Not long ago, one of my in-laws pulled me to the side and suggested that it might be time for me to see a therapist. He’d learned that I had asked for birdseed for my birthday, which seemed to him a pretty clear cry for help. What self-respecting male, after all, asks for birdseed for his birthday? Why had I not requested a $2,500 table saw, a deluxe fishing pole or, at the very least, a new leaf blower?
It soon became clear that more than my mental health was at stake. If one man settled for birdseed for his birthday, there could be an ominous domino effect, lowering gift standards for men across the country — and, indeed, the world. The guy breathlessly anticipating a new hunting rifle for his birthday or a tent for Christmas or an outboard for Father’s Day just might end up having to settle for socks, a new can of WD-40 and perhaps a fresh supply of Turtle Wax.
All I can say in my defense is that I didn’t mean to spark a global economic collapse. As another Father’s Day approaches, I’m all for giving the man of the house what he wants, within the limits of the family budget. But I count myself among those peculiar men who like the kinds of presents no one is going to find in a commercial gift guide. Stuff like birdseed, which pleases me because it brings a few cardinals and finches to the window while I’m having my morning coffee. Or pine straw, which comes in nice bales at the neighborhood nursery and looks interesting in the garden, even if you keep it stacked up like alphabet blocks. There’s also a lot to be said for garden hoses that don’t kink and sprinklers that oscillate a peacock-fan of water into the air or the ones that tock-tock-tock through the afternoon as they shoot a semi-circle of spray across the lawn. They make a beautiful spectacle and are gravely annoying to cats and squirrels, which is a joy in itself.
What I’m trying to describe might ideally be called the Henry Mitchell Demographic, named after the late Washington Post columnist who also liked to receive odd treasures that most people wouldn’t regard as a proper gift.
Mitchell, who died in 1993, spoke for our kind in a landmark 1984 column titled “What Men Want for Christmas,” an essay I’ve resurrected at various times over the years to remind readers that not every man dreams of opening another designer necktie from a loved one. Although Mitchell addressed his remarks to yuletide shoppers, his wisdom applies equally well to those still wondering what to get their dads for Father’s Day next Sunday.
Among his suggestions: a decent weathervane, dowels, telephone wire, balls of twine, old bricks, cedar shavings, a new lantern.
All good stuff. With apologies to my relative, I should also add that birdseed isn’t a bad choice, either.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.