The Art of the Gift
December 1, 2005
The most overworked word in the gift-giving season
is the word “perfect.” Browse holiday gift ideas on
the Web and you get hundreds of familiar clichés
“Holidays are a perfect time to introduce the men
in your life to___” (Just fill in the blank with a
different for-males product.)
“The Holiday Survival Kit makes the perfect
holiday gift for college students.” (What we
really need is a Holiday Survival Kit for the
parents of college students.)
“Holiday Gift Guide helps shoppers find the
perfect gift for everyone.” (Something tells me
we won’t find anyone’s perfect gift here)
What makes a gift perfect? This is hard, right up
there with what is the meaning of life. Selecting
the perfect gift comes close to being an art form.
It can’t be a mechanical thing like pushing NORMAL
or even CHINA-CRYSTAL on the dishwasher. The perfect
gift might jump out at you from a store shelf but it
really won’t be perfect unless it says something
about him or her and something about you, too.
First, of course, the perfect gift must reflect the
relationship in an accurate way. You don’t give
something personal to a casual acquaintance. That
is, it has to be appropriate for the relationship.
Second, I think we agree that the perfect gift is
something the other person will enjoy. I know
somebody who gave a complicated 3D jigsaw puzzle to
an aging aunt whose mental faculties were waning.
That was not your perfect gift.
Third, the best gift will say something about who
you are. I heard about an engaged-to-be-married
young woman who gave her boyfriend a guided
sportfishing trip for two. Though not an angler
herself, she wanted her future husband to know she
supported his passion. The young man asked her to
join him on the fishing trip and she did, and that
was another gift. It told him she might even become
an angler, too
Giving of your time seems to be a factor in a lot of
good gifts. I’ve long admired the “Take Me Fishing”
ad campaign by the Recreational Boating & Fishing
Foundation. Those ads are powerful because, in a
flash, we remember that adults took time out of
their lives to share their boating or fishing
passion with us when we were children. They motivate
us to do the same for the next generations.
Sharing your passion is good, too. We have some
friends who gave their son a boat ride as a birthday
present. He invited three of his classmates
including a couple who would not have had that
opportunity. It seems like there are a lot of
families now without a dad and it was the dad, in
days gone by, who took the child fishing or boating.
When you can’t invest your own time, it’s okay to
give something that doubles their pleasure when they
do go out in the boat. I note, for example, that
this year West Marine is promoting wireless weather
forecasters, waterproof MP3 players and underwater
You can give a boating gift that can be enjoyed from
the comfort of home, say a boating calendar, a trip
planner or a gift certificate for a boating course.
How about a book? One of my favorite boating books
is Richard Bode’s classic, First You Have to Row
a Little Boat. Bode writes about what he learned
as a little boy from sailing and how those lessons
helped him navigate life.
Like one’s first bike, a first boat is the gift that
really delights. For the gunna-be, wanna-be boater
in your family or extended family, you could make it
happen with the gift of a canoe, a kayak or perhaps
a little skiff.
It’s not easy to find the perfect gift. After all,
the heart and the brain are at work here. You’ve got
to know something about the other person. You’ve got
to know something about yourself. Most importantly,
perhaps, you’ve got to know something about the both
You won’t know right away if you’ve given somebody
the perfect gift. But if over time that person
remembers it--let’s just say it was the gift of
boating--and still treasures it after many years,
then you’ll know. That’s the gift that keeps on
giving. Times two. That’s perfect.