Q: I’m a 17-year-old guy faced with gift-giving conundrum of the most urgent order: I want to outshine my older, perpetually brown-nosed siblings this Father's Day and bestow my good-natured, hard-working pop with a gift that:

a. Isn’t a necktie.

b. Isn’t excessive manual labor (I’m willing to do some light chores).

c. Isn’t returnable to Sears.

d. Somehow reflects some of the qualities that he champions like self-reliance, thriftiness and environmental stewardship. 


He also enjoys beer, gardening and home-cooked meals. Any ideas?


A: Unless he’s Armand Goldman, no matter what the occasion — his birthday, baby Jesus’ birthday or the dedicated patriarch appreciation day that you’re currently struggling with — dads can be tough cases in the gift-giving department. This is especially true if your pop is an overly taciturn type who buys all of his trés chic clothing at Costco and spends his weekends hiding out in the garage reorganizing his comic book collection. Although they may gladly receive them, dads just don’t do gifts the way moms do — e.g. they aren’t likely to squeal and shower you with kisses over an Edible Arrangement or a gift card to Barnes & Noble.

Your four specific conditions seem totally reasonable. Right off the bat, I’d suggest offering your pop a complimentary car wash or a couple hours of gratis landscaping work. Sure, these are both somewhat clichéd “I’m broke/still dependent on you financially but want to do something nice for you for Father's Day” types of chores/gifts but they’re clichéd for good reason: There’s really nothing that dads like more than relegating tedious tasks typically assigned to them to their teenage offspring. It’s called free labor, and a lot of dads have come to expect it on or around Father's Day.

Since your own dad sounds like a green-minded fellow, I’d suggest “borrowing” his car and treating it to a commercial self-serve wash — don’t simply pay to go through the automatic wash, that’s cheating! — in lieu of performing the task in the driveway or on the street, which is the more polluting, water-wasting method. Save up those quarters and take a couple of hours to do the deed yourself at a self-service joint. And instead of giving that grass a much-needed shave with a gasoline-powered lawnmower, try performing other landscaping tasks that don’t involve the emission of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Spend a couple of hours weeding plant beds, trimming the hedges and poking around the garden performing some general maintenance with hand tools.

If your dad is as eco-conscious as you say he is and is indeed using a gas-powered mover, I don’t think he’d object if you told him why he should reconsider. Try striking a bargain with him: If he retires the fuel-leaking, smog-blowing, grass-cutting machine and purchases a more eco-friendly mower like a cordless electric model with rechargeable batteries, you’ll gladly break it in for him for the rest of the summer. However, this “breaking in” period may be delayed given that dads do like to play with their new toys before handing them over to willing teenage laborers.

Other than green-minded spins on the tried and true Father's Day rituals of lawn mowing and car washing, I’m sure you could offer your services in other ways. Sure, dads dig it when their children perform manual labor for them and take on chores without having to be asked/bribed, but they also do like spending quality time with their progeny. If normally you’re simply too busy to hang out with the old man, make yourself available. Plan a date and suggest a few possible outings like a flea market or estate sale, a plant nursery, a vintage record store or a home improvement center. Or, pick out a DIY project from MAKE or ReadyMade that you and your dad can tackle together over the course of a couple of weeks, be it a hydraulic espresso tamper or a cement planter.

Breakfast in bed is a typical Mother's Day tradition, so why not extend it to Father's Day but with a customized twist? Put your Google searching skills to the test and surprise your pop with a dad’s day dinner (at a table, not in bed) made from strictly fresh, locally sourced ingredients, particularly ingredients that are grown at home in your dad’s garden. You mentioned your dad is big on self-reliance, so I’m sure a hearty, urban homestead-y meal will delight him. Plus, I’m sure your mom will appreciate the night off.

And while we’re on the topic of food and drink, you mentioned your dad likes beer. Given that you’ve got a few years to wait until you’re old enough to buy him a round of his favorite local microbrew for Father's Day, consider encouraging him to start homebrewing if he hasn’t already — I hear this new book is a must-read for homebrew hobbyists. Sure, brewing his own beer may give him another reason to hide out in the garage or basement, but it does sound right up your dad’s alley.

Hope your dad has a good one.

— Matt

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Any thoughts on DIY Father's Day gifts?
Q: I’m a 17-year-old guy faced with gift-giving conundrum of the most urgent order: I want to outshine my older, perpetually brown-nosed siblings this Father'