What to Get Dad for Christmas

I’m wandering through Sports Authority, through a maze of Tec-Wick, Dry-Fit, and Nalgene bottles, wondering what to get Dad for Christmas. It’s Saturday morning, and the line is already snaking down the center aisle, past the racks of sunglasses and Power Bars and Marmot gloves.

It’s not that Dad has everything—it’s that he has nothing.

His 83 years have been narrowed down to what can fit on three shelves, in six shallow drawers, and in a nightstand that is the only thing remaining of his bedroom set.

Everything else has been passed down to us or to the auctioneer.

He’s been in a nursing home almost five years now. We’ve run through every gift that one could think of for a parent in this situation—a birdfeeder for outside the window, which he can’t see because his wheelchair always faces the other direction. Multiple plants—the staff keep killing them by over or under watering them, even though there’s a sign that says in big, black print “DO NOT WATER EXCEPT ON FRIDAYS,” taped right next to the sign that says “DO NOT OPEN WINDOW.”

Early on, we bought him wireless headphones so he could watch T.V. late at night when his roommate was sleeping—but now they go to bed at the same time and he doesn’t know how to turn them on. We bought movies he would like, but he only watches them when we’re there to turn on the DVD player, and it’s hard to find two hours when he is awake long enough to watch a film from beginning to end.

One year, we bought him a digital photo frame, but he never seemed to want it on—maybe because of the old pictures of him and our mom.

I laugh sometimes, remembering how he was always hard to buy for—he was so practical, that whenever he needed anything, he’d just buy it. It used to drive my mother crazy when he’d buy himself a new Citizen watch or a new down coat a month before Christmas.

We’ve bought him multiple Ghosts: WWII calendars and books about football and airplanes. I bought him a Red Sox plastic tumbler with a lid, frames for current photos of the family, and bags of sugar free candy that we sneak to him when the nurses aren’t looking.

So here we are, 10 days to Christmas, and I am at a loss. Clothes are probably the best bet, as they get soiled pretty easily, and at least he will be able to see the gifts when the nurses dress him in the mornings.

I pick out some long-sleeve t-shirts and Patriots pajama bottoms, but somehow that just doesn’t seem like enough. So, I decide on a lightweight sweatshirt. But everything seems to be a hoody or says something stupid like The North Face Since 1968 in huge letters on the chest.

Finally, I find a snazzy zip-Adidas jacket, charcoal grey, with stripes up the arms. The stripes are bright yellow—the color of the Ford Ranger truck he used to drive. He always loved that color—he has a winter coat the same hue—a blazing yellow.

There’s only two of the jacket on the rack—one medium, and one large. I pull the large off to see if it might be big enough—Dad used to be a large, but these days we go for XL because of the few pounds he’s gained around his middle due to insulin, and from inactivity.

The large looks too small, and there’s no XL.

My eyes start tearing up. I put the coat back, and circle the racks of sweatshirts again. Maybe I can find something else that is close.


I think, “This is ridiculous. Why am I crying over a stupid sweatshirt?”

I watched the movie 50/50 last night. Great movie, but very sad watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt battle for his life at 27. He had only a 50 percent chance of making it. My dad’s chances of seeing another Christmas are probably 2 to 98. Could be better, but you never know.

I want to get him an Ultimate Track Jacket with classic Adidas stripes. I promise myself as I leave the store that I will find it somewhere, maybe online.

When my mother died, I gave the funeral home a purple velour warm-up suit to dress her in, the one with green zippers and trim. It was one of the few outfits left that still fit her and wasn’t ruined. It’s appropriate, I guess, that I want to dress my dad in Adidas. He has a race ahead of him, and if nothing else, he needs to be styling when he sees my mom.