I am very careful to not look a gift horse in the mouth and try to be appreciative of gifts received, but there is no getting around the fact that, growing up my Dad gave some pretty bad gifts. Under a strong dose of pentathol, the truth would come out that the gifts were “from the bottom of a junk drawer,” “traded for from someone who buys my pot,” or “cheap, because the investment isn’t worth it.” I’m not trying to judge, I’m sure Dad had many more important things to think about, I’m just saying that as a kid, there was always some degree of confusion, puzzlement and disappointment at Dad’s house on Christmas morning.
One year, my Dad broke his cycle of giving strange/shitty gifts and I was surprised to get a bike for Christmas- this was more in line with the types of gifts we all looked forward to. It was a strange bike, one that folded up to the size of a large suitcase and snapped into said position with a handle. Once unfolded and “secured” the bike rode like a fold up bike that might fold up at any moment. It was a little unbalanced and unstable, but I was really excited to finally have a bike and happy that Dad had made such an effort. I remember my Dad “milking” the situation for all of the accolades he could get, the same way I do when I give my kids something cool, and I tried to show him my greatest gratitude. I’m pretty sure the bike was from an exchange Dad had made with one of his customers. Six months later when we would get shipped back to Mom’s, I asked to take my bike with me, it was after all compact and easily fit into the truck with our other belongings. Dad said, “No,” and that the bike would remain at his house for my use when I came to visit. I never saw the bike again.
The gifts my Dad gave acted as a barometer, measuring the both the amount of time he spent recollecting that he had kids and the temperance of woman with whom he was currently involved. If he was seeing a good woman, she was sure to pick us out a nice toy and send a little money. On the flip side, if he was seeing a crazy bitch, we might get a cheap toy from the local gas station or more likely see nothing at all. Left to his own accord, the gifts were hit and miss. It was hard to analyze what Dad the thought process on some gifts, but I always tried to give Dad the benefit of the doubt.
My dearest roommate and best friend from Willamette University never misses an opportunity to remind me of the Christmas gift my dad sent my freshman year. I’m not sure who the lady was in his life, but I suspect there was someone as I did receive a gift. I have to be fair, he had taken the time to wrap, package and send me something and we all know that doing so can be a real bitch around the holidays, and I was thankful to not be forgotten. Again, I understand how shitty it is to judge a gift but the whole experience was so hilarious and representative of my entire life I had to write about it. Karen watched with baited anticipation as I opened the gift from Texas. She had been so as sweet all year, sharing the contents of the care packages that came at regular intervals but I had never received anything and this was a chance to perhaps return the favor. Strange. An old, broken Polaroid camera. With no film. What the fuck? Karen couldn’t contain herself and fell into a fit of hysterical laughter. I just sat trying to conjure up an ounce of gratefulness for the gesture. It was then that I noticed the check at the bottom of the box and the joke made sense, a gag gift given before the real gift to create a heightened sense of enjoyment and merriment- what a huckster. With lightness I showed Karen the check for $50 and reveled in all of the beer I would buy and share with her. It was at that moment she noticed that my dad had “forgotten” to sign the check.