By AMY M. GILFORD | Executive Director | Marriage & Relationship Education Center
Each year, As Father’s Day approaches, those of us fortunate enough to have a father present in our lives may often wonder what to buy for him. As we begin to emerge from our COVID cocoons, we still may not be able to spend the day with dad in person. So, what to do?
In Dr. Linda Nielsen’s book Improving father-daughter relationships: A guide for women & their dads, the author reveals three things she uncovered through decades of research.
First, many fathers and their adult children wish they had more meaningful, open, and relaxed relationships with one another.
Next, most of us do not know our fathers nearly as well as our mothers. This doesn’t mean we love them less, but that we aren’t diving deep into personal topics often enough. This is especially true for the 50% of children who live apart from their fathers.
And finally, fathers too often feel they are nothing more than Mom’s sidekick, like a Venmo account or ATM machine. Mom may be in the engine room driving the family train, but dad is back there somewhere in the caboose.
The official recognition of Father’s Day as a formal holiday in 1966 lagged behind Mother’s Day by more than half a century. And, as of 2018, Americans still spend billions of dollars more on mothers.
But what if we could change the narrative away from the tangibles and towards the relational, and consider gifts that are unique and lasting, not just for Father’s Day 2020, but for every day?
Here are a couple of suggestions from Nielson:
1. Try giving your dad a handwritten letter instead of buying him a Father’s Day card. In your own handwriting (no typing, texting, emailing) tell your dad what he’s given you over the years that you appreciate. Be specific. What did he do to enrich your life? Offer details. As you do, so put aside any stereotypes and assumptions you have that men can’t be emotional and won’t appreciate your sentiment.
When you write, don’t mention financials. Instead, tell him about those times he helped you become a better you, or helped you overcome loss or disappointment. Once you’re finished, hand him or mail your handwritten letter. If it arrives late, that’s okay, too.
2. Set aside time at least once a month to talk to Dad alone—just the two of you, no other family members. If face to face isn’t possible, choose an e-version, or even call, but just find a way to have a plain old-fashioned conversation.
The key is that it’s just you and him, talking about meaningful, personal things. One of the best gifts you can give him is getting to know him better through conversation— and not the same old superficial chit-chat.
If this sounds difficult, Neilson lists hundreds of helps in her book, releasing this month. Some include: How and why have his views on love, friendship, faith, fatherhood, aging, and death changed over the years? What are some of his greatest regrets, and most painful and joyful parts of his childhood and early adult life? What does he wish he had known earlier in life that he knows now?
If your father seems reluctant to accept one of these gifts, don’t be disheartened. He might feel emotionally overwhelmed by affectionate and personal gestures. He may react by joking around or seeming disinterested. Give him time to “unwrap” your gift. Then again, says Neilsen, you might be taken aback by how enthusiastically he embraces and cherishes the gift of you wanting to really get to know him.
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