No matter how humble the contents of a package, Dad always took care to appreciate the time and thought that went into selecting a store-bought gift or the skill (or effort to be skilled) that went into making one. When we were young and operating on income from good grades, we often relied on imagination to make up for a shortage of shopping funds. Dad beamed with pleasure upon opening a lanyard coin pouch made at summer camp, a note redeemable for washing and waxing his car, or a homemade card with a message of a prayer said in his honor.
But even when our buying power increased through money from odd jobs and baby-sitting, we sometimes ran short on imagination. Still, Father made our bland gifts seem like dreams come true. When he opened a plain white shirt just like the ones he wore to work, he'd appear delightfully jolted as if he'd never seen anything like it. He'd pull the shirt out of the bag reverently and comment on its features. "Oh, this is really nice," he'd say, pointing out the button-down collar or extra-long shirttail. Then he'd carefully remove the packaging and try it on. "It's exactly what I needed," he'd say several times in between praising the quality of workmanship and tidiness of the crisp, new fabric. All the while, we watched, wallowing in the pleasure of pleasing Dad.
Over the years, we gave Dad a veritable closet of shirts – plaid flannels for the cold, short-sleeved knits for golf, and long-sleeved oxfords for church and work. We gave him miles of ties in stripes, polka dots, and paisleys. We gave him implements of leisure such as golf balls and gloves and fishing poles, and things to nurture hobbies like tools for woodworking and gardening.
If the color or size wasn't perfect, if the brand was substandard, or if his toolbox already held in triplicate the tool we gave him, Dad didn't let on. He made us feel so good about our gifts that Father's Day became an occasion we all looked forward to.
I suspect my dad was always more comfortable with giving gifts than receiving them. I figure that's what made him so good at appreciating our simple gifts – his ever-present awareness that every gift that comes to you brings an opportunity to give one back in the form of gratitude.
My father's manner of receiving even the most mediocre of presents was a simple but enduring gift for our family. Although he is no longer with us, his gift lives on in our memories.