Christmas gift-giving can be a trying experience. Shopping for just the right gift for everyone on your list requires much thought. What do they need? Is it the right size, color, and style? What about the quality? The long lines at the stores for returns the next day prove just how challenging it can be.
And after all that effort, how long will your purchases really last? In today?s world of disposables, planned obsolescence, and ever-changing trends, it?s rare to receive a gift that lasts more than a few seasons.
For these reasons, Christmas presents at our house were sparse. To my perennial disappointment, my parents weren?t much into buying gifts. They had no patience for the whole process. My father especially lost interest when everything started being manufactured in China. Dad was a proud veteran of World War II, and he didn?t like the notion of our goods being produced on foreign shores.
I recall one Christmas, after some gentle prodding, he agreed to buy me a robe, but on two conditions. First, I had to pick it out. If he was going to buy it, he didn?t want any guesswork. Second, it had to be American-made. Simple enough, I thought. So together we went to the local mall, trudging from store to store, in search of a robe made in the U. S. A. Dad pored through the racks, scrutinizing every label: Made in China. Korea. Cambodia. Vietnam. (That one really perplexed him. ) Surprisingly, there wasn?t one to be found. In each store, he confronted the sales clerks and asked why they had no robes made in the United States. I was frustrated and embarrassed, but he persisted. It was really important to him, and he wanted to make his point.
That Christmas, I didn?t get a robe. But I got a different sort of gift - a subtle, unexpected one that doesn?t wear out, become obsolete or fall out of fashion: the gift of understanding that it?s important to take a stand for your beliefs.
My father was always a man of strong principles. He?d go to great lengths to argue his case if he thought something was wrong or unfair. As a teenager, I often viewed him as stubborn, difficult, and even embarrassing at times. But now, with the wisdom of age and experience, I see him in a different light.
Through his commitment to his values, he taught me an important lesson that day at the mall. I didn?t realize it at the time, but it influenced me deeply. Now as an adult, I, too, am compelled to speak out when I feel something isn?t right. So much so that I chose a career around it. The values I speak out for may in some cases be different from his, but it?s the commitment to them that matters.
Sometimes the gifts we receive from others are not wrapped in paper and bows. They are not manufactured, bought or sold. They are the gifts of teaching by example, of inspiring and motivating, of passing on lessons of living. After the flurry of the holidays has come and gone, these are the gifts that endure.
I may have been shortchanged at Christmas when it came to getting presents. But my father gave me a gift much more precious and lasting than anything he could have bought at the store. Top quality, perfect fit, and no exchange or return needed. He gave me strength of character and conviction. A belated thank-you, Dad.
Deborah Akel is a writer living in Washington, DC. Originally from Canton, Ohio, she has worked in TV news, writing, and politics in San Francisco, Sacramento, Cleveland, New York, and the District of Columbia. She wrote this article in loving memory of her father David. Her website is http://home.earthlink.net/~creativewritingsvcs/