The problem was that my dad was famous for having the most bizarre and misguided taste when it came to gifts--the kind that left the receiver scratching his or her head, raising an eyebrow and smiling crookedly in meek thanks.
Before we'd open a gift my dad had specifically chosen, my mom would stand behind him and wave her hands (so that he couldn't see) in an "it wasn't me" kind of motion. She'd mouth "I'm sorry," as she shook her head and pointed to my dad, who sat before us with the biggest, happiest and most expectant eyes. None of us were ever willing to let the wind out of his pleased-with-himself sails, so we'd feign adoration for whatever was inside the box, which was usually something that no grade schooler or teenager would be caught dead with or wearing.
I remember that my parents traveled to Scotland one summer. When they returned from their trip, I waited on tip toes as my mom unpacked their suitcase and revealed the souvenirs they'd brought back for us. My sisters unwrapped cool plaid scarves and carved ornamental wooden boxes. My package was bigger and squishier than the rest. I tore off the paper to discover an oversize blinding lime green t-shirt with an enormous metallic gold camel surrounded by metallic gold four-leaf clovers at its center. My dad had the hugest smile on his face as I opened it, and my mom proceeded to tell me with a sympathetic look that he said he just had to get it for me because he saw it and instantly thought of me.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of the evening wondering why my dad would think I was obnoxious, loud, tacky and free of any style whatsoever. My mother explained that his choice was more reflective of the fact that he thought I was strong, imaginative and vibrant. I didn't believe her. I was sure my dad hated me.
Since I couldn't hop a flight to Scotland and return the atrocity, I buried it deep in my room after pretending to like it. I just wanted to forget the whole incident and hope that my dad's impression of me would improve over time.
A few months later, my grandmother came to visit. She walked through the front door to greet us wearing a lime green t-shirt with a metallic gold camel and clovers. My mother had unearthed the Scotland shirt from the depths of my room and my psyche and had gifted it to her mother. My suddenly fancy and flashy granny paired the eyesore--which hit her four-foot-seven frame at about mid-thigh--with a pair of navy polyester slacks. It was wildly perfect for her, and I became all the more devastated and horrified that my dad would choose a shirt for me that my grandma was so proudly wearing a la a geriatric peacock.
I was upset with my mom for giving the shirt to my grandma because I didn't want to hurt my dad's feelings. She waved me off and said he'd never notice or remember. He never said a word. But since the top was pretty difficult not to notice and not very easy to forget, I'm convinced that he simply pretended not to notice.
I've certainly never forgotten that shirt. And since then, I've a serious and appropriate aversion to lime green, metallic gold and camels. I mean, who thought of that and why? What's wrong with Scottish people?
But I'm happy to report that my dad has come a long way since then. He chose adorable jeans and a sweet butterfly dress for Sabine that she really loves. Yes, his previous gift choices left something to be desired--to say the least. But now that I'm an adult, I wouldn't change a single one of those bad gifts or the fact that he insisted on thoughtfulness and choosing them all by his well-intentioned, misguided, loving self.