A friend of mine/arch-nemesis has drawn her father and father-in-law for this year’s Christmas celebration and demanded a Christmas gift guide for them. While I am generally compliant towards requests from friends who have incriminating stories about me, this one is a hard one as I don’t have a relationship with my dad * and I don’t have a lot of use for my father-in-law so I am at a bit of a loss. While I had to laugh at the label emotionally distant father, the problem with too many dads out there is that they don’t exactly excel at communicating what they want for Christmas. If you have to shop for one, we feel for you.
Lucky for all of us, we do buy Christmas gifts for some hard to buy for people who are fathers and here are some of the ideas that I have come up with over the last couple of years.
- Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics by Warren Kinsella :: If you dad talks about politics all of the time and thinks he knows more than Mike Duffy but in reality has the same leadership instincts as Stephane Dion, maybe it is time to help your dad sound more knowledgeable. This is awesome on a couple of levels. First of all it will raise the level of political discussion in your house but if you dad lives in rural Alberta, he will have to explain to his friends why he has a book prominently displayed by the Prince of Darkness and how he is worried his child has become a liberal.
- While we are talking politics and tweaking dad a bit, I suggest you pick up either a copy of Brian Mulroney’s autobiography or Jean Chretien’s autobiography. Which one you give him, depends on how he votes. If he votes Conservative and has a Joe Clark tattoo, give him Jean Chretien’s autobiography. If he has campaign photos of him and Pierre Trudeau from 1968, you get him the Mulroney autobiography but you do it with a straight face… and then when all of the gifts are given out, pull out the book he wanted from beneath the tree. If you are American, substitute the book Sarah Palin paid someone else to write for her or something about the Kennedy’s.
- The War by Ken Burns on DVD and The War: An Intimate History. The DVD is a masterpiece and I enjoy it every time it comes on television but the book is special in it’s own way. It moves between the big picture of the war and the intimate details of the conflict with ease and despite telling the same story as the the mini series, has a much different feel.
- Some books on the War in Iraq. I recommend Fiasco or the Gamble by Thomas E. Ricks or The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army by Greg Jaffe. All three books are great.
- Band of Brothers (book) by Stephen Ambrose :: The men of E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, volunteered for this elite fighting force because they wanted to be the best in the army–and avoid fighting alongside unmotivated, out-of-shape draftees. The price they paid for that desire was long, arduous, and sometimes sadistic training, followed by some of the most horrific battles of World War II. Yes the mini-series is great but this book is even better and is one of the best books on World War II that I have ever read. If he already has Band of Brothers, he may also like Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany by Ambrose as well. A skillful blending of eyewitness accounts (gathered mostly from the oral history collection at the Univ. of New Orleans’s Eisenhower Center and from personal interviews) gives the reader an intimate feel of what war was like for infantrymen in the European theater of operations–from the beaches of France to victory at the Elbe River.
- Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes. While Rhodes won the Pullitzer for The Making of the Atomic Bomb, I found this book to be even better. Both of these books are epic endeavors of research and writing telling the story of how America started the nuclear arms race, the concerns of the scientists (and why they did it), how the Russians were desperate to find out, and the politics behind it. All of those topics could be books by themselves and once put together, form the foundation of a couple of truly remarkable books.
- The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson :: You can read my review of it here. If your dad in an inventor or just loves to read an engaging story of history, this is an excellent choice for your dad as he takes a break from puttering around in the shop while working on his doomsday device and avoiding the to-do list your mother made for him.
Gadgets for Dad
- MagLite :: Every man needs their own flashlight. At the cabin we have a million flashlights, some headlights and battery powered lanterns but everyone wants to use mine. Mark got me a Maglite for my birthday last year and I can finally say, “Hands off, go drain the battery on someone else’s flashlight.” Dads enjoy being territorial and petty once in a while, especially with a cool flashlight.
- Olivetti Manual Typewriter :: The last manual typewriter in production and the perfect tool for dad to write out his autobiography, love notes to your mother or he could just set it up in the living room to pound out a couple of notes to the grandkids who will totally miss out on the fact that their note was written on a manual typewriter. The other positive that unlike his laptop, DVD player, and home theatre system, he won’t need you to come over and fix this when it breaks.
- Numark TTi USB Turntable with iPod Dock :: There is a good chance that your dad has some old school music sitting in his closet that he lovingly looks at but has no idea how to play his Best of Olivia Newton John records let alone get them on the iPod that you gave him last Christmas. This should kill two birds at once. The bad news is that his old records have found a second life and we aren’t sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing but that’s your problem, not mine.
- Since we are talking about your dad’s bad taste in music, why not give him a nice set of headphones. Not just any set of headphones but some noise cancelling headphones. They have long been a must have for frequent fliers but even for those of you whose dad isn’t flying to Toronto every week, they reduces unwanted ambient noise by 87.4%, providing a quieter environment to enhance his listening experience.
- 23 and Me :: They send you a kit, you spit into a tube and send it back. They analyze the DNA in your saliva, then tell you about your genetic ancestry, and your susceptibility to genetically linked medical conditions. If you have a genetically linked condition, you also will know who to blame.
- Atari 2600 Flashback 2 :: Okay, so your dad’s gaming skills started to fall behind when the Colecovision came out but don’t hold that against him and let him reconnect with the games of yesteryear and get him a vintage game system. It features the same wood grain paneling and look of the Atari 2600, and will capture the feel through two classic joysticks for multi-player competition and vintage controls. The system comes pre-loaded with over 30 classic games. No new purchases are required, just connect it to your TV and play! The system that brought you hits like Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, Lunar Lander, Millipede, Missile Command, Combat and Pong now has them all collected on one handy system.
- The Pod :: If dad has a camera, he probably has a tripod or two. If he likes to take photographs out of the house and doesn’t like the hassle of finding the perfect place for his mount, the Pod could be a great option. Basically it is what happens when you combine a camera mount with a bean bag. While you are at it, why not get dad a new digital camera?
- Your dad probably has an old camcorder kicking around but new camcorders like the Kodak Zi8 are so much easier to use. If you have grandkids, give one of these to dad, set him up on YouTube and let him go crazy or let him film himself out in the wilderness as a Les Stroud wanna be. He will be amazed at how easy and how high quality Kodak’s camera is.
- Leatherman :: While most men want one, it is a lot of money to shell out for a multi tool but a the same time it is a iconic brand and tool that your dad will appreciate it as a gift. While you are at it, toss in a copy of Les Stroud’s book, Survive!: Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere or the SAS Survival Handbook. If dad isn’t likely to read, pick up all three seasons of Survivorman instead.
- Weber Go Anywhere Grill :: Dad probably already has a kick butt grill at home but this is perfect for bringing to the beach or over to your place when you don’t feel like firing up the grill yourself. It’s also charcoal which will bring back good memories for your father of a time when he could afford to go to NHL games, drank stubby beers, and his sideburns were a fashion statement rather than the foundation for his comb-over. While you are at it, toss in a cookbook or two about cooking with charcoal to refresh his memory on how to do it.
* The last time I bought a Christmas gift for my dad, I called his wife and asked what she was getting him. The answer was a Dodge Viper. I seriously said, “Err, a model one?” It wasn’t. So we had my $40.00 gift and her $100,000.00 gift. I felt like a tool.
You can find more Christmas gift ideas here. If you have any other suggestions or comments, let me know in the comments.