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The Gift Guide for the Dad Who Says He Wants Nothing But Definitely Doesn’t Mean It

Don’t tell us, you need a gift for a father who views asking his kids for physical items as a weakness but is unable to express this because he’s never been to therapy? We’ve got you covered

The fathers who say they want nothing for the holidays may mean it — they surely see themselves as men of their word. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be recognized. Or better put, they want you to intrinsically understand that they want to be recognized without having to tell you that they want to be recognized — an implied surprise as opposed to a demand, which is supposed to result in good holiday cheer for all involved. 

This, though, means you also must intuit what they’re gonna want. There are, of course, the stereotypical dad gifts (ties, whiskey, anything from Home Depot). And then there are the gifts that everyone gets him based on his best-known hobbies (golf balls, more whiskey, anything bearing the logo of his favorite sports team). But if you’re gonna go to the trouble of getting the man who says he wants nothing, something, you can do better than that.

Here’s how much better per these suggestions from the MEL staff…

National Parks Pass 

There are many Types of Dads, but if yours falls somewhere in the intersection between Outdoorsy Dad and Frugal Father, he’ll love a National Parks Pass. For only $80, your old man can point at eagles in almost any national park in the country — for a full year — and the pass covers up to four other adults if they’re in the same car. It also covers RVs and motorhomes, as well as people traveling together on separate motorcycles. 

Considering that one-time park entrance fees can cost anywhere from $20 and $35 per vehicle — and that annual passes are honored at over 2,000 sites managed by the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — it’s safe to say it’s a screamin’ deal. Seniors over 62 get an even bigger discount — an annual pass for silver foxes is just $20. You can buy them online or at the entrance station to any park. 

Let me just illustrate how much dads love these things: I bought one of these for my boyfriend’s father a few Christmases ago, but he already had one. He was so tickled at the prospect of saving tens of dollars in park entrance fees that he treated himself to an annual pass months earlier, and had already used it several times. That said, I got points for knowing exactly what he wanted, which was cool. I know you, bro! I see you! I patted myself on the head approvingly about it in private. — Isabelle Kohn, Senior Editor

New Luggage 

My folks are transitioning into retirement, and before the pandemic, they were traveling quite a bit — to Portugal, Ireland, all these beautiful places they’d wanted to see forever. I suspect they undertook this wondrous travel with beat-up suitcases they bought in the early 1990s. 

Nothing wrong with being thrifty (how do you think they saved up for those trips!), but for the dad who wants to see the world, a luggage upgrade could be the ultimate practical present. He already wants to get to the airport three hours before boarding, so imagine how early he’ll be to show off a smart carry-on or duffel bag from Monos. And their Metro Sling is the tactical take on the fanny pack that can simplify any vacation.

By the way, have you noticed that dads love the challenge of packing as efficiently as possible? It’s like they’re playing Tetris. The luggage brand BAGAIL sells a set of packing cubes for organizing and compressing the stuff in your suitcase, the closest thing to having an actual set of drawers in there. Bet you even the TSA will be impressed. — Miles Klee, Staff Writer   

Body Moisturizer 

During the two years I worked at Lush, a high-street cosmetics store, I learned a valuable lesson: Even the burliest bros secretly love so-called “girly” shit. These DL dudes would sidle up to me surreptitiously, lowering their voices to quietly ask which products were best for their girlfriends. Within minutes, they’d be telling me about their oily T-zones and begging me to test out multicolored bath bombs.

My mom’s boyfriend is a great example. He might be a bald-headed, tatted-up builder, but for the last few years he’s been sneaking huge dollops of my mom’s glittery, candy-pink Lush Snow Fairy Shower Gel. Like an iridescent chunk of unicorn poop, the scent is an homage to those extra-sweet, tooth-breaking hard candies –– and my mom’s buff boyfriend still can’t get enough. So this year, we’re buying him a bottle of his own.

He might not admit it –– he might not even know it yet –– but the dad who wants nothing probably can’t resist a homemade pamper hamper, either. Fresh, citrusy body scrubs are great for active guys desperate to sand away the day’s dirt, whereas Lush’s Kalamazoo Beard Wash is a soft, pineapple-scented way to ease even the most masculine dudes into skincare. The same goes for the aforementioned crazy, colorful bath bombs, and a luxurious bath soak that’s sure to ease his aching muscles.

Choose well enough, and the dad who wants nothing could well be sneaking into his local cosmetics store to replenish his stash long after Santa has emptied his sack. — Jake Hall, Contributing Writer

Baoding Balls 

Only one gift can match the modesty of a dad who says he doesn’t want anything for the holidays — smooth, metal, harmonic balls. Small enough to hold in one hand, Baoding balls, also referred to as Chinese meditation balls, are the kind of gift that may not make a splash on day one, but six months down the line, when all those other gifts have been shoved in the back of the closet, they’ll definitely shine (quite literally). If nothing else, their signature ding-a-ling chime is sure to get him. 

If you’ve never played with Baoding balls, you won’t understand what I’m talking about. But if you have, you know that the tactile coolness against a sweaty palm is so subtle that it’s euphoric. 

The true beauty of Baoding balls, though, is that they take up so little space that they’re never going to be packed away like a sweater or a tie. Which means that they’re within reach year-round and that when your dad does glimpse or touch them, he’ll be thinking about you and how much you thought of him even when he couldn’t think of himself. And well, he’ll be proud as hell. — Andrew Fiouzi, Staff Writer

Classic Movie Subscription 

I’m fairly certain that when dad says he wants “nothing,” it’s code for “nothing that will become another piece of clutter.” True story, after a couple of years, my dad told me I didn’t have to keep renewing his gift New Yorker subscription every Father’s Day, since the magazines were piling up all around the house. Although I wonder if my mom, a meticulously neat person, was pressuring him to give up the periodical for that very reason. Hmm!

That’s why, at any rate, the gift that doesn’t take up space is always a wise call. And a good streaming film service will scratch the same high-culture itch as reading refined cartoons on glossy paper. The Criterion Channel subscription, which includes a library of a thousand classics and contemporary gems, runs you $99.99 for a year but can be gifted in installments as short as one month. On the budget side, if your dad has a library card, you can check to see if he’s eligible for a free account with Kanopy, which curates many other acclaimed movies from every era — then set it up for him and pick out something to watch together.

Got an iPad dad? Show him how to get Turner Classic Movies on there so he can stream his old favorites wherever he happens to be sitting. (Insert toilet joke here.) Watch TCM is an app designed for the tablet and free to anyone who gets the channel with their cable or satellite packages, so odds are, he’s already paid for it. This way, next time he flies, he’s not at the mercy of the airline’s crummy entertainment menu. Or asking you what Squid Game is. — Miles Klee, Staff Writer

Geek Squad Subscription 

Some dads pride themselves on being tech-savvy. But if you have a dad like me, he doesn’t want to think about that stuff: He just wants his shit to work when he turns it on. And if it’s not working, he wants someone to fix it for him. He doesn’t have the time or patience to figure any of that out — he’s a busy man. That’s why I can’t recommend Geek Squad highly enough. You remember the commercials:

The appeal of Geek Squad was obvious: They’re a bunch of folks on call who will just zip over to your place and take care of your technology issues. Best Buy recently announced a name change, it’s now called Totaltech, but the idea is still basically the same. The membership might seem a little pricey — it’s $199.99 a year — but beyond all the additional perks that come with it, there’s the relief that you (and he) will feel over not having to figure out, say, why his TV won’t work. Totaltech will handle everything — not just stuff that you bought at Best Buy — and at least in my experience, the people who work there are really helpful. 

Plus, a membership has two other advantages that Best Buy doesn’t necessarily advertise. My sister and I don’t live close to my parents, so when they have tech issues, it’s incredibly frustrating, on both ends of the phone, to try to talk through a solution during a call. (You can’t see what they’re describing, they can’t understand the jargon you’re saying.) Totaltech eliminates those headaches. Also, as parents get older, there can be a tendency for them to believe they simply can’t figure out what’s wrong with their computer or modem — that they’re too old or dumb — and it can leave them feeling helpless. That’s an awful feeling, but Totaltech can help with that, too. 

Maybe they won’t drive over to their place in a cute little car, but they deal with these issues all the time — they’re available 24 hours a day by phone or online — and so nothing your dad did to screw up the remote will throw them. It’s a gift for both him and you. — Tim Grierson, Contributing Writer


Two recent gifts I’ve given my dad, a man whose gifting requests often include nonsense like “having the family all together,” are plants. Not just any plants, mind you — these are plants with some sort of utility. The first one I gifted him was an orange tree. To that end, there are a number of online retailers that offer a litany of “indoor fruit trees” like pears, limes, kumquats and mandarins. Some of them even give you the option of choosing how far along you want the tree to be — from a little sprout to a tree that’s a year away from producing fruit. 

Despite the fact that my dad lives in Wisconsin, his orange tree has thrived, and seems about a year away from producing actual oranges, which delights him to no end. Oranges! In Wisconsin! Can you imagine?!?! 

If a whole tree feels a bit overboard, the second plant-based gift I’ve given him is an indoor microgreen growing kit. He’s been on something of a health kick lately, and nothing seems healthier than purported “superfood” microgreens like wheatgrass, red cabbage, broccoli and mustard sprouts. They take up much less counter space than a lemon tree, and they’re easier to manage too. Most kits include a little dish in which you lay a pad-type thing that has the seeds in it. Then all the old man has to do is pour water in there, wait a few days and enjoy the validating flavor and nutrition of healthy self-fulfillment. — Quinn Myers, Staff Writer

Good Coffee 

My dad is a simple guy. He enjoys life’s little things, like a decent bagel and a good cup of coffee. In fact, he’s had the same coffee maker since the 1980s, a vintage Braun Aromaster. Every morning, he fires up that bad boy and brews a fragrant carafe of coffee, relishing in its flavor as he sips from one of the million mugs I’ve bought him over the years. Usually, he does this while checking the ESPN homepage or perusing guitar forums, both of which seem to necessitate a light dose of caffeine. Bonus points if you bring him a bagel. 

His favorite coffee comes from Kenya (which he adorably pronounces “keen-ya”). Intelligentsia sells one of his favorite Kenyan brews — it’s bold and lively, with notes of red grape, plum and orange. He also loves anything from Joshua Tree Coffee Company, a small outfit in the Mojave Desert that makes some of the best-tasting coffee I’ve ever had. Lots of coffee is texturally thin and sort of acidic, but this stuff is smooth as silk. It has presence without bite, and always brings the faintest memory of chocolate and caramel to mind. I try to make some whenever I go to his house, and he’s never upset when I re-up his supply. Try their espresso or their First Roast — if your dad likes coffee as much as mine does, it’ll be a welcome surprise. — Isabelle Kohn, Senior Editor

Used Books 

Before he got sober, my dad never gave me presents for the holidays or my birthday. But one of the many joys I’ve discovered in his sobriety is that he’s actually an excellent gift-giver. Rather than buy one expensive object, he seems to spend months curating an assortment of smaller items bearing no central theme other than “this made me think of you,” which is ultimately the best gift theme of all. 

Perhaps now it’s a bit late to apply such an approach, but one easier way of doing so on shorter notice is to focus strictly on books. The last two years, my dad has given me an assortment of used books he’s found, many of which aren’t even intended to be read — e.g., old pulpy paperbacks he picked just for the cover or chamber-music pamphlets written in Latin. 

You can secure a stack of such titles by browsing a physical book store, but if you’re not eager to leave the house, nearly every book on the planet can be found online. Try browsing through Amazon’s Used Books or Powell’s as if you were shopping in-person, clicking around without any particular intention, going wherever your eyes draw you. Wrap your ensuing bounty in a ribbon, and you’ve got a thoughtful, affordable, unique gift. — Magdalene Taylor, Staff Writer

Sports Car Rental 

Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, my dad and I would take a few hours on a lazy weekend to go to the nearest luxury car dealership. There, we would pick out a silly-fast coupe or convertible — the kind that my mom would probably roll her eyes at — and take it for a test drive. 

I got a little taste of everything from BMW Z3s to Porsche Panameras over the years, and I still recall the giddy feeling in my stomach as my dad hammered the gas and rocketed the car down a highway road. I’m sure we spooked some car salesmen, but most of the time, they seemed to smile just as wide as me. 

My dad loved driving roadsters as a younger man, but family life and running a business meant his car diet was whittled to minivans and, eventually, a used Lexus SUV. So I can’t think of a better gift to spark that energy again than by renting an impractical sports car, just for a day or two, for a long drive to a beautiful destination. 

There are rental companies that’ll loan you everything from a basic Corvette to a full-blown Ferrari hypercar, but one of the most popular new services is Turo, which offers a network of privately owned cars that you can borrow, often for an affordable rate. Whatever you choose, there’s nothing like a fast, beautiful car to make dad feel a jolt of adrenaline again. Eddie Kim, Staff Writer


For starters, that much-touted factory in Germany — that must provide a steady stream of good jobs, especially in these pandemic times when lesser companies are making mass layoffs. But then all those Target end-caps — that’s some kind of brick-and-mortar shelf space! Good thing they got in early there. 

You could get dad the blades subscription. They’re not quite a dollar, but hey, they don’t feel like it either. Why stop there, though? I say go nuts! Grab dad some Daily Face Lotion, the three-pack bar soap, the Odor & Enhanced Sweat Control Extra-Strength Antiperspirant, the 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, the Texturizing Putty, the Harry’s Shaving Gel with an Aloe-Enriched Formula and a scented candle.

I’d keep going, but I’m too busy picking out Warby Parker framesand sunglasses! — for both dad and me. — Josh Schollmeyer, Co-Founder and Editor in Chief