The first thing I intentionally saved my own earned money to buy was a toy statuette for my father. Sounds silly but a lot of thought went into obtaining this gift. I was 10 years old and was inspired to shine shoes for a living. My younger brother and I were raised by our father, who worked as a representative for Burroughs computer systems. Occasionally he would have to stop at his office on the weekends and would bring us along with him. This was usually a bore fest for my younger brother and I, but on one of these Saturday visits I spotted a wooden shoeshine box, the kind that had a place to rest a foot on top that also acted as the handle for the kit. I was instantly intrigued.
"What's this for?" I asked my dad.
"That belongs to a kid who comes in here and shines shoes."
I immediately thought to myself, "I could do that!" My father had a kit like this at home. So I did it. The following weekend I was in the Fette Ford Automobile showroom with my father's shoeshine kit offering my services to the salesmen and customers for 25 cents a shine. While at the local gift shop, Rowe-Manse Emporium, after a Saturday morning of shining shoes I saw the perfect gift for my father. It wasn't father's day or even his birthday, but that didn't matter because what I found was perfect, or so I thought. Displayed on a shelf in the store was a series of plastic resin statuettes. Each was of a cartoonish figure on a base that bore a salutation or witty saying. They were made to look like they were marble and did. One got my full attention. It was the statuette of a heavy set man with nothing on but a pair of shorts, holding a towel, and standing on a scale. He was looking down at the scale with disappointment the number it showed his weight to be. On its base it was inscribed with the words, "I Love You Just The Way You Are."
My dad was an athlete in high school and college but now in his 30's was always battling his weight. He always seemed concerned about it. At the time I couldn't understand why? I thought he was perfect and looked it too. So after 10 shines, which took the rest of the summer to accumulate, I had enough saved and purchased the statue. I had it gift wrapped and couldn't wait to get home and give it to my dad.
When I handed it to him he asked, "What's this for?"
I forgot what I said but I was bursting with excitement for him to open it. He got it open, looked at it, read the inscription in what seemed like seconds and said, "Why'd you waste your money on this crap for?"
"Because I love you just the way you are."
"Well, you shouldn't have wasted your money on crap like this." He put it on his dresser.
That didn't go the way I imagined it would when I was saving up to buy him that gift. I thought it would make him happy and relieved. Looking back now I can understand where my dad was coming from. I've caught myself responding the same way when I've received the same sort of gifts. There's a twinge of embarrassment from the guilty feeling that I don't really deserve it. He probably felt bad that I spent my hard earned money on him and on such a useless token of appreciation. Over the years I've had to learn how to accept gifts of appreciation a little more gracefully. When I receive a gift I nudge myself past any awkward feelings and simply say, "Thank you!" This works surprisingly well. As soon as I've responded with that seemingly trite response magic happens. All uncomfortable feelings evaporate, I feel appreciated and so does the person who's given me the gift.
My father died 8 years later and the statue was still on his dresser. He didn't make me return it and he never threw it out. So in spite of his initial reaction, he appreciated it.
*For curious minds: right before posting this I was eager to see if I could find a picture of this 1970's statuette somewhere on-line and I did. See below.