Christmas Consumers

By Kellyn Brown

While struggling to find a perfect gift for my dad, I stumbled upon the water-powered “dolphin jet pack” built by France-based Zapata Racing. It was far out of my price range and weird imagining my father strapped to this machine and hovering above the water. But it was desperation time.

A statue of a Hawkeye (he’s an Iowa native) seemed silly, since his office is already filled with an array of office art I purchased for him at previous Christmases. He really only needs so many impractical gifts that remind him of me. So I scoured stores and online retailers looking for something he will really use, something that he really wants.

But there was nothing there. What would he do with a designer clock that displays time in some new clever way? Another impractical gift for a practical man.

The problem with parents, if you can call it a problem, is they never ask for anything. They never want anything. They, mostly, are simply looking forward to hosting their families for the holidays. I often wonder what happened to the gifts my siblings and I gave them in previous years.

There are gaudy candleholders, poorly fitting slippers and cheap perfumes. I suspect none of them were put to good use since they somehow disappeared soon after Christmas. But when mom or dad opened them they certainly acted liked they hit the jackpot.

“It’s beautiful.”

“I needed one of these.”

“Oh my gosh, these match the carpet.”

All this was an exaggeration, of course, an attempt by mom and dad to make their hapless kids feel good. But now all their kids are adults, some of whom have kids of their own, so their expectations should be a little higher. But they’re not. And they’re also not any more helpful with providing suggestions.

So I browsed the Sharper Image catalogue. You know, the one most often found tucked in the back of the airplane seat in front of you that is filled with hundreds of items you never knew you needed.

There were stainless steel wallets, golf club drink dispensers and rechargeable hand warmers. I’m sure if I bought my dad any of these he would me tell how much he needed it. “This is perfect,” he’d say, and then it would disappear.

You see, my parents are content. They’re outside the 18-to-49 age bracket that advertisers covet, which includes those of us who are adamant that we need an iPad to go along with our iPhone and iMac. Those of us who are always looking for something new, because it must be better, even if it is just a modified blanket with a silly name: Snuggie.

Mom and dad are still consumers, but they just don’t spend their time longing after products they don’t have. And explaining to them the difficulty of buying either of them a gift for Christmas is met with a shrug. So the search continues.

My colleague sent me a list of wonderful ideas. On it are whiskey ice cube stones, a self-sustaining ecosphere and suit pajamas. None of those are on my dad’s Christmas list because he doesn’t have one. He and my mom always use the Mariah Carey “All I Want for Christmas is You” line. Except, unlike Carey, I think they mean it.

To them, this holiday is really about their family and the stories we tell at the dinner table. It’s about their home filled with the noise and obnoxiousness of all their kids. It’s about mom wearing a Santa hat and laughing until she cries. That’s their present and apparently none of us kids are going to be able to top it with a dolphin jet pack. Even if that jet pack is backed with 100 horsepower.

Merry Christmas.

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