Please, no more socks or combs


The thing that should be stressed up front is that I don't presume to speak for all fathers here.

But let me say this: On Father's Day, many of us would prefer to be remembered in ways that do not involve a Greek fisherman's cap or ceramic coffee mug bearing the inscription: "World's Greatest Dad."

We have also had it up to here -- I'm holding my hand at chin level now -- with bathrobes, especially the silken kind which cause the wearer to eeriely resemble Ricky Ricardo lounging between sets at the Copa.

Unfortunately, though, the typical Father's Day scenario too often degenerates into something like this:

The beaming family gathers around dad at the kitchen table.

Mom nods her head and one of the little dears hands dad a sappy Father's Day card. Another little dear hands him a carefully wrapped gift.

Dad spends the requisite three seconds reading aloud from the card's swollen prose ("Because you are so special to us blah, blah, blah") and tosses the card over his shoulder.

Now he tears into the gift. And within seconds the smile fades from his face, replaced by a look of . . . well, disquietude is not far off the mark.

"Oh," dad says. There is a long pause and then: "It's a . . . a pair of socks. Another pause. "Navy blue socks. And what's this here? Brown socks."

Feeling enormously pleased with themselves, the other family members clap dad on the back and go off to various activities.

Dad, on the other hand, quietly shuffles off to his bedroom, where he will sit with the shades drawn, staring intently at the dead moth on the ceiling and wondering where it all went wrong.

Of course, fathers, by and large, are used to such rejection.

We live with it every day. And it's never more acutely felt than when we compare the hoopla surrounding Mother's Day to the quiet outbreak of yawning that accompanies Father's Day.

Mothers, on their day, are traditionally remembered with breakfast in bed, candy, flowers, romantic weekend get-aways, jewelry, I could go on.

A father, on the other hand, will be lucky to receive a pair of bedroom slippers -- further adding to his sense that, as far as sleepwear is concerned, he is now in lock step with not only Ricky Ricardo, but Fred Mertz as well.

If a father is particularly blessed, he'll be informed by his wife that, since it's Father's Day, he will not be required to take out the garbage. One of the kids will do it instead.

Bitter? Oh, I don't know . . . bitter isn't the right word for it.

Hurt. There you go. And empty.

One year -- this is a true story -- I received a comb for Father's Day.

Now maybe you're thinking: OK, a comb. But it was probably a real neat comb, huh? Maybe one of those tortoise-shell jobs with silver inlay that comes with . . .

No. It was a black comb. A cheap black comb. You know those plastic tubs full of combs that you see in drug stores with a cardboard sign saying 49 cents each?

That's the kind of comb we're talking about here.

The comb was a gift from a relative. I don't want to mention her name. Let's just say it was my wife's side of the family and leave it at that.

Anyway, when my mother-in-law . . . excuse me, when this person handed me what appeared to be a very tiny gift on Father's Day, obviously I wasn't expecting a CD player.

But a comb?! I don't think so.

"You needed a comb," my wife said later.

Well, yeah. I also needed some toothpaste, but that probably wouldn't make a swell gift, either.

You talk about bitter. This is the kind of thing that causes some men to slip into battle fatigues, dab some boot-black under their eyes and head onto a highway overpass with a rifle.

Now maybe this next point borders on nit-picking, but here goes.

While a lot of fathers are handy around the house and appreciate a Craftsman variable speed reversible drill, many of us can barely work a shower curtain.

For those fathers who are mechanically impaired, a 10-inch electronic radial saw with digital readout might look impressive, but will ultimately find use only as a doorstop.

Now perhaps the harried gift-giver is thinking: Look, if ceramic coffee mugs and socks and variable speed reversible drills aren't appropriate Father's Day gifts, what in God's name is appropriate?

Use your imagination. We fathers would simply feel better if we received something other than, oh, a yellow tie decorated with tiny blue sailboats.

Or a comb.

Please. We're asking nicely.

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