Father’s Day Gift Guide (and why good ideas are hard to come by)

Father's DayI am typically a very good gift-giver. I love the challenge of the perfect gift and more often than not I hit the mark. Aunt Jenny’s gift is often a favorite, and I have a knack for surprising adults with something they had no idea they really wanted. So yeah, I’m good at it, and not the least bit humble about that either.

Except for . . . Father’s Day. Father’s Day always has me stumped. I don’t think I’ve ever done well on Father’s Day, except, possibly, the Diaper Dude diaper bag I gave Scott when pregnant with our first baby. But I think he mostly liked that because the Boudreau’s Butt Paste I put inside made him giggle. He never used the bag.

So why is Father’s Day such a consistent fail for me? (And if I can’t do it, why on earth am I attempting a gift guide for it?) I’ve given it some thought, and then, being the marketer that I am, gathered some data.


Quick, what is the most meaningful gift you’ve ever been given? (Not the best, the most meaningful.) It’s hard, right? Even for me, and I’m a pretty sentimental girl.

I’m totally fine with giving practical or even silly birthday and Christmas gifts, so why do I put this pressure on myself that Father’s Day must be emotionally pitch-perfect? I’ve long since given up on Mother’s Day hitting every sentimental note and just ask the boys to go with me to the greenhouse and Scott not to wince as I load up the wagons with flowers by the flat. The stuff is not meaningful, but the experience is a joy.

I put this question to a panel of real dads (okay, it was just two dads), and their answers were identical and reassuring.

My question: The best gifts are  _____________ (fill in the blank – practical? handmade? consumable?)

Answers: Practical wins.

I like practical, useful and consumable.


My question: Are there ever gift occasions where you expect something sentimental? If so, what occasions?

Answers: Varied

No. Not that it wouldn’t be appreciated, but not expected. 

Wedding anniversary

This is comforting. They don’t expect meaningful or sentimental and they like practical and useful. Phew.

Four generations of Thorson men


Even some of the best gift companies out there have trouble with Father’s Day. Gadgets, technology, cigar toys, sports stuff, and tools abound. How many all-in-one tools does a man need? And somehow I have trouble picturing my husband really getting into a backpack picnic basket for romantic wine and cheese hikes just because he likes an occasional glass of pinot noir. The Father’s Day stereotypes are rampant.

Turns out, some of them are true, at least according to my expert panel. Their answers surprised me a little.

My question: If you already have every conceivable tool, gadget, or gear that your hobby of choice requires, do you then want more gear or the next, best, newest replacement gadget?

Answers: In two words “Yes, but . . .”

I love getting gear and stuff but this is often tough because I get very particular about that stuff. I would rather pick it out myself. Gift card maybe to the store you would get said gear?

Yes, but it is likely very expensive so not very appropriate for Father’s Day. But gift cards to Menards would be great.

Okay, so they want gear and gadgets if related to their hobby of choice, but it is probably expensive, and they are picky about it. Yet apparently gift cards are good things to receive? That I never would have guessed!

But other answers also proved that there IS more that men like than sports, technology, and ties.

My question: The prevailing wisdom is that guys only want tools, technology, and gadgets. Is that really true?

Answers: No.

We also like books, and clothes, and decor, and food, etc. Often I have been given things like dishes for my man room, or a cool piece of decor like globes and stuff. I like getting things like that.

I like to receive clothing also.

Clothing, decor, dishes? That sounds like, well, me.

Pileup on daddy


I want to teach my sons how to choose thoughtful gifts and how to take joy in giving. I want them to really think about the person and what best suits them.

They want to play Wii. It’s a hard sell.

Consequently one of my other Father’s Day hangups is that I feel like the kids should make their gift or at least come up with the idea, go with me to the store, and then wrap it themselves in paper they decorated with adorable drawings of their dad. They should also make a card, compose a poem, and maybe even animate a slide show of photos representing all the reasons they love their dad. So we’d better get started. In February.

In reality this doesn’t happen, and then I feel like I’ve let my husband down. More likely I’ve let my own expectations down since he probably doesn’t really mind. See below:

My question: If kids make you something, do you secretly think “great, now I can’t get rid of this?”

Answers: Varied

Yes, most of the time this is true.

I like getting things the kids make for me, especially if they did it all on their own. I don’t have a problem getting rid of it later though.

Hooray, boys, back to the Wii!


I think I’ve identified my gift-giving hangups and gathered some information to help me through them. I’ve discovered:

  • Men don’t expect something sentimental, though if you’ve got a great idea, it will be appreciated.
  • They prefer practical and useful gifts.
  • They really do like gear, gadgets, technology, hobby paraphernalia, but they are particular about their gear. Make sure you know exactly what they want. Or, gift cards are actually good gifts!
  • They like many more things than advertisers give them credit for. Look beyond the grill tools for art, home decor, clothes, or books.
  • They don’t expect the kids to mold their likeness into modeling clay or make fishing tackle out of pipe cleaners, but they will enjoy receiving those things if your kids are into it. They will probably not keep said precious artifact for decades though.
  • My problems with Father’s Day are my issues, not his.

I already have this year’s Father’s Day gifts and I subscribed my husband to this blog so I can’t tell you about them. I will tell you one is silly and good for a few father-son laughs then forgotten, and one is gear-related and super-practical. I think I might have done okay this time. But if I haven’t, there’s always next year.

Kids playing water guns with Grandpa


This is supposed to be a gift guide, not a confessional, so we won’t leave you without a few ideas we like.

1. Breanne recommends a high-quality version of your dad or husband’s favorite drink (bourbon, espresso, etc.). Also, high quality food: meat to grill, cheeses, spices, or that new fancy jerky that’s really popular, etc.

2. Candy from his childhood (Sugar Sugar is Breanne’s favorite local sweetshop).

3. Something personalized. We both have ideas here. Breanne recommends a tasteful monogrammed robe, classic wooden drink stirrers with the family crest, or basically anything from L.L. Bean. If she can’t find something she likes standard, she buys a regular item and takes it to an embroiderer. Or how about an iPhone case with one of your own photos? I made one on Case Mate and was surprised that Scott actually wanted one too. (I thought it was too sentimental for a man; he continues to surprise me.) A phone case also seems like a terrific grandpa gift. You could also personalize labels and add them to a six pack of his favorite beer or give them by the sheet to the home brewer. On My Own Labels and Labels on the Fly you can customize a pre-made design, or if you are handy with your computer’s graphics program, order these blank sheets and run them through your printer.

4. Framed photo of old picture of you and him, or him and grandkids. Check out Breanne’s five great sites for photo gifts post to get started. (From Jen: For the Father’s Day after I got married I gave my dad a little photo of me at age 2 in a double frame with my wedding portrait. Probably my best Father’s Day gift ever; it is still on his nightstand.)

5. Clothing. Really? Both the experts mentioned it, so here are some ideas: great performance-grade but everyday wear from REI, Columbia, North Face, or Under Armour; screen-printed t-shirts with video games, soda, bands, and candy from their youth or cult movies they love. (Target actually has great line of these kinds of shirts and I am a huge fan of Busted Tees.) My husband actually likes cuff links and has a lot of them. Red Envelope has cool, unexpected styles; I’ve given him the monogrammed lockets (two boys, two cuffs!) and a set shaped like hockey rinks.

6. A day out with just you! It can be anything, really, but bonus points if the day out includes tickets to his favorite team or concert. (Hockey tickets and a babysitter for your husband; Broadway show at the Ordway and St. Paul Grill with your dad?) Or, how about a day with the grandkids without you? Seems counter-intuitive but I think my dad likes that better!

7. Silly stuff good for a laugh or a memory. It is sentimental, but your dad or husband doesn’t have to feel guilty about letting it go later. For example, my dad loves Monty Python. A few years ago I found a bunch of Monty Python toys. They are stupid for sure, but they evoke the memories of watching The Holy Grail over and over as a kid (my whole family can recite the dialogue). Or, if your husband is into Star Wars, try one of these iPhone cases (original image and parody) that are so awesome I want one too. (Actually there’s a lot of case awesomeness at the Etsy store Case Sera Sera.) I also gave my dad the Star Wars trilogy on VHS when it first came out as a set and he loved it. What man wouldn’t love his favorite series or TV show in a boxed set?

What do you think? Dads: Do we have it right? How would you answer these questions? Or, share your best Father’s Day idea with us!

Happy Father’s Day to our dads, husbands, and all the wonderful fathers we know!

The authors with our dadsThe authors with our dads. Note to selves: take more photos with our dads!
(Provides ready-made gift for next year too!)

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  1. I’m pretty confident my husband is not reading this blog so I’ll share my gift plans for this year. He has been talking about putting a picnic table in our front yard for a while so I’m going to get one. Then he can paint it with the kids on Sunday afternoon. I envision little hand prints on it as well.

    Last year, we got him a “Wood from the Hood” cribbage board, made from wood from our zip code. Personalized coffee mugs with photos of kids have been a hit too.

    • Thanks for posting these ideas April! I love the “Wood from the Hood” idea and we don’t have a cribbage board. (Not sure how that happened!) I’ll have to look that up.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Jessica says:

    You’ve saved me! I got some great ideas.
    I’m getting husband a monogrammed meat brander. He’s really into the perfect steak.

  3. I’m pretty sure man #1 is our brother, Mike, based on his answers. Yes?

    • He was one of the respondents, but I alternated their answers. Cuz I’m tricky like that. 🙂

  4. I am reading the book by John Gray. If you think Mars when you are looking for gift ideas you won’t go wrong. For Venus types, think opposite and you won’t go wrong.


  1. […] year we thought long and hard about Father’s Day and why it is a gift-giving challenge. We did original research with dads (okay, two) and generated a lot of great ideas. Those are all […]