“Daddy, I bet you are wondering what you’re getting for Father’s Day,” she says. “But I can’t tell you. It’s going to be a surprise.”
“That’s wonderful, honey,” I say. “I love surprises.”
“Don’t ask me where we hid your presents,” she persists. “Just try not to look around my room. You shouldn’t look in the closet.”
“Right,” I say. “I definitely will not look in the closet.”
I can see her grimace a little. Oops, that one got away somehow. She’ll just try harder next time. She fiddles with a string on her shirt, trying to act nonchalant, as if she is not keeping the lid shut tight on her enormous secrets, but just making conversation to pass the time.
“I hope you’re going to like your presents, Daddy,” she says. “Both of them.”
“I’m sure I will, princess.”
“I hope they fit you ....”
She hesitates just a moment, sitting on the bed next to me. Did she give anything away? Has she said too much already? Nah.
“You know, Dad, some people LIKE to get clothes for presents,” she says, pretending to study a piece of paper with some scribbles on it.
“Oh, yes, I would imagine so.”
“Do you like clothes, Daddy?” she asks, a bit tentatively. I can tell a lot is riding on this answer, and I’d better be careful.
“Goodness yes, child,” I say. “I wear them all the time.”
She brightens immediately, as if this news surprises her. I can picture her frowning in the department store as mom examines shirts in the men’s big and tall section. Presents are supposed to be fun, not functional. Why isn’t she getting me a toy, or a game, or a pet lizard? Who wants a stupid shirt?
Kayden is at an age now when she cannot imagine an adult wanting anything different than a kid would want. In two or three years, when she begins noticing that adults just do not get fun gifts very often, she can begin the annual agonizing process that all kids go through in trying to figure out what Dad wants for Father’s Day — and Christmas, and his birthday. There is no point in trying to explain to her, or any other kid, that Dad already HAS what he wants, which is his kids, his family. Kids are not that crazy about abstract gifts. Nah, it has got to be something tangible, something that can be wrapped up in colorful paper and scotch taped and put on a table to be discovered on Father’s Day morning by sleepy-eyed Dad as he stumbles into the kitchen to begin the morning coffee-making ritual.
I remember sweating out every decision I ever made about what to get my Dad. After a year or two of settling for aftershave or cologne, I intuitively felt those gifts were too mundane, not much better than getting him a shirt, or three pairs of black socks. So I got creative. One year I got him his own nameplate, with his name engraved, even though as a truck driver he didn’t really have a desk to put it on. Maybe I figured he would have the most distinguished looking dashboard on the highways. Another year I got him a wallet with his initials engraved on it. Evidently, I was really into engraving. There were assorted other items, all of which we found in a box in his closet after he died, years of presents gathered together, a collection of memories, preserved. He never really found any practical use for the things we got him, but he also never dreamed of throwing or giving any of it away.
“Did you hear me, Daddy?” Kayden breaks through my reverie. “What are you staring at?”
“Nothing, baby,” I say, snapping back to the present. “I’m sorry, what were you telling me?”
“We got you some other stuff, too. Jack and I made you something.”
I know I have to stop her now. I have to protect her from herself, so that I will be genuinely surprised and not “fake surprised,” which any kid can spot at 40 paces. If she gives it all away, which she most certainly will if we keep talking — the secrets are just too deliciously slippery — it will dampen their excitement later on when I am opening the presents.
So her secrets remain safe. I don’t know what I’m getting. But whatever it is, I do know that I will never, ever give it away.