’s lucky to have you.

  18. Me too. My dad’s birthday was last weekend, and it painfully brought to mind the year I ruined his 50th birthday party.
    Sigh. At least I’m showing up now. You too.

  19. As the mother of a son who’s busy not showing up right now, you can rest assured that you’ve already given him the best gift. Anything else is just gravy! And with your power with words, maybe a heartfelt letter?

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