It all started innocently enough. It was my Dad’s birthday month last year, and I came across an anonymous gag gift. Send your friend an eggplant with any message on it. Sure to delight, so funny, completely anonymous! I was sold. And I knew just who my intended target would be.
My dad is a warm but complicated dude. He has always been a social guy. I can recall on family vacations his mood was always happy, and he would chat it up with strangers so often my mom would have to pull him away from the conversations. I suspect he is more like me than he realizes though, in that he needs time to recharge, refuel. He also needs to always have a project to be working on. Installing a new fence, finishing a basement, working on their camper or boat up north…. Must. Have. Something. To. Do. I get it.
When he runs out of inspiration or activities, depression and anxiety set in. Dad has been a good friend to me in adulthood. I respect him greatly and there is literally nothing he cannot do. This man will teach himself to complete any task. When something is broken around my own home, my oldest son will always say, “It’s cool, Mom. Papa can fix it! He can fix anything.” Dad has also become more self aware and political in the past few years, which I think is great. His views on some topics have softened, making him more understanding, less judgemental, and more open to the different ways people choose to lead their lives. It has been cool to witness.
He is also still quirky and weird. He will NOT answer the phone on his birthday, and death terrifies him. He is not always willing to put in the time in order to keep relationships strong, with the exception of my mom. He and my mom love each other in a way that few will ever experience, and it is a beautiful marriage. He is a good Papa to my kids and my niece. He is just like his son and nothing like his son. He is not immune to fear, but he takes calculated risks anyway… opening his own restaurant or buying a boat and teaching himself everything about it.
I don’t think he or my mom were ever handed anything they did not earn themselves through hard work. Now that they are approaching 60, they are choosing to do what they want more often.They got a fourth dog and rescue tons of cats. They go to estate sales weekly and pop into their grandkids’ sports games more regularly. They are perfect together. I am lucky he is my father.
Not sure if I will be able to convey this through writing, but my father and I also have a weird relationship, even though it is firmly rooted. He is a funny dude, and I like to call him out on his shit occasionally. He absolutely loathes when I make fun of him, and if I were doing it maliciously, it would make me sort of an asshole. But. This guy sometimes needs reminders that his problems are first world problems. Occasionally he will whine about something repeatedly in social settings, and does not take stock of his audience. I have been known to poke fun at a story, and he is not always a fan.
So when I saw the eggplant in the mail idea, I immediately got on board. I was not thinking long term, just that it would be funny to send it. I had them enscribe, “Happy Birthday, ya’ filthy animal!” on the eggplant anonymously. Then, I waited. Nothing. No response, even after the package was confirmed to be delivered. Okay, he probably saw it, thought WTF, and pitched it. Challenge accepted, dude. I could not stop now. Taste for blood.
The next month I sent an anonymous potato. On one side, a picture of the gal from American Horror Story. The other, this quote: “ Today you ignore me for I am potato. One day I will be french fries and you will crave for me.” My sister in law (who lives in the basement apartment below my parents) cheerily snapped a picture of the potato, confirming its receipt. Still, I heard nothing.
I wish I could explain why the fascination of messing with my dad continued, but it did and I forged ahead. It was also fun, and since I normally cannot keep a secret; it was a challenge. The only people who knew about this ‘monthly surprise program’ I had going on were my siblings and spouse, and that was it. It was difficult for me to keep it on the down low, and I also to come up with new and exciting ideas every month. I committed in my mind to keeping it going for a year.
Over the next year I sent themed packages each month, either anonymously through the mail or dropped off in a familiar blue paisley packaging that I would leave by the front door or garage with “BH” labeled in weird handwriting. In the summer I sent a “coffee and poop” package, with a Starbucks gift card, poo travel mug, and poo spray. The next month was a handyman book, nails, and a Menards gift card. After that, a weather reporting book from the 1960s, with a weather rock for the garden. Fall came with some taffy apples, Woodmans gift card, and dollar store Halloween decor. He must have been annoyed in October when I sent him an anonymous Halloween glitter bomb card, but he never said anything. Stocking for Christmas. Car cleaning kit, scraper, and new towels in winter. Plastic toy fences and the epic “You can’t fence in our love” note when he put in a new fence for the dogs at their home. Sunglasses and sunscreen as spring got into full swing. It was really fun to put together the gifts, but quite exhausting as well. One time he sent a text asking if it was me and telling me to stop lying, but I never wavered. The last time he received a package, I dropped it off while they were out to dinner with my brother and sister-in-law. They pulled into the driveway, saw the package, and exclaimed “THEY WERE WITH US THE WHOLE TIME, IT CAN’T BE THEM!” Totally thought it was Brett and Kellie. HA! I am the incognito queen, respect this reign of (terror?) surprise!
In April of this year, I decided to reveal it was me with his birthday card. My mom was disappointed that the gifts would stop. My dad was like, “I knew it was you”. Um, no you didn’t. How about a little credit for my ingenuity and general ability to shut the hell up over the past year!? Pshhhh…
There was really not a huge point to me doing this other than 1-) It was super fun, 2-) I got to mess with my Dad frequently, and 3-) I liked the idea of sending something small and (most of the time) useful that would treat my hardworking Dad each month. Bonus points that I knew it would drive him nuts while giving myself something to work on for a whole year. Mission = successful.
Don’t look at me if you find a secret gift on your front step…. I have retired from the business of anonymous gift giving. It was a fun experiment but hard to keep up with. Just thought I would share a bit about a fun little journey with my Dad today. It made me feel closer to him when we were both working and so busy over the past year. We lived with my parents for a full decade as adults, and I miss our Saturday morning coffee gossip sessions. My Dad is one of my best friends even though he is a total wackadoo. I challenge you to try out my little experiment with a loved one, or for a good charity or something, for a few months. You will definitely get a kick out of it!