From the Braver Institute
As a parent I have come to realize something that I somehow overlooked for a lot of years. This year as I was buying gifts for my daughters I realized that parents aren’t really buying things for their kids as much as they are buying things for themselves—kind of like the guy who buys his wife a new chainsaw for her birthday— he knows full and well that he is buying it for his own use.
Okay, maybe women don’t buy gifts for their kids that they really want themselves, but I guarantee that guys do. And maybe not all of the gifts fall into this category, but at least one probably does.
I should have seen this way back in 1975.
At Christmastime 1975 I was getting all geared up for 1976. Our nation’s bicentennial was the main thing on my mind and I very much enjoyed things that were overly patriotic and red, white and blue. You can imagine my joy on Christmas Eve when I opened the greatest gift in the world—a “Spirit of ’76” HO scale train set. The engine and caboose were all star-spangled and striped. It was the most incredible thing I had ever laid eyes on. I don’t think I was ever allowed to put my hands on it. Now that I am older I know that it was never really meant to be mine.
Through some sort of Christmas miracle the train set was suddenly set up in our basement on a piece of plywood. The sections of track were stapled to the plywood in a large oval, with spur off the main track into the center of the oval.
I have no recollection at all of my father putting this train set together. It could have taken him a month for all I know, but I think I would have remembered him working on it for any measurable length of time. In my memory it was in a box one moment, and then assembled and running the next. I suspect that my dad just stayed up all night working on it so he could be the first one to play with it, although I am sure he would have said that he was just testing it out.
I was probably 40 years old by the time I got my chance to test it out.
I’m still a little surprised that my dad wanted a train set since he was a truck driver, and trains were direct competition to trucking and he often spoke of how rotten the railroads were. Secretly he must have wanted to be an engineer, and the train set allowed him to be one.
My big sister Sorta has long been a proponent of giving gifts that are something she wants too. She was always good for buying games that she wanted to play. Games are a sure-fire way of getting to use the gift you are giving.
While it is a little difficult for me to buy things for my daughters that I also want, I have been able to sneak things in now and then—video games, magic sets, electronics, rifles.
This year I bought them a chess set designed to teach new players how to play the game. I was ready to wrap it up when I caught myself fully admitting that I had not really bought this for them, and that I had bought it for me so they would learn to play chess and I would be able to play against them. It was totally a gift for me, and I abandoned all plans of giving it is as a gift. I just took it out of the box and set it up on the table hoping they would take an interest (it seems to be working so far).
When I asked my girls to give me their Christmas lists I was more than a little surprised by one item on my eldest daughter’s list:
“A bigger remote-control car/ motorcycle. Example: Psycho Cycle.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. My daughter was actually asking for something that I would have just bought for myself and disguised as a gift for her!
I had to ask her if I was reading her list correctly “Do you really want a remote-control car?” “Yeah” she said. Then my youngest daughter chimed in, “I want one too.” I was overjoyed! This year I wouldn’t be getting just one gift for me for Christmas, I would be getting two!
My girls are having a great time watching me drive their Christmas presents around, knowing that someday they too will get a chance to play with them.
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