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.