Over the years, the Father's Day gift has become synonymous with the impersonal and the uninspiring -- the tie, the socks, the bottle of cheap aftershave to add to the unopened collection maturing beneath the bathroom sink. So come June, every American with a father who wants to do something different traipses through the mall and struggles to come up with a new answer to the annual question: What can I get my dad for Father's Day that is not a tie, nor socks, nor aftershave?
Well, why not give him a healthy Father's Day gift this year? What about something that might make him feel better, either physically or mentally?
Now, this isn't as dreary as it might sound. We're not talking about a home defibrillator, a year's supply of cholesterol-lowering statins, or a subscription to the Organic Sprout of the Month Club. A healthy gift doesn't have to be something that produces a feeble smile from your dad -- and a frantic hope that you'll give him the receipt so he can return it the next day.
Plenty of Father's Day gifts can be fun but also encourage a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few ideas.
Obviously, getting some physical activity is good for people of any age, so use your Father's Day gift to encourage your dad to get moving. Even if he's fallen out of the habit of exercising regularly, a new piece of equipment might be just the thing to inspire your father to start up again.
Think about getting him back onto the tennis court with a new racket or onto the golf course with a new set of clubs. Something as simple as a new basketball hoop in the driveway might make him almost as happy now as it did when he was 10. Marcus J. Goldman, MD, recommends a pitch-back net for guys who want to do some practice in the backyard.
But what if your dad isn't quite the sporty type and you still want to encourage him to get some exercise?
"Think about giving your dad a few sessions at the gym with a personal trainer," says Armin Brott, author of numerous books about fatherhood including, "The New Father: a Dad's Guide to the First Year" and "Father for Life". A trainer might help your father learn about the benefits of fitness, and perhaps help him figure out a kind of exercise that he'll enjoy. Or if your dad is more of a homebody and reluctant to trek to the fitness club -- and you've got some siblings willing to chip in -- think about fitting up his basement with some new equipment, like a stationary bike or treadmill.
An adjustable workout bench can also be a great Father's Day gift, and they are not only for guys keen on going shirtless at the beach. Strength training helps people stay healthy, especially as they get older. It allows seniors to stay more mobile and independent, and their increased agility reduces the risk of dangerous falls.
Then at the other end of the spectrum, we have new dads, who often find that the demands of fatherhood derail their longstanding exercise regimen. So think about some gifts that might allow a new father to exercise with his kids. While toddlers are pretty hopeless as squash partners, they may not mind being passengers. So Brott suggests that a jogging stroller is a great way for fathers to get back into shape while keeping an eye on their offspring. Similarly, Goldman, the author of "The Joy of Fatherhood: The First Twelve Months," recommends a bicycle with a child carrier; either a seat or a trailer.
A lot of guys are seasonal cooks. While they don't have much interest in the oven and the stove, they love making dinner as soon as they can lug the grill out of the garage. Think about making your dad happy with some barbecuing accessories as a Father's Day gift. But get your dad to think of his grill as something more than an assembly line for hotdogs, hamburgers, and other foods with dubious health benefits.
For instance, think about getting your dad a vegetable tray or basket. These can be placed right on the grill along with other foods and the holes are small enough that sliced peppers and mushrooms won't fall through to be incinerated by the charcoal. Or think about getting a fish basket -- which securely holds a whole fish for grilling -- or a special spatula designed to flip fish fillets often called a fish turner. Another option would be a nice set of skewers for shrimp and vegetable shish kebabs. Goldman also recommends a healthy cookbook as a Father's Day gift -- perhaps one focused on grilling -- to inspire your dad.
Making Him Relax
Many fathers seem to have an ingrained inability to take it easy. They just can't take a break. But as any doctor will tell, relaxation is important, both for your physical and mental health. So think about a Father's Day gift that will force your dad to have some fun and take some time off.
"A gift certificate for a massage is a good way to get someone to recuperate physically," Brott tells WebMD.
Of course, not everyone is open to being kneaded by a stranger. If your dad's sheepish about that sort of thing, think about another traditional way of relaxing: a hammock hung up in your dad's backyard. If you're feeling generous, throw in a good book for him to read while lying in it.
If your dad's the type who never wants to take a vacation, force the issue. Give him a weekend away with his spouse or a buddy and make him do it. Or you could actually pick your dad up during his lunch break at work and drive off for an afternoon of fishing or hiking -- having cleared the idea with your dad's boss beforehand of course, Schimmelfing says.
If you're in the mood to drop some cash on your father, think about getting a massage chair. Despite what you might think, they are actually for sale and not just for trying out when killing time at the mall.
Gadgets, and Odds and Ends
"If your dad's already a weekend athlete, an MP3 player can be a great thing," says Brott. It may not seem like a Father's Day gift that obviously encourages fitness, but MP3 players are ideal for exercising (as anyone who has tried to work out with a stuttering, skipping CD player can tell you). They're not hard to use, as long as your father isn't phobic of technology. Brott also recommends getting your dad a subscription or a gift certificate to iTunes or another web site where he can download music.
If your father travels a lot, think of some things that will help him live more comfortably on the road. For instance, consider a sound machine. Many are sold as combination travel alarm clocks that will allow your dad to fall asleep each night to soothing digitally recorded wind chimes or waterfalls, no matter what godforsaken motel he's staying in. Along similar lines, think about a sleep mask or slippers as a Father's Day gift -- things that can make him feel calm or at home when he isn't.
Many older men wind up needing to wear glasses permanently. An unfortunate side effect is that many stop bothering with sunglasses, since they just can't see well with their old pair anymore. So to make bright summer days easier on your dad -- and to protect his eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays -- treat him to the pair of prescription sunglasses that he'd never buy himself.
As men get older, some come to feel like that they've kept important aspects of their personality secret from everyone, says Reed Schimmelfing, MSW, a therapist practicing in Northampton, Mass.
"A lot of guys just have never been comfortable talking about anything deeper than baseball," says Schimmelfing, who specializes in treating men and boys. "But once they reach a certain age, they start wanting to express some of these things they've kept hidden." So Schimmelfing suggests that an ideal Father's Day gift could be a blank book or journal. Ask your dad to fill it.
Spending Time Together
Brott and Schimmelfing both urge people to think outside of the usual Father's Day mind-set. You don't have to follow the herd of early June shoppers to the mall. Instead, spending some time with your dad could be the best and healthiest gift you could give.
"Maybe this sounds like I'm trying to be cheap," says Brott, "but I think it's nice to give a gift that's something you can do together, rather than a gift that's just for him. It stresses the connection between a father and his child, which is what Father's Day is supposed to be about."
"Buy him a ticket to a special event, like a baseball game or a Bruce Springsteen concert," says Rob Okun, a psychotherapist and co-director of the 22-year-old Men's Resource Center in Amherst, Mass. But make sure you take care of the details. "He shouldn't have to drive, park, or figure anything out," Okun says.
It doesn't have to be an exciting night out. Something simple might work equally well. Just do something that your dad likes doing.
"Even if gardening isn't your favorite thing in the world, offer to go plant annuals in the garden, or do some weeding with him," says Schimmelfing. "Or offer to do the edging with the mower that the lawn service doesn't do well enough to your father's liking."
"He might really enjoy something as easy as a weekly or monthly walk around the lake or the park, or a hike in the mountains," says Brott.
Schimmelfing stresses that while it is simple, the gift of some time may be much more meaningful than the usual Father's Day gift.
"Gifts that really matter are gifts of yourself rather than stuff," says Schimmelfing. "After a few years, we don't remember who gave us a particular sweater or when or why. But if you and your dad go do something special together on Father's Day -- a road trip, or just some time together -- you'll both remember it for a long time."