A Gift Twice Given


My dad was a sentimental guy. Despite his outward demeanor of unflappable cool and impenetrable sarcasm, he was a big softy on the inside.

One way this manifested itself was in his preservation of gifts that people gave to him and gifts he gave to others. He was a great gift-giver – always including a note that spoke directly to the reason why he gave this person that particular item. As I was packing books for my most recent move, I came across a book he had given me years ago – a book that, on the inside cover, he scrawled a note written in the voice of the author, along with the date and why he gave it to me. I haven’t counted, but I’d bet that there are at least 50 more books in my collection with Dad-penned notes gracing the inside cover.

The same went for Christmas mornings growing up. My sisters and I would clamber downstairs, eager to open gifts, and we’d find a note from Santa – a Santa whose handwriting looked suspiciously like my dad’s unmistakable script – detailing the troubles and travails of his one night of work a year. They were always funny – with many jokes that flew over our youthful heads, I’m now sure – written as much for him as for they were for us. Similarly, the individual gifts would also have gift-specific notes attached – again, notes that addressed the “why.” WHY this gift was given and WHY it was the perfect one.

It was the same with gifts people gave him – he always penned a quick note to himself that detailed who it was from, when he received it and any other salient information he could think of. And then, inevitably, that gift would go into one of his “treasure drawers,” as I called them growing up – a veritable trove of fascinating odds and ends that, in total, make up my dad over the years. Commemorative golf balls, unopened cigars and Zippo lighters, other trinkets that represented to him times, places and, most importantly, people.

I was reminded of this habit very recently when looking through items we had collected to display at his memorial service. In the days following my dad’s death, we dragged out not only album after album of photos, but we also went through his treasure drawers, looking for items that meant something to him and told a story snippet of a complex man’s life. We found our favorites and dutifully displayed them, remembering (sometimes with the help of his notes), the chapter in our dad’s life that they represented.

One of the items I came across then – and then came across just days ago – was a faux-distressed motorcycle shop sign my wife and I had given him for his 60th birthday. Except I didn’t remember giving it to him, because his 60th birthday was two weeks before our wedding and we gave it to him the day after he arrived in Ojai following the first leg of his solo cross-country trip.


That is, I didn’t remember giving it to him until I turned it over and saw the note that he wrote on the back of it. Immediately, a gift I had given to him – a gift selected in haste, no doubt, but a timely gift whose method of meaning was drawn straight from the Mark Derkin school of gift-giving – became a gift he gave, albeit posthumously, back to me.

Thanks for the note, Dad. And for the gift.

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