“Pride goeth before destruction; and haughtiness before a fall” (Proverbs, 16:18, King James’ Bible). While there is a wealth of biblical stories that illustrate this point, none knows this better than a dad bearing presents.
I was in Istanbul for a few days on work, a city of many struggles. It had been prophesied that on the last day, a tour would reveal the city to us; and yea it did. While we savoured the sights of various sites, my sore eyes searched out that golden calf of a parent away: where shall I find presents for these children?
I am a notoriously bad present buyer. General presents are taken in the spirit in which they are given: well, he means well. Big-deal presents are always epic fails. In my time, I have handed over counterfeit perfume (which I thought was real, but just really cheap) that smelled like a mix of watered-down aftershave and TCP; a chandelier and accompanying mini-chandeliers to be worn about the neck and ears; books and CDs which I liked (really, I was attempting to gift my taste in music and literature); clothes and shoes and things that were too big, too small, too tacky or too ugly ever to be worn. It is a road to hell, paved with good intentions, but poor purchasing decisions.
I cannot do material goods. So, as I considered these presents I wanted to buy, I was cautious of false idols. Of those things that might seem like a good idea at the time; but which turn out to be crap thrown on the pile of other crap that I have proffered in my time.
I mean no offense to the eyes nor the spirit of the city; but much which I saw was kind of tacky. In the wisdom of our IT Solomon, “You’d love to bring something back… but I don’t know if I want this tacky crap in the house…” I searched high and low and long (a long, long way), but no hope did strike my eye; no gifts came forth that could be suitable for the deities of my household. I started sweating, thinking that I was the lamb that would be sacrificed on my return home.
We went to the Spice Market. In one stall, there were small purses in various colours and hues. I picked up a couple; and asked for price. In the midst of crowds streaming around, and shopkeepers and stall men calling from everywhere to everywhere else, the overbearing man drew me into his shop, where my wallet could not remain untapped for its (very small) bounty of currency.
“O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day” (Daniel, 9:17).
In my confusion, I forgot I was buying a bag for my children; I started bidding on a larger bag, presumably for my wife. The truth was my brain was broken and I’m too damn stubborn to just admit that I don’t want your god damn ugly bag. His brain was working perfectly well and he was too damn stubborn to just let me go. Our tour guide told us to haggle; but cautioned against going for half price or some ridiculous price point.
I thought: maybe if I go half price, he’ll throw me out. He didn’t. Then I tried to leave, the least successful attempt I’ve ever made to leave anywhere; but the most successful tactic I’ve ever made in haggling. I was both a camel trying to walk through the eye of a needle trying in my attempts to leave this shop, and a rich man trying to enter the kingdom of heaven (right then, heaven was not being in the hell of that conversation). We ended up meeting half way, he smiling as I walked from the shop, completely dejected with an ugly bag that not even a mother could love (and a wife certainly could not want) and nothing for the children. There would be no mercy for me forever that much was sure.
I kept walking. One must go on. “We know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3)
Then I saw hats. In among fabric and Turkish delight and things. In a variety of colours and styles; not just baseball hats or those crappy messages (although, those too), but princess hats. A couple of them, in pink; they had little gold things hanging from them and a long veil down the back; all very reminiscent of I Dream of Genie. In retrospect, the fashion choices of a half-naked love slave, under the control of an air force captain is not the best place to start buying a gift for a one year old and a three year old; but nonetheless I persevered. This time I knew I played it right. The kids would love these. For once, I would bask in their love of purchased, shiny things. At last I would profit from the emotional saleability of children’s hearts. In my surety and hubris, I even haggled quite well.
Every one of my colleagues that I saw, I told them about these hats. I kept telling them. Whether they had children or not; I told them and demanded they agree that I was a great father. More: a great present buyer. I thought they turned green with envy at my present buying skill; but no, it was the nauseating manner of my haughty boasts. I could not wait for the children to see them. I would be the best dad ever. Best. Dad. Ever.
When I finally got home; the children were on a short holiday with their grandparents. I got in early and my wife was at work. I slept for a while. My wife came home. I showed her the hats. Even she was excited. She, the queen of present buyers; both in quality and quantity. She was excited before she even saw the bag that was very nearly her present; indeed this despite the fact that she has received a couple of presents from me now and has very well managed expectations in that regard. I felt electric all next day in work; wondering about the look on their faces when they saw their presents.
When I got home, there was a great welcome. They ran up for hugs and kisses and to tell me all the news. I told my wife “Well, this is even better than them opening their presents”. But this was bullshit. I was seeking to profit from their happiness in receiving such gifts. One should always beware false profits. And such a lie as I told does not go unpunished. Indeed, Leviticus (6: 4-5) tells us “…because he hath sinned, and is guilty, he shall restore…all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.” I had lied about my own feelings in the face of children’s love. And I was to pay dearly. I would restore the truth of those feelings and add one fifth parts, just as it is written.
We moved the party into the kitchen. I built up the mystery of the presents I had bought. Then I produced them and awaited my praise.
“Daddy, do you have another present for me?” asks Sunshine. In my panic, I hand over the bag. She runs to her mother. “Mummy, I can’t use this bag, my hands are way too small for it!” Starlight simply took her hat off her head, shaking it. Without language she still seemed to say “Is this the best you can do?” She went off to bed soon enough, tired as she was after her few days with her grandparents. I kept Sunshine up; getting her to dress up in all her princess clothes to try on her princess hat with them. “But, you don’t wear a hat with these!” she said. “You wear a crown”, with each costume, she held up a crown that went it. I got ratty, wondering why she couldn’t just pretend she liked the god damn thing. But then, she is too stubborn for such sensitivities.
There was no getting around this. My wife even tried to get Sunshine to wear the hat so I would see her wearing it. She was obviously trying to spare my feelings. But when it’s so obvious, it only makes things worse. I don’t know what she said, but Sunshine had it at one point; and tried to discard it secretly, as if I should not know she was doing that. From the preceding minutes and hours, I know such tact is not inherent in my child. I had to accept it. My present buying wasn’t simply an epic fail. It was of biblical proportions.